It’s big news in Hollywood: Jessica Simpson is on the May cover of Marie Claire magazine–and without any makeup or retouching!
It may not be worthy of a Noble Peace Prize, but Simpson’s move is bold, especially in an industry that cashes in on the perpetuation of unrealistic beauty standards.
The cover, a simple shot of Simpson against a wall, shows the star with a slightly uncomfortable smile that betrays a hint of insecurity. It’s all fitting for a woman who has publicly admitted to battling low self-esteem.
Simpson first became famous in 1999 with her hit ballad “I Wanna Love You Forever.” At the time, Simpson stood apart from the other chart-topping blonde teens because she refused to use her sexuality to gain fame and instead relied on her down-to-earth nature and huge vocal range.
But what made Simpson stand out is also what kept her from rising to a superstar level of fame. So, in a sell-out moment, Simspon gave in to the pressure of the record industry and traded in purity for a newer, more Irresistible image in 2001. Thinner and scantily-clad, Simpson tossed aside power ballads for breathy synthesized songs with naughtier lyrics.
The public didn’t buy Simpson’s transformation. For a while, she faded into C-level fame obscurity until her breakout reality TV show The Newlyweds aired in 2003. The warm reception of Simspon by the American public was quite unexpected; somehow, her airheaded antics not only entertained but charmed viewers of the show.
Finally, Simpson was becoming a bonafide celebrity and she did so by just being herself. Simpson also became much more vocal about her struggles with weight and her looks in interviews and in her music. The album In This Skin remains Simpson’s best-selling album to date; the title track is all about her inner turmoil during the Irresistible era.
If only the story ended here, with Simpson completely happy with her body image.
However, self-acceptance is looking to be a lifelong struggle for Simpson–and, due to her celebrity status, a public one as well. Blamed as the reason for her surprising divorce in 2006, Simpson often became the target of the media’s criticism. While some implied that Simpson was sexually loose (including ex-boyfriend John Mayer) and attacked her moral character, the media often hit Simpson where they knew it would hurt: her looks. Simpson’s fluctuating weight and alleged dabbling in plastic surgery made headlines beyond just the standard gossip tabloids.
Thus, Simpson’s decade-long self-esteem rollercoaster ride makes her Marie Claire cover seem much braver. Even with a slightly awkward smile, the fact that she is finally in a place to say: “I don’t have anything to prove anymore” is admirable. But it is not simply this move that makes Simpson’s cover newsworthy–it’s the fact that she’s trying to help other people who grapple with feelings of inadequacy as well.
In addition to her recent reality TV show The Price of Beauty (in which Simpson goes around the world to discover different ideals of beauty), Simpson will soon be launching her new youth-oriented program: “A Beautiful Me,” whose mantra is “Believe in Yourself, Change the World.” In the meantime, Simpson is partnering with Operation Smile to help give children with facial deformities a chance to smile. In the “Smiles for Smiles” campaign, visitors to the website can upload one photo of themselves smiling in exchange for one dollar to be donated to Operation Smile.
While the jury is still out on her music and overall contributions to popular culture, I must say that this unretouched version of Jessica Simpson definitely captures her good side.
Photo © Joel Telling (Creative Commons License)