The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.
Never mind her iconic Calvin Klein jeans — Brooke Shields has been flashing smiles for the camera since she was wearing diapers. It's a skill the actress and former child model is putting to good use in her latest campaign, promoting Colgate Renewal toothpaste, which targets early signs of gum damage, an issue that grows more pressing with age.
"I thought I was always thinking really good care of my teeth," Shields tells Yahoo Life. I" had no idea that I had to pay attention to my gums. In a weird way you think that that's all being taken care of, but I hadn't ever really learned that."
Recovering from a broken femur — more about that later — Shields says the Colgate project also appealed to her love of "health and physical well-being," which includes taking pride in treating acts of "maintenance" and grooming as little self-care rituals.
"I think we need to change the narrative with it, because it's not a chore really, as much as it's a privilege," she says. "Just being here and having access to what we have access to. I think we need to think of it in terms of, wow, you get this one person to live in — you get this one body, this one everything. And it's pretty extraordinary. Wouldn't you want to really honor it and take care of it as best as you can?"
Taking care of herself both inside and out is a top priority for the star. Here, she gets candid about parenting, therapy and why she's proud of her 55-year-old body.
You have been so candid in the past about dealing with postpartum depression and speaking openly about mental health. What helped you cope through those dark times and is there anything that you take away from that experience?
I think you never know what's going to help you through the tough times. I think being seen and not hiding but being able to be witnessed — and sometimes that's the hardest thing because of shame, et cetera — that can save your life. And I think the takeaway is that, even if you are completely and utterly convinced you're the only one, you're not... I think it's when you realize that there is a community out there, I think it changes the way you approach the whole thing. And I think we're coming much closer toward relieving ourselves of the stigma. I think we have a long way to go, but just knowing that I wasn't the only one that had gone through something like that really fueled me. And then I became really fueled to talk about it, because I didn't want to talk about it [before] And I thought, well, that's not going to work, because if someone hadn't talked about it to me, I'm not sure I would be here today.
You mentioned treating grooming as a little ritual. Do you have any other small rituals that you do to center yourself or brighten your day, like making your bed first thing or lighting a favorite candle?
I love doing all those things. I mean, my husband always has [said] "They've done studies and we have to make our bed every day," and we do, and the girls make their beds every day. It's kind of giving yourself the urge to look at it and go, "I'm treating my environment with respect and, you know, I'm not going to rush through everything, but I'm going to allow myself time to start off my day." Like maybe I need to get up a little bit earlier, I'd have a cup of tea or give myself a little moment to be thankful that I just woke up. Those are little rituals. I love candles, and we always have something lit and I love the smell of it, I love the feeling of it. I did a movie for Netflix over quarantine and I started taking these morning baths and I was just amazed at how I was not tired for the day. I became actually really just more relaxed for the day. I didn't want to just climb into bed — and I would have a full day of work. So that's a nice little ritual.
In terms of prioritizing your mental health, are there any other practices that you swear by?
I do all of it. I do all of it all the time. I've gone to a therapist for 30 years, and it's a very healthy and grounded place for me when I start feeling like my thoughts are starting to look like facts instead of just thoughts. That's when I start getting into trouble. So I need that. Without working out, I have a tendency to get a little bit dark, so... just getting my blood going has really helped me.
And then just making sure that I really listen when my kids are talking to me because it gets me out of my wanting to fix something and wanting to give them a new rule. [I try to] sort of talk to them and listen to them in a way. And then it's so interesting how they come back around. I mean, the girls last night were like, "Mom, can we have some of that toothpaste?" I'm like, "Well, not yet because it's going to be in a photograph. So you can't ruin the set-up." But they're like, "But I need toothpaste." I'm like, "Go use mine — you can each have three tubes." But it was funny because had I said, "Here, we have toothpaste, use this," there's no way they would've done it. But because they heard me talk about it and talk about prevention and talk about self-care and integrating it into my life, they all of a sudden wanted to be a part of it. So it's like I have to learn to just sort of let them come around to things on their own, and that's calming to me because then I don't spin out of control, trying to fix everything.
You're part of a handful of female celebrities in their 50s who wear a swimsuit and everybody goes wild. Does that attention feel empowering to you? Do you think there's been a change in attitude or a reshaping of this narrative about aging?
I just think at this age, that type of attention has shifted a bit. And to me, I find real value in it because I worked so hard. I think if I didn't do anything to stay in shape, then I think I'd run the risk of feeling like I'm slipping into vanity. Whereas, because I worked so hard — you just do, and I've always been the kind of person that's never not had to work hard — that's what I'm standing for. And then to be my age and to say I'm doing everything in terms of prevention [and] making sure that I am the strongest and fittest and healthiest and happiest that I can be today now. And when I slip... and I find myself going negative or not taking care of myself or just [doing] something that's not fair to myself, I get to begin again.
So when I see a picture like that, what I like is that — I mean, listen, there's parts that I just [groan] "Oh my God, I can't believe it," because it's not a 26-year-old body. But I'm not trying to be 26. I think that when you start shifting something that is in the past, it just gets really dangerous because you set yourself up for failure. Whereas if I work really hard and embrace the body that's had two children, that's lived, that's danced on Broadway, that's done all these amazing things and stayed here for me, I look at something like that and I go OK, maybe we're starting to talk about it just a little bit differently. It's not in lieu of what will still always exist. I just think I'm saying, listen, you can be in your 40s and 50s and be sexier and own it in a way that you never did, perhaps — or I didn't, in my younger years.
Lastly, how is your leg?
You know, it happens, it's a freak accident and there's nothing to do about it but literally move forward. Like, I'm literally moving one step at a time. And I guess if there's any metaphor for it, that's what it is: We're all thrown things. When you've been at your most challenged, whatever that means to you — and God knows we're seeing it in tragic ways all over the world — it's how you respond that I think really defines who you are or reveals who you are. And I think that when you really ask yourself that question, I think you'd be surprised at your willingness to respond a bit more positively for yourself because the alternative is really pretty bad.
It sucks, but it all sucks, so what am I going to do about it? It's not like it's going to not happen. It happened, so now I have to start now, begin right now. And if I have a bad morning or a bad afternoon, I have to begin again. And I think that that is the only thing, the only mantra, that I can possibly return to: The beginning is now. Right now. We're here again. [laughs] OK. Don't look back, just look forward, you know, and I think when you start to practice that, it becomes a little less foreign to your psyche.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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