All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Open Book by Jessica Simpson

on January 25, 2021

Open Book 
Jessica Simpson w/ Kevin Carr O’Leary
Dey Street Books
2020, 461p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Jessica tells of growing up in 1980s Texas where she was sexually abused by the daughter of a family friend, and of unsuccessfully auditioning for the Mickey Mouse Club at age 13 with Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling before going on to sign a record deal with Columbia and marrying 98 Degrees member Nick Lachey.

Along the way, she details the struggles in her life, such as the pressure to support her family as a teenager, divorcing Lachey, enduring what she describes as an emotionally abusive relationship with musician John Mayer, being body-shamed in an overly appearance-centered industry, and going through bouts of heavy drinking. But Simpson ends on a positive note, discussing her billion-dollar apparel line and marriage with professional football star Eric Johnson, with whom she has three children.

I was never a big Jessica Simpson fan, actually I can’t tell you a single song she sings apart from the remake of These Boots Were Made For Walkin’ for the Dukes of Hazzard movie. But she and artists of a similar age – Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake etc – are my contemporaries and the musical sounds of much of my high school. I did watch her reality show Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica and I remember little about it except some of the very classic things she said, like “chicken of the sea” and “buffalo wings” etc. When this came out, I heard really good things about it and I requested it through my library not long after it was released but because of covid, it took until now to get to the top of the list.

There’s a lot in here I didn’t know, in particular about Simpson’s problem with medication and alcohol. She began self-medicating at a very young age, relatively harmless over-the-counter stuff to go to sleep that on it’s own, wouldn’t be an issue but when taken all the time and from such a young age, eventually leads to seeking out other methods for the same result. After being signed to a label (Columbia) she was told immediately to lose 15lbs (almost 7kg, which for a 5’3 17yo girl is a very significant amount of weight, especially when she was only 118lbs, which is 53kg), which led to a lot of diet pills. They also wanted her to bare a lot of skin, get some ribbed abs, presumably to fit into that 1990s aesthetic popular with pop stars. They also wanted to shoehorn her into a type of music that she wasn’t particularly comfortable with or maybe even into, rather than lean into the big power ballads she preferred. To be honest, it seems like the way the music industry treated vulnerable teenage girls was basically criminal. You’d like to hope it’s different now but I’ve honestly no idea if it is.

Simpson is astonishingly frank in this, both about her childhood as well as her adult life – her failed marriage to 98 degrees star Nick Lachey and the reality show that had a role in its downfall, as well as her various relationships including a toxic on-off one with pop star John Mayer who actually comes across as a manipulative stalker at times. She’s blunt about how naive she was, how unready for the life she was and how she often had no filter and whatever popped into her head fell out her mouth, which led to some embarrassing gaffes in interviews. She also talks about the relentless criticism of her looks and her weight in the media, the constant analysis of her figure and if she had put on a few pounds or lost weight. The scrutiny would be so incredibly damaging to a person’s psyche, that constant judgement and the cruel and merciless comments. Simpson readily admits she piled on weight with her pregnancies and that by then, she had reached a point in which she didn’t really care – she had deals with Weight Watchers in place to lose it before the babies were even born but there was still pressure in other ways – you can’t just lose the weight, your body has to be as good or even better as it was, pre-pregnancy. Before this, I didn’t know that Simpson had also built a $1b clothing empire and it’s something that she’s very passionate about. Her own pregnancies made her realise she couldn’t find any maternity clothes she liked and so she also decided to make her own. Despite the fact that she was often portrayed as stupid and vapid, she comes across in this as bright, funny, personable and self-deprecating. Occasionally a bit ditzy and she’s clearly had to endure a lot of obstacles, including being sexually abused as a child, something which she’s still dealing with now, as well as recognising her dependence on alcohol. She talks about dropping her kids at school and having already had her first drink of vodka from her glittery keep cup and hitting a sort of rock bottom and realising that she had to quit. Her second husband, former NFL player Eric Johnson also quit with her, and Simpson had to reassess herself as she did so. They’d built a reputation as having a fun party house for all their friends and now they had to reconcile their new alcohol free selves.

I really enjoyed this – even more than I thought I would, after hearing so many good things about it. I found Simpson an interesting and casual narrator, she writes this like she’s a friend, confiding in you and I think that’s the way she saw it herself. She makes comments in hindsight and talks about how she wishes she could’ve warned her past self about things. I really connected with the way she spoke about being a mother and how she feels about it and I admire the way she rebuilt herself and started her clothing line. The way she talks about music sometimes, it was like she had her love of it destroyed by the image makeover, the shoehorning of her by record companies into a certain genre but she talks about slowly starting to write again, to make the sort of music she wants to. And the way she talks about it, it makes me want to listen to it and see what Jessica Simpson sounds like, the way she wants to, rather than the way someone wants to market her.

I’d recommend this – it makes for good reading whether you’re a fan or not. And I suspect that for many who read this without being a fan, they’ll become one after this, simply due to the way it’s told.


Book #10 of 2021

One response to “Review: Open Book by Jessica Simpson

  1. Great review! I’ve heard so much similar stuff about this one, that it’s much deeper and more meaningful than might be expected.

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