Jessica Simpson: what’s the big deal?

// 30 January 2009

In the 2005 remake of The Dukes of Hazzard Jessica Simpson enhanced her status as an international pin-up as the svelte, chesty, Daisy Duke, tottering around in high-heels and tight tanks tops, showing off her 36-24-36 figure. She was praised by the press for a body that’s almost impossible to maintain.

To achieve these measurements Simpson reportedly had to work out for two hours a day, six days a week, in addition to doing a number of toning and resistance exercises to shape her body, which were so rigorous that even the thought has me breaking out in a sweat.

This week the press went into overdrive when photographs emerged of Simpson looking like she may be more than a size zero as she sang from her new country album, Do You Know, in a gig in Florida last weekend. Needless to say the media has been characteristically ruthless, illustrated by the below cartoon taken from The New York Post:

Jessica Simpson.jpg

Here a severely obese caricature of Simpson is telling her Dallas Cowboys boyfriend, Tony Romo, that she has met someone else, while Ronald MacDonald sits in the background with a Big Mac meal. Not only does this image endorse almost every stereotype about fat people there are, but is a gross distorition of reality, which not only disrespects Simpson, but all women. This image would only be made worse if Ronald MacDonald was washing Simpson with a rag on a stick, while she chain ate MacFlurrys, but then again there’s always tomorrows rags to go through for supposedly satirical pictures. Yawn.

If you look at photographs of Simpson, she has a body that many women would still envy. At the most, she is probable a UK size 12, below the UK national average of a size 16 and the US average of a size 18. Yet, she is being berated for her weight-gain which, minimal though it is, probably seems more visually apparent considering that she was so painfully thin before. But, this aside, whether or not Simpson is a celebrity, she should not be forced to self-reflection by a heartless mass media that trades happily on other people’s misery, especially when she looks no different to other women you may pass on the street.

Understandably, Simpson’s sister, Ashlee, has spoken out on her MySpace page about the criticisim her sister is receiving from the international press, saying she is “completely disgusted” and that it’s “completely embarassing and belittling for all women to read about a woman’s weight or figure as a headline on Fox News.” Ashlee is right. This is just another example of women’s issues being marginalised by the news machine. The only criticism I have of Ashlees defence is that she felt it necessary to say her sister was a US size 2 (a UK size 6), which is still very very small. Photographic evidence suggests that Simpson is larger than this, and while this is of no consequence, that Ashlee felt the need to say this suggests that she still feels a need for her sister to conform to these unrealistic body expectations at the same time as condemning them. Simpson looks healthy, and surely that’s the most important thing.

The criticism Simpson has been subject to is the kind that perpetuates the belief that weight is inversely proportionate to success and beauty, meaning that the thinner you are the more attractive you are considered to be. It is the sort of criticism Simpson has received that incubates insecurities and self-loathing in girls and young women, making them anorexic and bulimic and perpetually unhappy with the way that they look.

Simpson’s weight fluctuates. So what. A lot of women (ane men for that matter) would claim the same. I know that mine does, quite significantly. I’m a size 16/18 at present, but I have been smaller and I have been bigger, and in each instance I am aware of the changes to my body and do not need them to be pointed out to me, and I’m sure Simpson feels the same way. In a 2007 interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Simpson said that she prefers her curves to a super skinny physique, going further to claim the quest for a size-zero body is “emotionally destructive.” It’s so easy today to become obsessed with the way we look and how much we weigh, and we are largely encouraged to do so. Surely Simpson is a much better role model as a curvaceous talented woman than the catalogue of stars promoting the idea that in order to make it one has to have a completely visible rib-cage?

Comments From You

Sabre // Posted 30 January 2009 at 5:05 pm

Not that it needs to be said, but Jessica looks great in those photos. She also looked good when she was slimmer, but

if it’s so hard to maintain, why bother? At least now she looks comfortable and happy rather than tense. I hope she manages to ignore the critics who are merely annoyed that she’s stopped playing the beauty game and conforming to the stereotype-thin-blonde image they like so much.

Just to show how much things have changed, take a look at this gorgeous lady, I don’t recall anyone ever calling her fat!

Yet she would be considered a moose by today’s rigid standards.

