It’s probably fair to say that in the nomenclature of beauty, Jessica Simpson is “sexy” rather than “pretty.” There’s a quality of exaggeration to her appearance, one that suggests a cubist painting or an anime fantasy, instead of the presence of an actual person.
Beneath her fluster of distracting blonde hair extensions resides an extravagantly large head, into which are sunk receptive and unquestioning eyes. The smile is full of immense, white teeth and her bee-stung lips are in a permanent state of pout, and of course, her tits, her atomic tits, are always first and foremost. And when you look beyond that and into her face, it’s next to impossible to discern character. Absent of any communicable depth or complexity, she’s just there, a bland reflection of male lust, and perhaps as a result of that, men seem to want to fuck her, rather than love her.
It’s the Jessica Jinx, this, and honestly, it must give rise to all sorts of insecurity and self-doubt, especially after the likes of Tony Romo and John Mayer have passed you around like a party favor.
To make matters worse, the marginally talented Simpson— now 29— has been trying to reinvent herself as a country music star along the lines of Dolly Parton, only without her intelligence and musical brio. So Simpson’s future prospects were pretty bleak, and in 2009 when she showed up at a Chili cook-off in Florida looking fat, well, the end was nigh.
However, when life gives you lemons, you make tuna sandwiches, or something, and so Jessica Simpson is now foisting upon us the reality series “Jessica Simpson: The Price of Beauty.” A presumably sadder and wiser Jessica, having come out on the losing end of both celebrity and romance, will now travel the world investigating different cultural standards of feminine beauty, and the toll that the pursuit of those standards extracts.
The ridiculous thing about this premise is that Simpson has consciously and willfully been the beneficiary of those ridiculous standards, and now, after being called fat by the media, has decided that she’s actually a victim in this system rather than a predator. It’s ironic in the extreme, obviously, and it would all be well and good if she actually got religion and saw the light, but it feels like an entirely hypocritical posture, one that she’s only assumed to prop up her flagging career and keep her name in the news.
As Jessica lacks any sort of non-visual presence, she enlists two other people to accompany her on her journeys and help fill out each episode. There’s Ken, a pleasantly effete hair stylist who’s billed as Jessica’s best friend, and CaCee, the funniest person Jessica has ever met, apparently. Their first destination is Thailand, and as their plane lifts off, Jessica, in a somber tone, tells us, while crappy, triumphal pop music soars, that it’s all about the journey.
Guide us, Jessica, guide us.
Their first mission is to secure an authentic Thai massage. We watch as Jessica grunts and groans, her body getting bent about in a number of provocative and suggestive ways as she pretends a chummy innocence to her seductions.
We’re then introduced to a “beauty ambassador,” a Thai model who will serve as a kind of tour guide to Jessica’s investigative team. Instead of being an average woman who might work on the streets of Bangkok or in a factory, she’s a stunning supermodel who happens to host the Thai version of America’s Next Top Model. In order to get in touch with the real women of Thailand, this flawless celebrity who stands head and shoulders above actual Thai women, takes Jessica to a market, where their first stop is a fortune teller.
This is the only time that Simpson seems wholly engaged and interested. With wide bovine eyes and an open mouth, she gratefully receives the prophecy that she would soon REALLY fall in love, confessing to the camera that she got chill bumps when she heard this news.
Summoning the gravitas of “Fear Factor,” “The Price of Love” then takes us to a street vendor that sells fried crickets, worms and cockroaches as snacks. We’re told that these edibles speed up your metabolism and are excellent catalysts for detoxification. Jessica and her buddy CaCee—the brave one—attempt to eat the most benign offering, shuddering, gagging, and screaming throughout. It was like being smack-dab in the middle of a 12-year-old’s slumber party.
But soon things turn serious. The beauty ambassador tells Jessica that many women in Thailand want to have fair complexions, lest they are thought to work outdoors, and be designated lower class. Jessica, perplexed and stunned, turns this over in her brain machine, observing that it’s the opposite in North America where apparently, tans make you look skinny and rich.
No matter, we’re then shown the horrible cost of the Thai pursuit of fair skin in the form of a nightclub singer who had irreparably damaged her face, in an attempt to achieve her cultural standard of beauty, by applying bleach to her skin.
This woman, who is presented without any sort of useful context, is revealed like a circus freak, and as she’s telling us that her husband abandoned her because of her crumbling appearance and that she now lives a life of painful regret, Jessica begins to resemble a sad puppy on the verge of tears. And then she does cry, or at least she lifts a Kleenex to the places on her face where tears might emerge. Seized by this empathy and compassion, Jessica then gives the woman a “hug,” but in so doing she manages to pretty much avoid using her arms, choosing instead to instead put her enormous head next to the woman’s, as if posing for a photo with a fan.
We then visit a Buddhist monk in order to find out where beauty comes from, discovering that that it comes from inside. Team Jessica is then instructed to meditate with the monk, but half way through, Jessica, for no apparent reason, breaks out into a senseless, uncontrollable giggling fit, as if quiet for too long, she had no choice but to do something to demand attention.
Constantly clad in 3-inch stiletto heels, Jessica Simpson tromps through Thailand with her guileless entourage in a patronizing and self-serving attempt to portray herself as a kind of working-class hero. It’s an embarrassingly stupid and cynical enterprise that chooses to subordinate a very complex and worthy subject to the unexamined vanities of a truly dull person. “Jessica Simpson: The Price of Beauty” is little more than an infomercial, a realm to which the fading celebrity will undoubtedly be very soon relegated.
Michael Murray is a freelance writer. For the last three and a half years he’s written a weekly column for the Ottawa Citizen about watching television. He presently lives in Toronto. You can find more of his musings on his blog, or check out his Facebook page.