Rumor has it that singer and tabloid punching bag Jessica Simpson is reacting to the recent media freak-out over her mild weight gain by putting together a reality show in which she travels the globe to tackle body-image issues and the perception of beauty. It’s the type of preachy pitch that sounds like a cross between Oprah and Gayle’s road trip and a heavy-handed PSA — hardly the lecture we expect to get from a woman who famously used Restylane and thought Chicken of the Sea was, in fact, chicken. But the surprising thing here isn’t what Jessica’s doing, but how we’re reacting to it: Not only do we not think it’s a terrible idea, but we find ourselves rooting for the girl.
Jessica’s had a rough go of it since Newlyweds: Her film career died ingloriously, she can’t sell albums of any genre, she somehow is to blame for any and all failures of the Dallas Cowboys, her relationship woes have her — at 27 — treated by the press as a hopeless spinster who’ll never keep a man, and she’s not allowed to wear a baggy dress or eat hamburgers without the media deciding she’s fat. (Okay, so those hideous high-waisted jeans didn’t help, but still — cut the girl some slack.) She’s fallen a long way from the days of yore when she used her image as the stupidest girl in the room to hawk everything from pizza to shoes to hair extensions. In fact, if you’d told us then that in 2009 Jessica would be the Simpson crooning country songs at chili cook-offs while Ashlee tootled off to work on the new Melrose Place, we’d have smiled politely and wished you success in rebounding from your apparent alien abduction. Given all that, it makes sense that in desperate times Jessica would reach back to the TV roots that made her super-famous in the first place. As irritating as her idiocy could be, Newlyweds also showed an endearing willingness to be herself, warts and all — unlike today’s era of spit-shined pseudo-reality television, where the most authentic thing we see is the information at the bottom of the screen about where to buy the song that’s playing.
The problem Jessica faces here is whether this project plays to those strengths. America liked the goofy, self-deprecating, unvarnished Jessica; the new show’s premise allegedly centers more on her exploring and sampling the “shocking things” people do to feel beautiful, in the name of imparting Important Lessons about how it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Her former television strategy could showcase her personality, but her new approach is a stumbling block: It’s an uphill climb when celebrities decide they’re our teachers — does anyone except Cameron Diaz remember Trippin, her short-lived MTV series about the environment? — and Jessica Simpson in particular is not the person you go to for sensitive musings on societal mores. She’s not Oprah. She’s not even Tyra (despite their shared history of attention-mongering, identically headlined “You Call This Fat?” covers — Tyra on People and Jessica on Vanity Fair). Acting as if she were a lifestyle guru feels as authentic as Nick Lachey becoming a market analyst because he got spanked in the downturn: it doesn’t track, and it’s only happening because of something crummy in her personal life. Not to mention that we’re scared her attempts to re-create cultural beautification routines will end in an international incident.
Still, we applaud her for trying. It’s easy to knock Simpson for what is, let’s face it, probably a desperate stab at regaining some relevance — but we’d rather give her credit for enduring the tabloid before-and-after pictures discussing her thighs, and trying to make something useful out of that rather than going on a Lohan-style bender or resorting to a diet of lemon juice and Playboy spreads. Here’s hoping this project is her way back into magazines without the word “tragic” in giant print next to her face. And if not, we suggest she call her old friends at MTV and see if they can get her onto The Hills. They’re always looking for blondes.
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