Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Celebrities are full of surprises: Jessica Simpson re-emerges as likeable, well-adjusted woman

I used to think Jessica Simpson was the antithesis of feminism. I despised her "I'm dumb, isn't it cute?" persona, which she admitted was just that, an affected personality for the purpose of getting others to like her. Her father once said her perfect looks and perfect voice were too much for people, she needed to act dumb to seem less intimidating. Writing for my college newspaper, I said I feared Simpson's celebrity foretold "a world where to be popular, a woman should be all things but remarkable."

But as much as Simpson's fake ordinariness rankled me then, it's her real ordinariness that I find charming now. Simpson has fought back against the haters who criticized her weight cruelly and relentlessly not by appearing looking stunning on the cover of US Weekly (well, there was that Vanity Fair shoot), but by being herself, insisting she has a right to do just that, and thinking about the broader implications of the war over her size. I found her appearance on Oprah remarkably thoughtful and well-adjusted, and was delighted when she teased David Letterman for "making it all about the boys" during her visit to his show.

Simpson's new reality show certainly has problems of its own, but it's an interesting effort with its heart in the right place. Similarly, although I think stars appearing without makeup is something of a gimmick, I nonetheless think it's a more thoughtful gimmick than stars airbrushed within an inch of their lives selling workout tips. As such, I appreciate Simpson's appearance in Marie Claire makeup and airbrush free, although I wish more of the quotes in the resulting photo spread were of this variety: "I don't have anything to prove anymore. What other people think of me is not my business." Than this one: "People think updos are so hard, but they're not. Your hair should look tousled and undone."

I don't think Jessica is perfect. I don't think she's now some kind of feminist ideal. I think her, and her new way of presenting herself to the public, are a work in progress. But, it's an increasingly interesting type of progress, and one that I'm glad to have buzzing around pop culture land in place of giggling malapropisms and daisy dukes.

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