When Jessica Simpson was 15 years old, her slightly older cousin Sarah – a sister to her – was killed in an accident. She left behind a ton of journals. After reading them and finding out how often Sarah had prayed for her, Simpson decided to inherit her purpose and started keeping diaries herself: black ones for her hurts, red ones for the hope of love affairs, blue ones for her career.
In February 2019 – not long after her family and friends had staged an alcohol intervention to help her with her addiction – as part of the therapy, she returned to her journals. “Open Book” – her deeply personal, reveal-all memoir – grew out of them. So, get ready to meet a Jessica Simpson you’ve never met and prepare to hear a few heartbreaking revelations!
It started when Simpson was 6 years old, and it lasted until she was 12. Her parents had brought Jessica for an overnight stay at the house of a family friend, and, as usual, she shared the bed with their daughter, a year older than her. “After lights out,” Simpson recalls, “I [felt] her hands on me. It would start with tickling my back and then going into things that were extremely uncomfortable. Freezing became my defense mechanism, and to this day, when I panic, I freeze.”
The second time it happened, it was during spring break, but this time Jessica’s little sister Ashlee shared the bed as well. “I lay between them,” writes Simpson, “fiercely protecting my sister from this monster. I didn’t want her to feel as disgusting as I felt.” Eventually, the abuse progressed to a point where the girl would get Simpson to go into a closet with her or “just find a way to linger” until the two were alone. She even started watching her shower.
Over the years, Jessica learned that the girl herself was being molested by an older boy. Since she didn’t know anything about sex before these experiences, she came to understand sex and her body solely in terms of power or, better yet, lack of power.
“I was just gonna let her do whatever it was she wanted to do because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. That’s kind of how I was in many of my adult relationships, too. At first, I held myself back, refusing to have sex until I was married. I was afraid of sex, and the need I had to give pleasure no matter what would destroy me as I let men walk all over me.”
Afraid of the growing closeness between the girl and Ashlee, Simpson finally gathered the courage to tell her parents when she was 12 years old. They were in the car, returning home from the friends’ house, and Simpson’s father had just handed lottery tickets to his daughters. Jessica waited for her sister to put her headphones on and made a deal with God: to confess and, in return, be rewarded in the ticket. “I feel like you guys might know that this has been going on,” she blurted out, “but if you don’t know what’s been going on, she’s been touching me for years and it makes me really uncomfortable, and I don’t ever want to go back there.” Her parents said nothing – then or anytime after. God did: her ticket won $1,500!
The year Simpson finally told the truth, the producers of “The All-New Mickey Mouse Club” were looking for new talent for the third season of the popular Disney Channel variety show. Jessica and Ashlee watched it all the time, “singing and dancing along with Keri Russell and JC Chasez onscreen as Mouseketeers.” So, when an open-call audition at the Dallas Hyatt was announced, Simpson wasn’t going to miss it for anything in the world. She dazzled the casting agents with her looks (they compared her to Cindy Crawford), her rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and her dance moves in the rhythm of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby.” The reward: a two-week trip to Disney World, where the final tryout was supposed to take place.
The casting agents weren’t too thrilled about Jessica’s acting skills, so, before leaving for Orlando, she was sent to the Chuck Norris Acting School. There, she learned not to use her eyebrows that much, but she learned it the hard way: Chuck Norris taped them down and made her do all her scenes like that. “I already hated going,” recalls Simpson, “but now I really did. It wasn’t torture, it was just embarrassing.”
Anyway, her acting skills got better, and the casting agents started billing her up as one of the top eight as soon as Jessica and her family arrived in Orlando. She enjoyed her time there, preparing for the final auditions and bonding with the other “Mouseketeer wannabes.” She even got her first hard crush with one of them: Ryan Gosling.
Simpson remembers: “He tried so hard to sound tough, a voice like Marlon Brando but with this squeaky-clean face. He did that same thing he does in movies: he leans forward like you’re drawing him in, he lowers his chin and then opens his eyes to look up at you. I don’t know what old movie he saw that move in, but it stuck. I was in love. Before anybody knew how hot Ryan Gosling was going to become, I had a vision.”
He wasn’t the only Mouseketeer to flirt with her. The other one was Justin Timberlake, a boy who treated the entire two-week camp as one long audition. Many years later, Timberlake and Jessica would meet again and share a nostalgic kiss. As soon as the kiss was over, he called Gosling. “We made a bet at the casting camp,” Timberlake told Simpson. “Who was going to kiss you first. I win!” “Well, then tell Ryan you won big,” Simpson said as he dialed. “’Cause the odds were definitely in his favor.”