Aimee // Posted 30 January 2009 at 5:36 pm

That article is so nasty. It’s just so underhand and sleazy. Aghrrrrrrrrrr! It makes me so angry! Fucking horrible, nasty unpleasant bastards! Why do people let other people get away with this kind of crap? Why aren’t people everywhere in uproar!? I can’t understand why so many people see things like this as a non issue?! I’m furious.

Shell // Posted 31 January 2009 at 4:14 am

This is so bad it’s obviously contrived to piss a lot of people off.

Go Ashley Simpson :)

Venus Envy // Posted 31 January 2009 at 9:29 am

Well I think she looks gorgeous with the curves, and it really is a shame we don’t have better representations of women without visible ribcages and sunken cheeks around.

I’m all for having a healthy fit physique but there is a huge difference between that and looking malnourished, When she was in DOH she did look athletic, but shortly after looked way too thin…….Also she is around 5’2 or thereabouts and would probably disappear if she got any smaller than a uk6, to be honest I think that’s getting into ‘looking like a nine year old’ territory. It’s another example of the press berating a celebrity for looking perfectly normal.

JohnnyP // Posted 31 January 2009 at 10:48 am

OMG!!! Jessica does not look good! She looks like a 35+ bar floozy that drinks too much dark beer.

YUCK, YUCK, YUCK!!! Jessica Simpson should be barred from the public for fear of mass vomitting and hysteria. Please, someone tell that cow to quit her damned eating!!!

chem_fem // Posted 31 January 2009 at 11:45 am

I don’t see why papers love to bring down women who change their appearance from something high maintenance to something more comfortable. When Jessica was doing that film and exercising so much she was working. Like most people who work that hard at their jobs, you can only keep it up for so long. Most of us need a break from our work.

If it was my job to look a certain way, I’d work hard at it and when I didn’t have to I’d relax, I don’t do science in my fun time unless I feel like it. Why should an actress/singer/model feel the need to always keep up the illusion in her free time.

We need a poster campaign about how minging the journos who write this crap look.

Cara // Posted 31 January 2009 at 2:46 pm


She looks NORMAL! Not ‘curvy’, normal! Healthy adult women have some body fat, OK.

Yeah I’d say she’s a UK 10-12.

That belt cinched around her waist in the pics is not flattering…it’s too tight so squishes everything up. Which may make her look bigger than she really is. But she doesn’t look fat at all.

You are being sarcastic, JohnnyP, I take it.

pineapple // Posted 31 January 2009 at 3:12 pm

I agree Chem fem, i hate journos ‘right’ to just completely tear into these women – I want THEIR figures and faces to be published on front page news internationally with scathing criticism.

Can I point f word mods in the direction of troll JohnnyP??

Kez // Posted 31 January 2009 at 3:49 pm

Johnny, dear, I think you’re on the wrong site. May I point you in the direction of Daily Mail Online?

Anne Onne // Posted 31 January 2009 at 5:54 pm

Simpson ages like everyone else, and people’s metabolisms slow down. Maybe she just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of eternal dieting? I hope she’s happy, and I hope she won’t be too affected by this obsession with her weight.

We have this unnatural obsession with staying the same weight at all costs, or getting slimmer and slimmer, that a woman putting on some weight suddenly becomes headline news.

It’s ridiculous. This is not important news, and is only Jessica Simpson’s business. People congregating to tear her down because she won’t (or can’t) remain a very skinny object for them to look at really should find something better to do, because the last thing on Jessica Simpson’s mind is whether some losers (who, odds are, are just as big themselves*) still want to fuck her.

Oh, and it’s hilarous how the comparisons are between a head-on image taken by a pap, and a probably photoshopped promotional image. I doubt she ever was a size zero, and whatever size she is, she’s certainly not an unhealthy size, so all this furore that she’s gorging herself is really disgraceful.

Sabre: brilliant point. Marylin Monroe is still considered a sex symbol, but she was photographed in a time with a lot less retouching. Cellulite, belly, big hips and all. And she looks great. But that just wouldn’t be considered acceptable today. I don’t get how on one hand people laud her as an eternal icon of beauty, (though they probably made her feel like crap at the time, too!) whilst rounding on any women of her size today.

