I struggled with how to start this topic – so let’s start with a little reported fact: Brooke Shields is intellectually gifted with a reported IQ around 150. When her modelling and acting career slumped she went to university, to Princeton, where she did honours in French literature. When you look at her photos, the X factor is a keen intelligence glaring back. This is an important point.
What is the difference between being pretty, beautiful, playfully sexy or overtly sexual? These are all attributes of Aphrodite. Legend suggests that Aphrodite’s power lies in her mirror, in her ability to create an illusion. The problem is that a life lived in an illusion is a trap. And too many women fall into that trap, a fate that befell both Brooke Shields and her French counterpart, Eva Ionesco.
Brooke was a child model who transgressed the boundary between pretty and sexual. To many she is a victim of exploitation. When she was 10 she posed in series of erotic photos for NY photographer Gary Gross.
These images were the subject of a court case when Brooke and her mother attempted to stop their publication. The court upheld the contractual rights of the photographer, adding that they did not breach the child pornography laws. The above image is a detail of a full body shot later turned into a work called ‘Spiritual America’ by Richard Prince, which was the subject of a child porn controversy when it was shown at the Tate Modern. What is interesting to note is that an older Brooke repeated the pose for Prince’s ‘Spiritual America 2’, this time wearing a bikini, clearly suggesting that she approved of the first version.
A few years later Brooke again posed nude, this time playing a child prostitute in Louis Malle’s 1978 film, Pretty Baby. The film again created controversy and some scenes of Brooke’s full frontal nudity were cut. The film tells the story of a famous New Orleans brothel at a time when child prostitution was legal (at the time the age of consent throughout America was very low – 7 in Delaware). Brooke’s character is rescued when a photographer, based on the real-life EJ Bellocq, marries her (again legal at the time).
Reviews at the time praised Brooke’s acting (a few years earlier another intellectually gifted child actress, Jodi Foster, played a prostitute in Taxi Driver).
Then came Blue Lagoon, which again used Brooke’s beauty (although this time using a body double). She continued to model and when she was 13 she published The Brooke Book. She created further controversy at age 15 by posing in a Calvin Klein jeans ad with the words, ‘nothing comes between me and my Calvin’s’.
If there is any one person responsible for the modern panic over the sexualization of girls, it is Brooke Shields.
But she is not alone. In Europe, the fashion photographer Irina Ionesco published a book of photographs of her daughter Eva, which included erotic nudes of her from the age of 5 through to puberty. Many photos were an elaborate form of dress-ups, but one or two skate awfully close to ‘highly’ erotic (which I have not included).
Eva Ionesco went on to do further nude modelling work and to start an acting career. Like Brooke she made controversial choices. She is the youngest person to model for Playboy (the Italian edition at age 11) and she appeared nude in Spermula (later edited out) and the banned film Maladolescenza, where she appeared in explicit nude and simulated sex scenes, as well as scenes of bullying and cruelty.
Both these actresses transgressed a number of boundaries. The boundary between being pretty, playing at being sexy and acting sexual; the age boundary; and the boundary between the Judeo-Christian archetypal polarity of the Virgin/Whore. They both fully engaged with the many aspects of the archetype of Aphrodite.
And for this transgression they were both attacked by the guardians of the Judeo-Christian archetype. Brooke Shields payed a much higher price simply because she lives in puritanical America. Eva Ionesco got off relatively lightly because she is French – which indicates the arbitrary, shifting nature of the boundaries. What is taboo in America is tolerated in Europe, what was tolerated in the 70’s is taboo now.
A part of the Virgin/Whore polarity is that the Whore/Witch must come to some tragic end, to be metaphorically stoned or burnt at the stake. As much as they might have tried to stone both Brooke and Eva, both have prospered. Brooke has had a variable career, but she is still a respected, working celebrity. Eva has worked steadily as an actress and has started directing. Her directorial debut is the autobiographical, Je ne suis pas une princesse, starring Isabelle Huppert. Whilst Brooke has expressed regret at some of her choices (although I would suggest she did so to appease puritanical American sensibilities), Eva has never expressed any regret or found it an impediment to her career.
I mentioned at the head of this piece that Brooke is intellectually gifted. It is clear that Eva is also very intelligent. They could not have produced the images they did if they were not gifted – most good child actors need to be intellectually gifted to convey the necessary range of emotion. This is a theme I will explore in future blogs, but for now I will end by saying that if the guardians of the Judeo-Christian myth hate anything, they hate an intelligent, articulate girl/woman who refuses to accept the polarity of the Virgin/Whore.
Note: there are many images of both Brooke and Eva readily available on Google images.