Screen siren Brigitte Bardot turns 80

Screen siren Brigitte Bardot turns 80
A January 23, 1978 file photo shows French actress Brigitte Bardot giving a speech at the European Council in Strasburg during a debate on animal protection and against seal-hunting.

PARIS - Carefree sensuality oozed from every pore as Brigitte Bardot, who turns 80 on Sunday, mamboed her way to fame, leaving men weak at the knees and drawing a generation of liberated young women in her wake.

Half a century on, the big wispy hair and hourglass silhouette immortalised by the 1950s sex symbol still inspire designers the world over, though the real-life Bardot has long abandoned the limelight in favour of animal rights activism.

"She was an idol for a generation of women," said Marie-Dominique Lelievre, author of a recent biography on "BB", as Bardot became known.

"She was monstrously famous, and the myth only grew bigger since she ended her career before she was even 40." In 1956, Bardot set the screen alight in "And God Created Woman", shot by her then husband Roger Vadim and the best-known of the 50-odd movies - many of them flops - of her short career.

The classic scene in which she dances an impassioned Mambo in a flowing skirt slit to the waist brought onto the big screen a new level of unbridled sexual energy - and quickly earned the wrath of US censors.

For defenders of the strict morals of the 1950s, Bardot, with her babydoll face, pouty lips, hourglass figure and liberated attitude, was a threat.

"A girl of her time, free of any sense of guilt, of any social taboo," was how Vadim described her.

Lurch to far-right

With age, Bardot has lurched to the far-right, increasingly prone to illiberal remarks on gays, Muslims and immigrants that have led to five convictions for inciting racial hatred.

At 80 she keeps herself busy with her animal rights activism through high-profile campaigns to save seals, elephants or stray dogs.

She described retirement as "dreadful" in a recent interview with AFP.

"One gets bored stiff. That is why people die of boredom," she said.

But Bardot's modern-day persona belies her fame as an icon for a free-thinking, free-loving young generation.

Invited to meet then president Charles De Gaulle, she turned up in pants and a jacket - unheard of in bourgeois French circles at the time.

Bardot herself was raised in a traditional Catholic household - but her good-girl upbringing gave way well before 1968 to a "Bohemian" lifestyle that was to include four husbands, assorted lovers, and a dress code far from the sophistication of Hollywood stars of the time.

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