In recent years, singer Jessica Simpson has been picked apart publicly for her relationships, breakups, bust size and haircolor. If she gains 10 pounds or wears what some consider an unflattering outfit, pictures are splashed across the tabloids.
Every move Jessica makes seems to be fodder for sensational and, at times, nasty headlines. In January 2009, pictures of Jessica wearing so-called "mom jeans" caused a media frenzy, and critics called her fat.
Then, during her year-and-a-half-long romance with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, some fans and press blamed Jessica whenever Tony had a bad game. After their breakup, the avalanche of criticism tapered off...until now.
In February 2010, singer John Mayer—Jessica's on-again-off-again boyfriend for two years—gave a revealing, kiss-and-tell interview to Playboy magazine. In the article, he compared sex with Jessica to crack cocaine and shared details of their intimate sexual history.
For the first time, Jessica is speaking publicly about the criticism and betrayal that, she says, almost destroyed her.
Jessica's been through a lot in the past few years, but she says her lowest point was the "mom jeans" situation. "People [were] talking about my weight for an entire year," she says. "It's like people just couldn't stop talking about my weight fluctuating."
At first, Jessica says she tried to ignore the uproar over her 10-pound weight gain, but she couldn't block out the barrage of negativity. "It would bother any woman, I would think. I had to get to a place where I had to guard myself," she says. "The fact that I was famous last year for gaining 10 pounds, it's ridiculous, and it's really sad."
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average American woman wears a size 14. Jessica says the jeans she's wearing in the now-infamous photos are a size 4. "I fluctuate from 4 to 6," she says.
No matter what critics write, Jessica says she loves her curves and is comfortable with her weight. "I'm not going to ever be size 0, and I don't want to weigh 90 pounds," she says. "It's a really hard thing for me to talk about because I celebrate women of all sizes. I think that we're all beautiful."
Jessica has moved past the "mom jeans," but John's Playboy interview is still fresh in her mind.
Though she's seen some clips and read a few quotes, Jessica says she couldn't get through the entire article. "I tried to read the article, and I was so disappointed in him," she says. "It made me so sad, and it was really discouraging because that's not the John that I knew."
Like most women, Jessica says she never wanted the world to know intimate details about her sex life. "I'm not angry," she says. "I'm, well...I'm a little bit angry."
Jessica says she also feels betrayed by John. "I hope he gets his life together," she says. "He did apologize. I don't accept it. It's just one of those things that...I don't resent him. I'm just going to let that go. That part of my life is over."
If you can't go to the grocery store without reading about your sex life or waist size, you need a solid support system. When times get tough, Jessica has learned to lean on close family and friends. "I have an incredible family. They are my backbone," she says. "And then I have my best friends that I surround myself with."
Jessica says she also relies on self-help books and self-discovery. "I just try to journal and try to discover how I can fight this on my own, as well," she says.
After relentless, negative press nearly broke her down, Jessica decided to take matters in her own hands. Disparaging remarks about her physical appearance sparked the idea for her new VH1 reality series, The Price of Beauty.
On The Price of Beauty, Jessica and her two best friends, Cacee Cobb and celebrity hairstylist Ken Paves, traveled to seven different nations to see what lengths women will go to in the name of beauty.
In every country, local beauty ambassadors helped them discover unique rituals and traditions. In Japan, Jessica and her friends explored Geisha culture, and in India, they learned about a detoxifying beverage made of cow urine. In Paris, Jessica walked the runway at a couture fashion show and met Isabel Caro, a former model who nearly starved herself for fashion.
Then, while traveling through Morocco, Jessica had an aha! moment. "I definitely will walk away from Morocco respecting myself more. I'm interested in learning more about myself and what I value in myself and letting that be the beautiful part of me, rather than putting on the makeup or wearing the right designer," she says. "It really is about the heart of a woman that makes her beautiful."
After exploring the definition of beauty around the world, Jessica and her friend Ken came home with a new perspective of America's beauty industry.
"I actually came back a bit embarrassed and a bit ashamed of the industry that I'm in," Ken says. "Because the industry that I've been a part of and was so proud of in the beginning has alienated so many people and done exactly what it's done to Jessica and many of the women I'm sure that sit here. [It's] made them feel like they don't fit within that idea of beauty."
Ken says this adventure reinforced his belief that real women and real beauty should be celebrated.
Jessica says she learned there's only one person who can define what's beautiful—you.
"Nobody's words, nobody's compliments, nobody's love, none of that...it's all what I have within myself," she says. "Every day will continue to be a journey. Every day, we'll find something new out about ourselves that is authentic and is unique, but I really just finally relaxed. I don't care what people have to say about my weight. I really don't, because I think I look great."