Jessica Simpson talks about being the target of fat jokes for wearing 'mom jeans': It 'broke my heart'

Jessica Simpson says being body-shamed for performing in her so-called “mom jeans” was devastating.

The singer who now runs a billion dollar fashion company opened up on the Today show about performing in high-waisted jeans at a January 2009 chili cook-off and being “taken down” for it.

PEMBROKE PINES, FL - JANUARY 25:  Singer Jessica Simpson performs at the 99.9 Kiss Country 24th Annual Chili Cook Off at CB Smith Park on January 25, 2009 in Pembroke Pines, Florida. (Photo by Logan Fazio/Getty Images)
Jessica Simpson's outfit at the 99.9 Kiss Country Chili Cook-Off in Pembroke Pines, Fla, in 2009 made headlines — and not the good kind. (Photo: Logan Fazio/Getty Images)

"This picture that circulated and went worldwide broke my heart,” Simpson, 39, admitted on Tuesday’s Today show. “Not the picture necessarily, but the caption. Like, all the captions — and it was viral. I was like: Wait a second. I’m so confused.”

While the Dukes of Hazzard star had felt good about herself while she performed onstage in her size 4 — yes 4 — jeans, seeing the hateful comments ridiculing her body was devastating. (Some headlines at the time: “Jumbo Jessica Simpson Packin’ on the Pounds in Photos” and “Jessica Simpson: This Is How She Rolls.”)


"I was taken down by the world," said Simpson, who had been praised just a few years earlier for how she looked in her Daisy Dukes.

Simpson devoted a chapter of her memoir, Open Book, which is out today, to the hurtful experience. She titled it “Death by Mom Jeans” and wrote that she felt bad for her boyfriend at the time, former NFL quarterback Tony Romo. (One headline said: “Jessica Simpson packs it in for Tony Romo.”)

“I did [feel bad for Tony],” Simpson admitted. “I think that comes from other relationships. Tony never made me feel that way. I always felt confident when I was with Tony.” (Simpson and Romo split in June of that year — after Romo saw a text from Simpson’s ex-boyfriend John Mayer sent her.)

(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) AthleteTony Romo celebrates Jessica Simspon's 28th birthday at Sagebrush Cantina on July 7, 2008 in Calabassas, California.  **EXCLUSIVE**
Jessica Simpson celebrating her birthday with Tony Romo in 2008. (Photo: Getty Images)

Simpson said the incident — and similar ones — contributed to her drinking, which she finally sought treatment for in 2017. She would drink to block out the pain. Her weight was already a source of trauma for her after a record executive told her, when she was 17, that she would have to drop 15 pounds, to get to 103, to sign a record deal. (She did, using diet pills, and kept using them for two decades.)

Simpson also spoke about another painful moment in the spotlight: When she was set to sing “9 to 5” at the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to icon Dolly Parton in 2006 and she had to stop her performance because she forgot the words.

Singer Jessica Simpson arrives for the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in Washington December 3, 2006. The 2006 honorees are composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, conductor Zubin Mehta, singer Dolly Parton, singer Smokey Robinson and film director Steven Spielberg.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst   (UNITED STATES)
Jessica Simpson arriving at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 3, 2006. She says John Mayer dumped her just prior to her performance and she had been drinking. (Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES)

It turns out, John Mayer, with whom she had an on-again, off-again romance from 2005 to 2010 broke up with her right before she attended the special event. (They broke up 9 times in total, that was approximately number 3.)

“It was the Kennedy Center Honors,” she recalled. “He broke up with me. Our third breakup or something. It was right before I was going to do this huge thing.”

As a result, "I drank before I went onstage,” she admitted. “That is not John's fault. I'm the one that drank... I just tried to numb myself. And I was too numb that I couldn't connect with anyone. I couldn't connect to the song I already knew.” (Mayer hasn’t commented on the book, but Simpson quipped, “He might be the one that won’t like to read this book very much.”)

So, "I just stopped,” recalled Simpson, who was standing in front of a star-studded crowd including not just Parton but then-President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush and singing greats including Reba McEntire, Shania Twain and others. “And I froze. And then I just said I was sorry. And that Dolly deserved better.”

Simpson walked off the stage and didn’t finish the song.

That night she had her photo taken with Parton, McEntire, Twain and Alison Krauss — and the picture still haunts her.

"This picture that most people would hang in their house — it's these mentors of mine that are country goddesses,” Simpson said. “I can't even look at the picture. I can't look at my face because I know the pain that I was having. And I didn't feel worthy of being in that photo.”

Singer Jessica Simpson (R) and her father Joe embrace as they arrive for the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in Washington December 3, 2006. The 2006 honorees are composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, conductor Zubin Mehta, singer Dolly Parton, singer Smokey Robinson and film director Steven Spielberg.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst   (UNITED STATES)
Jessica Simpson attended the Kennedy Center Honors with her father, Joe Simpson. (Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Producers gave Simpson a second chance to record her tribute at a later date and she gave it a shot, but nobody was happy with the redo and they agreed she should be cut from the show.

Simpson is happy in her relationship now, meeting Eric Johnson in 2010 and having three kids together. She got sober in 2017 — and Johnson, now her husband, gave up alcohol too as a show of support for his wife.

(Screenshot: Jessica Simpson via Instagram)
(Screenshot: Jessica Simpson via Instagram)

Simpson — who is accompanied by her fam for her book tour — said she wrote her book to let her fans know that good can follow bad.

"I wanted to show people the obstacles that I had to get through and the tools that I have now to go back and face them," she said. "I know what to do with it all now, and I'm proud of it."

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