Simpson bombed her final audition for the “All-New Mickey Mouse Club.” Christina Aguilera performed flawlessly before her, so she became nervous and messed up her choreography; she also couldn’t even remember lines from her monologue. After subsequently seeing Britney Spears doing her “full-on, out-of-the-box dance routine like a machine,” she knew it was over.
Fortunately, just a few weeks later, Simpson was discovered by a pastor named Buster Soaries who had just started a gospel record label. She spent the following few years singing in church choirs and listening to its leaders talking about how she needed to tone down her sex appeal. The story changed immediately after Soaries’ label went bust – not long before Simpson’s gospel record was supposed to be released. Bankrolled by her grandmother, the record was nevertheless sent to several producers and caught the attention of the then-head of Sony Music, Tommy Mottola – who had just separated from the biggest star of the day and Simpson’s idol, Mariah Carey.
Jessica was 17. Even before she started working with him on her debut album, she could discern that her Mickey Mouse friends, Spears and Aguilera, had already set the standards for her. Some of these didn’t have a lot to do with music. “Okay, you gotta lose 15 pounds,” Mottola told Simpson after she signed her contract. “I immediately went on an extremely strict diet,” she writes, “and started taking diet pills, which I would do for the next 20 years.”
Even when she started making all those lists of “the sexiest women alive,” Simpson couldn’t deal with the pressure of maintaining this particular body image. From time to time, right before a concert, she would draw a six-pack on herself with an eyeshadow pencil. In 2009, at a time when she was feeling confident, she wore a high-waisted, size 27 mom jeans at Kiss Country’s annual Chili CookOff concert.
“I swear, I thought I looked beautiful,” she writes. The world didn’t feel that, and she became the butt of many body-shaming jokes. Unlike everyone else, she didn’t think they were funny: she was heartbroken and insulted for herself and all women everywhere. Soon after, “a dysmorphia set in.” It took her years to recover.
Simpson was 22 years old when she married 98 Degrees singer Nick Lachey. The marriage didn’t get off to a great start. On the wedding night, she had a painful revelation. “I’d built up the anticipation in my mind that the first time I had sex with my husband had to be this transcendent experience where the heavens parted. What I didn’t know then is that everyone’s first time is awkward, and that is part of it. And that it’s okay, but at the time, it’s tough to understand. I had joined a long line of virgins in my family who said yes to forever for that one experience.”
In the world of celebrities, “forever” is usually an exaggeration: Simpson and Lachey divorced in 2006, after prolonged periods of not talking. When the two first became a couple, Lachey was the successful one, so he even insisted on a prenup. In retrospect, it would have been a good idea, because, by the time of the divorce, Simpson was already the bigger star. Lachey wanted “a certain number” to sign the divorce papers. “Just give it to him,” Jessica said to her father. “It’s for my freedom. I’ll make it back.” “And then I did,” she smirks. “Give or take a billion.”
During the time of the divorce, Simpson had an emotional affair with Jackass star Johnny Knoxville – or, as she coded him in her diary, “the boy from Tennessee.” Nothing physical happened between the two – they were both married at the time – but Simpson still gushes over his understanding and support. However, eventually she had to let him go, and she did it through a song: contrary to popular opinion, the cover of Patty Griffin’s “Let Him Fly” on her album “A Personal Affair” was directed at him, not Lachey!
Before her second and ongoing marriage with Eric Johnson, Simpson dated Tony Romo and John Mayer. The latter was a particularly bad on-and-off relationship. Mayer kept dumping Simpson over email – yes, email! – only to reinitiate contact afterward when in need of new material for his songs. He introduced her to Xanax and made her so self-conscious about her text messages that she had someone check them for grammar and spelling before clicking “send.” He even escalated her dependency on alcohol.
One day, Simpson could bear it no more: she changed her email and phone number and hit delete. Not long after, Mayer gave a controversial interview to Playboy magazine that left the world in shock over his possible misogyny and racism. Simpson didn’t need to read it. She had seen Mayer in his true colors already.
Although completed with the help of a ghostwriter, “Open Book” both feels and reads like one of the most authentic and honest celebrity memoirs of the 21st century. It’s entertaining, revealing, inspiring, and even funny and touching from time to time. Give it a chance – even if you don’t care about Simpson that much.
Trust yourself. All you need is a little self-love.
Jessica Simpson is an American singer, actress, reality-TV pioneer, and a billion-dollar fashion mogul. She has released seven albums – all but two certified gold by the RIAA – and has appeared... (Read more)
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