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Heartbroken And Embarrassed—Jessica Simpson Recalls When She Was Body-Shamed While Performing

Heartbroken And Embarrassed—Jessica Simpson Recalls When She Was Body-Shamed While Performing
Robert Kamau/GC Images/GettyImages

In 2009, a body-shaming episode left Jessica Simpson feeling heartbroken enough to disappear from public view for six months.

Eleven years later, the singer is ready to talk.

Simpson, 39, wrote about the incident in her new memoir, Open Book.

As her aptly-titled book implies, she opened up about being body-shamed in a chapter called, "Death By Mom Jeans."

While promoting her new tell-all book—which came out on February 4—she talked about many of her struggles, including failed relationships as well as alcohol and drug addiction in an emotional interview on TODAY.

The savage scrutiny about her waistline all started with the photo seen round the world.

On January 25, 2009, the singer performed at the 99.9 KISS Country Chili Cookoff in South Florida, wearing what the public saw as an unflattering outfit, consisting of high-waisted jeans and a gold belt.

Photos from that performance ignited a barrage of insults and ridicule, with social media users mocking her and calling her "beefy."

Articles dissecting her image were also circulating on the internet, with headlines like, "This is How She Rolls."

Simpson was 28 at the time and noted she was a US size four and "around 120 pounds" when the photos were taken.

The internet was ruthless.

Social media blogger Perez Hilton declared:

"Jess got fat! Maybe it's those pants that are just making her look big? Not!"

TheNew York Post included her on the "50 Fat Celebrities" list and referred to her as "Jumbo Jessica."

That same year, Simpson's weight was briefly mentioned during a February 1 interview with Matt Lauer, who told former President Barack Obama that he had been replaced by Simpson's weight story on the cover of US Weekly.

According to an NBC transcript of the interview, Lauer held up the magazine and said:

"You got replaced by Jessica Simpson."

The then Commander-In-Chief facetiously said it was "a little hurtful," and added:

"Yeah, who's losing a weight battle apparently."

Lauer later defended the President and clarified:

"He wasn't passing judgment... he was simply reading something off the cover of that magazine."

A source close to Simpson told PEOPLE the singer was "sad and hurt" over all the bullying about her weight.

"She's disappointed in the message that is being sent to all women, [because overall] Jessica is proud of her body. She's comfortable in her own skin."

Sitting down with Hoda Kotb in a TODAY interview, Simpson talked about the controversial "Mom Jeans" incident.

"This picture that circulated and went worldwide broke my heart."
"Well, not the picture necessarily, but the caption. Like, all the captions. It went viral. I was so confused."

You can watch the TODAY interview here.

In her book, she said that her immediate reaction to the body-shaming was "embarrassment" for her then-boyfriend, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

"It was awful, but the worst part was this: my very first thought was not my pain at becoming a joke or everyone laughing at me. No it was, 'Oh no, I feel so bad that Tony has to be with the fat girl.'"

Even with the support of Romo, who made her feel confident, she felt betrayed by the world.

Simpson told TODAY:

"Tony never made me feel [insecure]. I always felt confident when I was with Tony. But I was taken down by the world."

She also discussed the "Mom Jeans" drama with Glamour, explaining how she was "confident" on stage at the time the photos were taken.

"I felt good up there, I felt confident, and then it ruined the stage for me, and the stage was my home. It broke my home."
"I'd already had broken moments within a home where I had to walk out of a marriage, but my stage has been like my home since I was, like, a child."
"That's where I could be honestly alone with myself."

The online bullying also fueled her drinking addiction, something she had already been struggling with for a while.

She continued in her TODAY interview:

"I definitely would drink. I'm like, 'I need to."
"When you hear somebody say that they need to that's not a good sign."

She learned through regular therapy sessions that she would use alcohol and drugs to cope with her childhood abuse and failed relationships.

Excessive drinking began to take a toll on her public appearances.

In 2006, her beau at the time—rock star John Mayer—broke up with her earlier on the same day she was scheduled to perform "9 to 5" at the Kennedy Center Honors tribute for Dolly Parton.

During her performance in front of her idol, she forgot the lyrics and walked off stage.

Simpson recalled:

"I drank before I went onstage. 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."
"I just stopped. Like, I just stopped. And I froze. And then I just said I was sorry. And that Dolly deserved better."

Parton later reportedly knocked on her dressing room door and consoled the embarrassed singer by admitting:

"Don't worry, sweetie. Sometimes I forget the words too."

In November 2010, Simpson got engaged to retired NFL tight end Eric Johnson. And even though they had children together, her drinking continued.

The singer realized she hit rock bottom in 2017 when she couldn't remember who dressed her kids for Halloween. She has stopped drinking since.

"I just never want to live that way again. And Eric gave it up with me, immediately. He was like, 'okay babe, I'll do it with you.'"
"Everything in my life has been clear since that very moment."

Simpson said her controversial photo from 2009 would not have had the same impact if she were to post it today and also expressed optimism with more people embracing body positivity.

"I'm so happy that times are changing now and more women are accepted for who they are."
"People are flaunting themselves at every size, because that's how it absolutely should be."

Long-time fans expressed their support for the singer.

Some wounds will take time to heal.

"It is not easy, it hurts. And still, I feel like we all look in the mirror and are not 100% of all the time."
"We all see our flaws ... and mine were just out there for the world to rip apart when they weren't even flaws. When they were made into flaws that I didn't know I had."

Simpson is now a mother of three with whom she shares with Johnson.

They are daughters Maxwell, 7, and Birdie Mae, 10 months, and son Ace, 6.

She is in a much better place and feels good about being transparent with her personal life.

"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. I know what to do with it all now, and I'm proud of it."

Fans are eager to read her book, and those who have read it were very pleased.

Simpson has been sober since November 2017.