An American Icon

Actress, author, model and generational icon Brooke Shields shares COVID-19 survival strategies and inside info on looking and feeling her best, in a candid conversation with friend, actress and comedian Ali Wentworth.



Brooke Shields’ August-September issue cover
Brooke Shields’ wellness regimen is a balance of self-acceptance and healthy lifestyle practices. Photography: Bjorn Iooss/Trunk Archive

Ali Wentworth: Hello, Brooke Shields! I see pictures of you in magazines and photos from paparazzi, and you are basically my age and you look amazing. My question to you right off the bat is: Fitness is a big part of your life, yes?

Brooke Shields: It is, but I came around to it from a very different perspective. I never worked out as a way of life. I didn’t really enjoy it. I liked being active, and then I danced. I would dance in these shows where the schedule is so grueling, and you’re doing eight shows a week for up to a year and beating up your body. I would get into this ridiculous dance shape, and then not do anything for a while. And then I tore my knee, had to get a partial knee replacement, and then was supposed to get back surgery. And I said, “Do you know what? This is crazy. I don’t want to go into these surgeries not as fit as I can be.” So I got a trainer, and he just did preventative exercises, and it was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I ended up not having to have back surgery, and recovered from my partial knee replacement really quickly. Unfortunately, I now have to get the other one fully replaced, but my doctor said, “You’re so active, and you’re active in a very safe way. Let’s try to get as much life out of your knee as possible.” And you love hearing that—you feel a thousand years old. Working out became a thing, because I’ve had to be really creative about it while we’re in lockdown.

AW: Right.

BS: I don’t have a full gym, and I couldn’t always FaceTime or Zoom, so I thought, “How can I keep doing this, so I don’t come out of COVID worse than I went in?” When you say you look at me as aspirational, I appreciate that, because it’s very kind, but I’m hoping that it also represents hard work and doing that hard work for yourself. A lot of the time, I see people and they’re just naturally fit, or they’re so much younger, and I have to work at it. I’ve always had to work at it because I’m not rail-thin, you know? But I’m strong, and so I had to focus on that. You and I have had these conversations. It’s like, you have to find the thing that you enjoy doing, and hopefully that will either get your heart rate up or clear your mind, and at the same time activate your muscles. But you’ve got to like it, because otherwise it’s just drudgery.

AW: Completely. It’s horrible.

BS: I had to say, “What are my strengths? How can I keep myself healthy?” When I started getting scared about COVID, or scared about the future, as long as I just got my heart rate up, or just even danced like crazy in place, or got on a bike—with a mask, obviously—I found that my head was cleared a little bit more, and I was able to then be stronger for my kids.

Shields released a series of popular quarantine workout videos on Instagram. Photography: Bjorn Iooss/Trunk Archive

AW: Were you a gym rat back when you were on Suddenly Susan?

BS: I was a Tae Bo disciple. I would take it at 6 o’clock in the morning. I was on this revved-up type of crazy energy, which was, “Tae Bo as hard as you can, and then sweat and then go do the day.” I loved the group mentality of Tae Bo, and then I ended up really hurting my hips. My body couldn’t handle it.

AW: It’s interesting how when you were younger, and me too, you think about working out as you want to be skinny and sexy. And then at our age, it’s much more about staying alive longer and maintenance. I don’t work out like you do. But when I walk on the beach or whatever, what goes through my mind is, “I don’t want a bikini body,” because those days are gone. Instead, I’m thinking, “The next wave of the virus, I want my body to be strong.” Or, “I don’t want osteoporosis.” It’s all old-lady shit now.

BS: Yeah. But you know what? There’s a hybrid on that, too. Like first of all, I now think my curves are good. Whereas in my 20s I was given the message that I should have the body of a little boy, you know.

AW: Mm-hmm. But that was the look, right?

BS: It was. And I always tried to justify it by saying, “I’m an athletic type. We’re big-boned in the Shields family. I’ve got strong arms.” When I was pregnant, I felt really sexier because my curves justified housing a life. And then, what is so fascinating about the mixture of you and me in regard to this, is that when we go on beach walks, or go somewhere and spend girl time together doing whatever, those are as healing as doing some class. I was just a sweaty mess after [we went] clamming.

AW: Yeah, that’s hard work. I don’t know why we haven’t started clamming as an actual exercise class that people sign up and do. Because we could teach that.

BS: And then we can have a big dinner. Six feet apart.

AW: Don’t you find that, particularly at our age, the fitter you are the sexier you are? You know, unfortunately I am not in the best shape because of this whole pandemic thing, but my husband [George Stephanopoulos] works out twice a day.

BS: And you had COVID.

AW: And I had COVID. But George is incredibly fit. And I find that at times where, even if I’m beach-walking or swimming and feeling fit, I feel sexy. And that helps my marriage. The fitness thing can help all aspects. Besides being stronger and healthier, you feel sexy. And when you feel sexy, you demonstrate it.

BS: And you want to share it.

AW: That’s what I mean. I didn’t mean to speak for you.

BS: Oh, that’s a change. Just kidding. But my husband [Chris Henchy] has noticed a difference, because we’ve been together for more than 20 years, and he’s seen all of the different stages of what I have felt about myself. When I am fitter, or active or doing something, I feel friskier, you know? He celebrates it not because I look better, but because I’m more available to him in a way that’s more intimate.

AW: He must just pinch himself, still, that he gets to be married to you. Does he?

BS: I don’t know. That’s a whole other argument.

AW: He’s not going to read this. Say yes.

BS: Yes. He can’t believe his good fortune in marrying…

AW: There you go.

