‘Jumbo Jessica Simpson: Packin’ On The Pounds In Photos!’, screamed the Page Six headline. The year was 1999 and, as a society, celebrities being extremely thin, or ‘super-waifs’ was expected. If you weren’t, it was declared open season on discussing your body. A spot of cellulite snagged you the cover of a damning tabloid magazine round up of ‘worst beach bodies’. A ten pound weight gain was deemed career suicide. Put simply: thin was in (and, depressingly, twenty years later is still dictating celebrity culture).
Back to Jessica Simpson, though, whose body and its varying sizes has been a topic of public conversation as much as her work for almost two decades. The 43-year-old admitted last week that she can simply never get used to how much the public discusses her appearance. 'Oh gosh, no. I mean, would any woman?’ she said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. She added, ‘I’ve been criticised and it hurts. I've been every weight, and I've been proud of it.’
It’s incredible that she can be so philosophical in the face of yet more criticism of how she looks. During an interview with Bustle, Jessica was confronted with online rumours that she’d been using a weight loss injection such as diabetes drug Ozempic to facilitate a recent 100lb weight loss. ‘Oh Lord. I mean, it is not,’ she said of Ozempic and her weight loss. ‘It’s willpower.’ Jessica says that quitting drinking has also contributed to weight loss, adding that baby weight had been something she struggled to get rid of. ‘I’m like, do people want me to be drinking again? Because that’s when I was heavier,’ Jessica, who has three children with husband Eric Johnson, said. ‘Or they want me to be having another baby? My body can’t do it.’
Jessica previously shared in her memoir, Open Book, how the pressures from the industry affected her body image as a young girl. At 17, she revealed industry bigwig Columbia Records' Tommy Mottola told her to lose 15 pounds on her 118-pound frame. ‘I immediately went on an extremely strict diet, and started taking diet pills, which I would do for the next 20 years.’
Jessica has had to endure her body being an accepted topic of gossip and speculation - demeaning her at every turn - for over twenty years now. She’s not the only one, of course. There is a slew of women whose bodies specifically have their own toxic tabloid narratives, particularly if they found fame in the nineties or noughties; an infamously terrible time for a woman to be famous (is there ever a good time for a woman to be famous?). Among them are Drew Barrymore, Kate Winslet, Kelly Osbourne, Oprah Winfrey, but the list is long of women who have discussed how damaging it has been to see a tabloid narrative play out about their own appearance, not to mention told by powerful men in Hollywood they were ‘too fat’ to be famous.
It’s hardly surprising that as a teen in the noughties I, along with millions of others, had severe body image issues myself. If thin women Jessica Simpson and Renée Zellwegger, as Bridget Jones, were being held up as examples of ‘chubby’, where did that leave me, a size 12 19-year-old? These throwaway tabloid headlines, and the interrogation of every inch of women in the public eye, launched a thousand insecurities in the young women who were lapping up every celebrity magazine they could find.
It wasn’t just about being too fat. The speculation about celebrity women’s thinness and weight loss was a source of huge tabloid obsession. Stars like Nicole Richie, Mischa Barton and Keira Knightley were regularly put on the cover of US magazines like Star and US Weekly for their thinness, with the most shocking images selected for effect.
Now, with the impact of Ozempic on Hollywood, it feels like we’re being dragged back there again. It’s open season on speculating about women’s bodies - including Jessica Simpson who has spent half her life answering questions about her weight. Mad Men star Christina Hendricks has also been the subject of speculation about an apparent drop in her weight recently, with commenters speculating about Ozempic, although she hasn't commented (and why should she?).
Two decades on from the 'Jumbo Jessica' headlines, the rhetoric might be less shocking, but the dialogue about celebrity women's bodies doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Stars like Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Adele are subjected to remarks about their looks on an almost weekly basis. Billie said of body shamers in one interview, 'The body I was born with, is it not what you wanted?'
Jessica admits that she all she felt she could do was try to take the power back as much as she could, and so turned interest in how she looked into a business, setting up an eponymous fashion label in 2010 (which is rumoured to be worth $1billion). ‘I decided, okay, everybody's gonna talk about my weight all the time, I might as well make money off of it and turn it into a business of selling clothes and acceptance.’