TW: This article discusses child abuse
Written by Nikita G
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “momager”?
Kris Jenner? Dance Moms? Maybe Teri Shields?
Momager is a portmanteau of the words mom and manager. This 21st century dubbed term describes a mother who oversees and directs the trajectory of her child’s professional career.
Brooke Shields was born in the mid 60s in New York, to a family with aristocratic and royal historical lineage. Her father was a successful businessman and tennis player and her mother was a popular film producer. One could argue that fame was inevitable for Brooke, given her parents’ socialite backgrounds.
Brooke began her modelling career in 1966, at the tender age of 11 months, for a soap company. At age 12, Brooke went on to play a child prostitute in the infamous film “Pretty Baby”. The provocative cinematography depicted Shields in many highly-exploitative scenes; some of which included her attempting to seduce a man into bed and getting sold off to the highest bidder at a virginity auction.
Undoubtedly and most obscene of all, was a 1975 photoshoot Brooke part-took in with the late photographer Gary Gross. At just 10 years old, Brooke posed nude in a bathtub for a Playboy subsidiary magazine called “Sugar n Spice”. Worryingly, no prosecutions were ever brought on Gross or any other parties involved, as a judge deemed the images to not be in breach of any child protection laws at the time.
Now you might be wondering… what kind of a mother would allow her child to be exploited so explicitly and indecently? Well, money was certainly out of the question. After all, Brooke came from a very affluent family. So what could’ve been the driving force behind her mother’s exploits?
I believe the motive lied in vicarious living.
Brooke was Teri’s only child. Her main focus. Her pride and joy. Instead of seeing Brooke as an autonomous individual, Teri most likely viewed her daughter as an extension of herself. Teri’s wants were Brooke’s wants and Brooke was the perfect embodiment of her own forgotten childhood dreams.
Most, if not all women will agree that mother/daughter relationships are often complex and contentious in nature. What may be perceived as loving and doting by some mothers may actually be damaging and harmful to their child. Internalised jealousy of a youthful and blossoming child also tends to overshadow any good intentions some mothers may have for their daughters.
Though I haven’t had the experience of growing up centre-stage in a showbiz spotlight, I can personally affirm as the only child of an obsessive mother, that I have oftentimes felt controlled and heavily scrutinized by my own mother.
A research focused study conducted on adult daughters of narcissistic mothers revealed the damaging and problematic behaviour of these kind of mothers (e.g. blaming, nullification and manipulation). The study consisted of 13 women who wrote about the pain of living in the shadows of a narcissistic parent. The data brought up three common narratives: incompetent, isolated and denied childhood. Several women in the study expressed difficulties with defining their selfhood and identity as a result of their upbringing.
In her poignant memoir, There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me, Brooke Shields wrote concerning her mother “She saw herself the way she wanted others to see her and built up the necessary barricades between her real character and what she presented. She made it impossible for even her daughter to chisel past the myth.” [2014, p. 6].
This level of vulnerability and candour sheds a light on the long-lasting effects of child abuse and provides a glimpse into the ways in which survivors attempt to “undo the hurt”. Furthermore, these examples also assert the necessity for child exploitation to be at the forefront of not only digital media discourse but the wider society as a whole.
Unfortunately, Brooke’s story is one of many cautionary tales of former Hollywood child actors. Before there was ever a Brooke Shields, there was a Shirley Temple; notoriously known for playing a burlesque dancer in the 1930s film “Baby Burlesque” at only three years old.
This premise brings forth a jarring and pertinent discussion on the enforcement of child protection laws for performers under the age of 18. Is enough being done? Have things changed from “the olden days”? Or has the entertainment industry configured newer and cleverer ways to abscond the rampant exploitation of child-stars?
These are the tough conversations we’d rather shy away from. As a result, we continue to have young child-stars growing up to voice their disdain towards their parents’ “cash cow child” management approach.
I think a lesson we can all gather from this “momager epidemic” is to love our children as they are. Whether they’re celebrity tots or regular kids on the block… we must allow our youth to pursue their dreams. To enjoy their childhood without the stresses of movie scripts, dance rehearsals, pageants etc. And if indeed our children display a genuine interest in any particular field, we allow them to take the lead without any persuading, coaxing or bribing. Your job and my job is to facilitate our children’s ambitions in a healthy, supportive and selfless manner. Otherwise, we simply fall into the cycle of raising broken generation after broken generation.
Määttä, M. & Uusiautti, S. (2018), ‘My life felt like a cage without an exit’ – narratives of childhood under the abuse of a narcissistic mother, Google Scholar
Shields, B (2014), There Was A Little Girl, Penguin Random House LCC.