Her fame grew, and so did her sultry image. When Shields was still a teenager, she was besieged by international suitors (reportedly, the son of Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi sent her a diamond necklace and a nephew of Jordan’s King Hussein dispatched a diamond and sapphire ring). She also became a lightning rod for the issue of teenage sexuality. Conversely, in real life she was “kept so naïve,” she says. “My mom was probably so afraid it would change me. My brain was doing one thing, my body another, and I really became paralyzed by it. It was awkward, sexually, because I felt cut off from the neck down.” (Indeed, while she was attending Princeton, she wrote an advice book about college life called On Your Own, which included a section titled “What My Virginity Means to Me.”)
While others lavished time and attention on her looks, she felt “complete detachment,” she says, as we take a seat in the museum’s café for tea and gingersnaps. She recalls being in a jazz dance class and falling whenever she tried to turn. The teacher chided her that she never watched herself in the mirror. “She said ‘Look at yourself,’ and I didn’t want to. What if I didn’t like what I saw? What if I didn’t look like I did in magazines?”
It took her first pregnancy to make her finally want to face the mirror. “It seemed important to me all of a sudden,” she says. “It was life, and my body had this purpose so far beyond just being there to look at, or tan or shave. Suddenly I realized how good it had been to me over the years, and what it had sustained.” She shakes her head ruefully. “And I was in my thirties at the time.”
"I wish I had the face I had a decade ago, but I don’t"
Now she tries to celebrate her body as it is. “I’m more proud of my longevity than anything else,” she says. “There’s a lot to be said for endurance. I’m trying to find the beauty in the whole picture rather than the crow’s- feet.” She laughs. “Sure, I wish I had the face I had a decade ago, but I don’t. People say, ‘I love my wrinkles.’ ” She rolls her eyes. “I don’t love my wrinkles—come on! But when you see certain women that we knew when they were younger, like Anjelica Huston and Isabella Rossellini, and they’ve grown older in the public eye, what you’re responding to is their whole life imprinted on them.”
Ironically, although she too has grown older in the public eye, she is just now realizing that fact when it comes to her career. “For years, I’ve been the youngest person on the set, and it occurred to me recently that I wasn’t 26!” She throws back her head and laughs. “I’d read a script and say, ‘Oh, that’s a great character, that’s something I’d love to do.’ And they’d say, ‘Um, no, we’re thinking of you for the mother.’ And then I’d say, ‘Oh, of course! Of course! I knew that.’ ”
She feels as if she’s in a “middle place” in Hollywood at the moment. “There aren’t a lot of movies out there for my age,” she says with a sigh. “They’re still stopping at the mid-thirties. Then you’re Diane Keaton or Glenn Close.” She has noticed that this forty-something limbo extends to advertising as well. “I always find it funny that so much skin cream advertising features, like, Jessica Alba,” she carps. “She’s gorgeous, and 12! OK? They’re all that age! I don’t care how much La Mer I put on my skin, I’m not going to have Jessica Alba’s face! And then it goes from that to ‘age defying.’ And you’re kind of like, what happened to the middle here? You’re nubile or you’re age defying!” For the record, she favors La Mer and “the one made by the monks, from Fresh” (Crème Ancienne), but she says that no cream is going to work miracles if she’s sleep-deprived or on too many airplanes in a row.