Brigitte Bardot – The Groundbreaking and Controversial Life of the Original ‘Sex Kitten’

Taryn Smee
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Photo by Getty Images

Brigitte Bardot was born to in 1934 to a Catholic bourgeois family who lived not far from the Eiffel Tower.

As a child, Bardot dreamed of becoming a ballet dancer, and she was accepted to the Paris Conservatory at the age of 13.

Her modeling career began at the age of 15 when she was spotted modeling hats for a friend of her mother’s, which led to her being featured on the cover of Elle magazine.

The French actress and model Brigitte Bardot posing on a curling field. Cortina d’Ampezzo

It seemed she was destined to be a star and she gave up ballet dancing to focus on acting. Her years as a dancer gave her the physique and poise that would become part of her trademark style.

The Elle magazine cover was the beginning of great things for Bardot. Her first husband, Roger Vadim, spotted Bardot and during her early career acted as her manager, then collaborator in later films.

Her early works were mainly comedies but it was the Vadim-directed And God Created Women in 1958 that catapulted Bardot to the international stage and introduced the world to the ‘Bardotmania’ of the following years.

Publicity photo of Brigitte Bardot in A Very Private Affair.

The film focused on the 22-year-old Bardot’s sensuality and sense of freedom in a way that riveted Europe but scandalized American audiences, leading it to be banned in some states — a notoriety that pushed the film even more into the spotlight.

The 1950s into which Bardot exploded was a ticking time bomb of new ideas versus old ways. Bardot was the face of the future, and her sense of freedom showed women they could be more than housewives and mothers. As Marie-Dominique Lelièvre comments in the Guardian “Unlike Hollywood actresses who played by the rules, Bardot set her own.”

Brigitte Bardot in a scene of A Very Private Affair, 1961.

“She attracted women who wanted to do like her, and men who simply wanted her.”

Not known for her acting ability she became a worldwide sensation thanks to her beauty, her style, and her youthful abandon.

Bardot has also had a lasting effect on the world of fashion; she almost single-handedly popularized the bikini, dark kohl eyeliner, and the flat ballet pump.

Bridget Bardot, 1968.

Her signature style of an off the shoulder top has become known as Bardot style and is still in fashion to this day.

Bardot retired from acting in 1973, just shy of her 40th birthday, and celebrated the occasion with a naked photo shoot for Playboy.

By this time she had starred in more than 40 films and recorded several music albums, most notably with one-time lover Serge Gainsborough, and was known around the world as the original “sex kitten” who even The Beatles were famously infatuated with.

Bardot’s fashion in 1961.

The typecasting of Bardot as every man’s fantasy played a significant role in her choice to retire; she is quoted at the time as saying it was “a way to get out elegantly.”

Upon taking her leave from the spotlight, Bardot set up the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals, which she initially funded with 3 million francs from selling personal items at auction.

Bardot and Sami Frey in St. Tropez, 1963.

Since then, Bardot has been an outspoken supporter of animal rights, most recently condemning Australia’s 2015 decision to eradicate 2 million stray cats.

Although Bardot is no longer in the spotlight, she has courted controversy for her opinions about immigration, Islam, and most recently the #MeToo Movement, saying “in the vast majority of cases” it is “hypocritical, ridiculous and uninteresting.”

Publicity photo of Brigitte Bardot and Billy Mumy on set of Dear Brigitte (1965).

Bardot has been fined five times by the French courts for comments she has made. Her largest fine of 15,000 euros (equivalent to around $23,000) was handed out in 2008.

In 1958, Bardot purchased La Madrague, a dilapidated fisherman’s cottage situated on a secluded bay in St. Tropez where she now lives with her current husband of twenty years, Bernard d’Ormale.

Brigitte Bardot protesting in 1995. Photo by Arnaud 25 CC BY SA 3.0

Bardot has overcome a battle with breast cancer but struggles with arthritis; she has famously entered old age without having cosmetic surgery.

In keeping with her activist ideals, Bardot also owns another property in St. Tropez where she raises farm animals.

Bridget Bardot may be a controversial figure in modern times but is arguably one of the original, global celebrities and is one that has had a profound effect on the world around her. An unintentional feminist, she paved the way for the sexual revolution and women’s liberation movements.

Read another story from us: 6 of the Most Scandalous Women in History

Even today, the timeless Bardot of the 60’s and 70’s is a muse and inspiration to women all over the globe.