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In the 2005 remake of The Dukes of Hazzard Jessica Simpson enhanced her status as an international pin-up as the svelte, chesty, Daisy Duke, tottering around in high-heels and tight tanks tops, showing off her 36-24-36 figure. She was praised by the press for a body that’s almost impossible to maintain.

To achieve these measurements Simpson reportedly had to work out for two hours a day, six days a week, in addition to doing a number of toning and resistance exercises to shape her body, which were so rigorous that even the thought has me breaking out in a sweat.

This week the press went into overdrive when photographs emerged of Simpson looking like she may be more than a size zero as she sang from her new country album, Do You Know, in a gig in Florida last weekend. Needless to say the media has been characteristically ruthless, illustrated by the below cartoon taken from The New York Post:

Jessica Simpson.jpg

Here a severely obese caricature of Simpson is telling her Dallas Cowboys boyfriend, Tony Romo, that she has met someone else, while Ronald MacDonald sits in the background with a Big Mac meal. Not only does this image endorse almost every stereotype about fat people there are, but is a gross distorition of reality, which not only disrespects Simpson, but all women. This image would only be made worse if Ronald MacDonald was washing Simpson with a rag on a stick, while she chain ate MacFlurrys, but then again there’s always tomorrows rags to go through for supposedly satirical pictures. Yawn.

If you look at photographs of Simpson, she has a body that many women would still envy. At the most, she is probable a UK size 12, below the UK national average of a size 16 and the US average of a size 18. Yet, she is being berated for her weight-gain which, minimal though it is, probably seems more visually apparent considering that she was so painfully thin before. But, this aside, whether or not Simpson is a celebrity, she should not be forced to self-reflection by a heartless mass media that trades happily on other people’s misery, especially when she looks no different to other women you may pass on the street.

Understandably, Simpson’s sister, Ashlee, has spoken out on her MySpace page about the criticisim her sister is receiving from the international press, saying she is “completely disgusted” and that it’s “completely embarassing and belittling for all women to read about a woman’s weight or figure as a headline on Fox News.” Ashlee is right. This is just another example of women’s issues being marginalised by the news machine. The only criticism I have of Ashlees defence is that she felt it necessary to say her sister was a US size 2 (a UK size 6), which is still very very small. Photographic evidence suggests that Simpson is larger than this, and while this is of no consequence, that Ashlee felt the need to say this suggests that she still feels a need for her sister to conform to these unrealistic body expectations at the same time as condemning them. Simpson looks healthy, and surely that’s the most important thing.

The criticism Simpson has been subject to is the kind that perpetuates the belief that weight is inversely proportionate to success and beauty, meaning that the thinner you are the more attractive you are considered to be. It is the sort of criticism Simpson has received that incubates insecurities and self-loathing in girls and young women, making them anorexic and bulimic and perpetually unhappy with the way that they look.

Simpson’s weight fluctuates. So what. A lot of women (ane men for that matter) would claim the same. I know that mine does, quite significantly. I’m a size 16/18 at present, but I have been smaller and I have been bigger, and in each instance I am aware of the changes to my body and do not need them to be pointed out to me, and I’m sure Simpson feels the same way. In a 2007 interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Simpson said that she prefers her curves to a super skinny physique, going further to claim the quest for a size-zero body is “emotionally destructive.” It’s so easy today to become obsessed with the way we look and how much we weigh, and we are largely encouraged to do so. Surely Simpson is a much better role model as a curvaceous talented woman than the catalogue of stars promoting the idea that in order to make it one has to have a completely visible rib-cage?