Jessica Simpson was approached about writing her memoir several years ago. The publisher asked her to show readers, “how you became your best self, how you transformed into a successful singer, wife, mother and creator of a billion-dollar clothing empire.” This request stopped her in her tracks. She had many secrets and instead of creating another false narrative, she was ready to write Open Book.
In May 2017, she appeared drunk on the Ellen DeGeneres show. By October 31, 2017, after starting to drink at 7:30am from her “glitter cup filled with vodka,” she missed trick or treating with her children and passed out during her party. Friends knew about her addictions–drinking Tylenol PM and Nyquil every night starting at age twelve: she had severe insomnia and was afraid to fall asleep. Diet pills were used after she signed her first record contract and was told to lose fifteen pounds. She continued using them for decades having “no idea that it was a problem.”
After Halloween 2017, she made the decision to go into treatment. She was afraid of hurting her children and this gave her the strength to look into the mirror and see how much she was abusing herself. Her friends were ready with an in-home addiction program for celebrities. Jessica saw a therapist that day and threw out her “glitter cup” after one more drink. Three years later, she published an honest account of her life.
Simpson notes a troubled childhood marked with sexual abuse by a seven-year-old female friend, (who was being abused by an older male teen). Her father, a preacher, was a guest speaker in this family friend’s church. She slept with the friend when visiting several times a year. “It would start out with tickling and then go into things that were extremely uncomfortable. As a child, I didn’t know what was going on.”
Why did she wait six years to tell her parents? She thought it was her fault, that she invited the molestations, she was supposed to be a virgin when she married and was confused about if she still was, she didn’t want to bring shame to her family, she didn’t want to ruin the families’ friendship, she wanted her father to continue speaking so he could save souls and so she continued to put herself at risk. At age twelve, after six years of abuse, Jessica told her parents. They were driving in the car and it had happened again, the night before. She tried multiple times to gather her courage and finally blurted it out. Her mother hit her father’s arm and stated, “I told you something was going on.” Her father simply looked out the car window, saying nothing.
I could point out the roadblocks that children face and how unsupportive Simpson’s parents were. The most important component of a child’s confession of sexual activity is acceptance and love. “I’m so sorry this happened to you. It’s not your fault. I know this was scary and I am proud of you for confiding in me. We will make sure you never have to go her house and sleep with her again. When we get home, we will call someone who knows a lot about this and can help you talk about your feelings. I’m sorry we didn’t know. God understands when children are forced to do things they don’t want to do. You are still a virgin.” These would have been appropriate responses and may have saved Simpson years of anguish and numbing addictions.
And yet her parents did the best they could with the information they had at the time. Our best is all we have. Parents are responsible to love and show up for their children every day and this includes listening to difficult news and shepherding children through bad things when they happen. This creates what Jessica would call Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace is her favorite song and the one she used in most of her auditions growing up. “I once was lost, but now am found, twas blind but now I see.”
We are all blind at times but if we are careful we can open our eyes and see. Just like Jessica.
Research for this article included viewing YouTube videos of Jessica Simpson’s interviews with Ellen DeGenerese and The Today Show and listening to her memoir Open Book.