* Not to fat hate, but to point out that fat men, and even fat women can tear women down for putting on weight. Self-hate is something the patriarchy teaches very well. I know women who though overweight (and lovely) themselves believe women should be very slender, and heap disdain on those in the media who are not. :( Also, seems to be a bit of a double standard, with regards to fat men and fat women. Men just don’t get the same level of attention on their weight. If only women could have that…

Jess // Posted 1 February 2009 at 10:52 am

I hate articles that comment on people’s body shapes – I couldn’t give a toss about Jessica Simpson’s weight.

What I do find irritating is when people defend someone who is obviously overweight by calling them “curvy”. Its like sexualising an illness in a way. Being overweight is not “healthy” for the human body – but then if someone wants to be overweight (or very thin or paint themselves blue) it is entirely up to them.

Alex T // Posted 1 February 2009 at 2:11 pm

I saw a magazine cover yesterday (was it Heat? Can’t remember. Probably was.) which had pictures of Victoria Beckahm and Jordan with ‘You’re so vain’ splashed across the cover. The magazine was berating them for having yet more surgery. The same magazine which would probably heap criticism on them for looking any other way. I can’t stand this ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ approach to women’s appearance in the media – famous women are criticised for being too fat, too thin, ‘letting themselves go’ or making an attempt to please the nasty mags by having surgery.

So what if they look like that? I couldn’t care less! Do the magazine really think anyone would care if it weren’t for them making such a big deal out of it?

Kez // Posted 1 February 2009 at 6:12 pm

Ah yes Anne, but even men who look like Bernard Manning seem to look in the mirror and see Brad Pitt….

While women are more inclined to do the opposite.

I think there is actually research which bears this out (that women tend to underestimate their own looks, and men to overestimate theirs) but don’t ask me where to find it.

Decla // Posted 4 February 2009 at 4:40 pm

Jess: You say that “Being overweight is not “healthy” for the human body”. This is untrue. The overweight category of the BMI is no less healthy than the normal category as there is evidence that a little extra weight can actually protect against illnesses.

You probably meant that being obese is not healthy which, while still problematic, is closer to the truth.

Part of the discrimination women experience due to being over or under-weight is perceived health issues where there may be none. It is important to avoid making judgements on someones health purely on the basis of weight.

Regardless of physical health Jessica Simpson, from the remarks she made in interviews, seems to be less stressed and unhappy now. Stress is a major factor in shortening life expectancy and being vulnerable to illness so it may be that she has got healthier by putting on the weight.

Siany // Posted 12 February 2009 at 12:19 am

I’m all for journalists’ right to free expression, but I’m struggling to see how these people have the gall to call themselves journalists.

Maybe the F Word could start a feminist paparazzi campaign with front facing no-make up, unphotoshopped photos of all these photographers and journalists who think it’s ok to rip a woman to shreds because she feels like eating cake from time to time.

I was outraged by that “You’re so vain” headline too. You can’t escape from this stuff – I don’t even read magazines like Heat, but you can’t avoid the covers and you don’t even need to open the damn things to know everything they think is important about a female celebrity’s life. It even turns up in proper newspapers.

There is no corresponding interest in the appearance of male celebrities. Pete Doherty was practically crumbling away before they even mentioned his looks, and that was mostly in the context of lack of hygiene. Then compare his treatment in the press with Amy Winehouse’s.

Really good point chem_fem – who else is required to be on duty all day, everyday?

Oliver // Posted 29 April 2009 at 12:16 am

I feel no sympathy for her.

She made a career on her figure , now its lost we are supposed to pity her ? why ?

This is not an affront to women on the whole. Its an affront to women who use their sexuality to make a living and who through their own actions invite such criticism.

Do I feel fat people of any gender should be humiliated ? Probably not no.

However when your career is based upon your body , which hers blatantly is one need only at the sales of her country album to see it is not her musical ability being celebrated , so like the press would mock a chef that can’t cook…

“self-loathing in girls and young women, making them anorexic and bulimic and perpetually unhappy with the way that they look.” This quote also raised my hackles. You need only read the basic literature about anorexia to know that while this is certainly a factor it is at best a minimal one. And tbh to use it as part of your arguement in such an ignorant manner repulsed me.

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