BS: What I have noticed is that he is not as in shape as he wants to be. I witnessed insecurity from him that would have been me in the past. It’s interesting, because my being in shape has made him now want to step up again.

When it comes to skin care, Shields opts for healthy practices like hydration and sun protection. Photography: Bjorn Iooss / Trunk Archive

AW: Yeah. It inspires me from afar. I want to talk about the pandemic. You started doing exercise videos on Instagram, with whatever you had at home. And all I could think was, you did it for all of us girls who were stuck in the house and couldn’t go to a gym or to Pilates. And so what was the impetus for those videos? Did you just feel like, “You know what? I’m going to do these exercises with two cans of tomato paste, and I’ll videotape it for people who are in my position as well.” People really responded to them.

BS: The minute we got into COVID, there were two ways to go. You could be like, “Oh, I’m just going to drink and eat and watch TV.” And I was like, “No, I can’t. I haven’t come this far to then have something like this undo me.” So I called my trainer and I said, “What are the exercises that I can do?” I didn’t have the equipment, so he would say, “Do you have something that’s 5 pounds?” I picked up a sculpture and was like, “This is really good. I can do a deadlift with this.” I mean, it’s a little bizarre, doing an arm exercise with a bottle of tequila. It’s a little comedic, which to me is always my medicine.

AW: Let me ask you this. How much dieting do you do with your fitness? I think you eat like a linebacker, but for the people who are reading this, they want to know, do you have a salad and then work out for an hour?

BS: No, I eat like a linebacker, as you so astutely pointed out, and I drink like a sailor, which I’m trying to work on. I don’t eat badly, but I do love food. I try not to eat the wrong things, but if I want a bowl of pasta, I’m not going to deny myself.

AW: You have a very healthy relationship with food.

BS: Growing up, there was really no stigma around food. In my dad’s family, eating all your dinner was a sign of respect. My mom and I were bohemian; we would eat Chinese food and go to Italian restaurants, and it was always a sort of celebration of just being together. I was never told, “Eat less, lose weight.” During this time of COVID-19, I was like, “When did we become that family that has four different flavors of Häagen-Dazs in the freezer?” Using any kind of a thing as a comfort can become dangerous, but not in these times. And if ice cream is going to give you a little immediate gratification, don’t deny yourself.

AW: Readers will want to know about your beauty regime.

BS: I’ve tried so many different things, and I find that the simpler it is, the better: moisturizer, sunblock, drinking a lot of water. They’re the most boring things. I don’t know if there is magic in a bottle.

AW: Do you put sunscreen on every single day?

BS: Yeah. I guess in the dead of winter, no, because I’m hardly outside. But definitely March through November.

AW: Because your whole body is tan in the summer.

BS: I wear SPF 30, and I also use self-tanner. I’m all for anything that anybody wants to do if it makes them feel better. It’s hard to embrace wrinkles. I have to sort of talk myself down and say, “They’re from smiling. You’re not 22.” I’ll use pads that smooth my skin, or eye cream. I’ll get a facial, or do whatever’s available, but I don’t want to change the way I look. I just want to try to be as naturally healthy as I can.

Shields finds healing at the beach. Photography: Bjorn Iooss / Trunk Archive

AW: Am I hearing you saying you would not have plastic surgery?

BS: I don’t want to go under the knife, because I think that I would look so different. The times that I tried Botox, I looked a little freakish. If I dared to do any filler at all in my lips, you would notice it in a second. I want to feel good; I just haven’t found anything that doesn’t make me feel claustrophobic, or like I’ve clearly had something done. I’m not against it, but I haven’t found that thing yet that I feel safe with, and comfortable with.

AW: Have you tried threading?

BS: I’ve never done threading, but I did wear those individual glue-on lashes. Loved them, and they looked so natural. But then after overdoing it a year, my real lashes were just half their size. So I stopped that, and started using an enhancer, GrandeLASH, that comes in a wand—it’s over the counter, or you can get it on Amazon—and my lashes have grown back.

AW: You don’t spend a fortune on products. You’re pretty savvy about high-low stuff, aren’t you?

BS: Yeah, it’s really hard for me to get convinced. I’m not going to spend time doing a ritual of six things at night. I want to wash my face and moisturize it. I’m not looking to turn back the clock, but I’m trying not to look older than my years. That’s why when I find something I like, I give it to you. They’re not fancy, they’re really reasonable things.

AW: You could have a website where you get to show your knowledge. Have you thought about that?

BS: I have thought about that quite extensively. And I’m currently in the process of something coming to fruition that I’m very excited about. Here’s my thing: I realized that, through COVID, and through people reaching out to me, that over the years and decades that I have created a platform for myself to speak, to learn, to grow, to share throughout my whole life. And I’ve been very outspoken about every period of my life, every era, all the struggles, all the highs, and I believe there is room for that community out there in my age group. I don’t claim to be an expert at anything, but I’ve had so much personal experience, and I’ve ferreted out people who are experts. So I will be creating that, yeah.

AW: Well, I’m happy that you are, and I know that most women will be happy, too. So come the day you have a platform for sharing all this stuff, sign me up.

BS: I want to assemble people where real conversations are happening, with the idea that it’s never too late to start investing emotionally in yourself. Taking care of yourself. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. I think we all need people in our lives, and we need communities in which we can grow and feel empowered.

AW: I didn’t know if you were wanted to talk about your website or not, but I was teeing it up just in case.

BS: Well, you set me up. You teed me up. I was curating the correct ending, and you just gave it. That’s perfect. See, we’re a good team.