What Happened to Jessica Simpson?

Jessica Simpson's growing family (People.com).

Jessica Simpson‘s growing family (People.com).

Celebrities are not like you and me. They have stylists, publicists, and post-modern values. However, occasionally we learn about celebrities with protective parents or a strong traditional streak.

Jessica Simpson used to be the quintessence of traditional morality. Back in 2000, Jessica Simpson had made a name for herself as a “good girl”, with values many Americans recognized and could relate to, unlike most performers.

There’s a growing gap between Hollywood’s reality and old-fashioned middle class morality. For example, celebrities regularly push baby carriages before their marriages. Many Hollywood stars follow this historically unconventional – though increasingly common – route, so it’s noteworthy when individuals stand up and publicly announce their intent to live more conventionally.

At the beginning of the last decade, everyone in America knew singing sensation Jessica Simpson was abstinent. “The outspoken star never shied away from discussing her decision to wait until her 2002 wedding to Nick Lachey to consummate their love. ‘My virginity is something I stand strong in,’ she told Who in 2000”.  MTV, which broadcast the reality show Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, explained that Simpson’s chastity was inspired by her “religious Baptist background. Her father even gave her a purity ring when she was 12”.

Both Simpson’s waiting and publicly proclaiming it are laudable, but both seem completely at odds with today’s Jessica Simpson. Simpson is now a mother twice over, reportedly thrilled to have son Ace joining her household. However, she remains noticeably unwed to Eric Johnson, the father of those two children.

The old Jessica Simpson presumably would have considered that a problem. But US Weekly reported that at Simpson’s April baby shower: “Jessica said, ‘Let’s have this wedding already before I get pregnant with another one!’’

In 2011, there had been talk of a wedding before the couple became parents. However, according to celebrity gossip sources, said plans were put on ice when the couple disagreed about a prenuptial agreement. If Simpson wanted to win that disagreement, becoming pregnant with Johnson’s child seems like an odd choice of negotiating leverage.

Has Simpson simply lost interest in living traditionally? Was she never personally invested and only chose abstinence the first time around because she had made a promise to her minister father? Did she feel pressure to have a baby after little sister Ashlee and then-husband Pete Wentz had their own son? Or was she corrupted by money and fame? The emphasis could have been for show. But branding – the promise a company makes to its customers, or in this case a performer to her fans – is typically based on at least a kernel of truth.

Jessica Simpson and Eric Johnson have been engaged since the fall of 2010, ample time to plan a wedding, had they been interested. Another woman might have insisted on a quick wedding, at least before the city clerk.

Raising children can be tiring, unglamorous work. It requires true commitment between two adults, and a new study by RAND sociologists Michael Pollard and Kathleen Mullan Harris underscores why it makes more sense to start a family with a husband: “A large minority (41 percent) of men report that they are not ‘completely committed’ to their live-in girlfriends”.  Among married men, that number drops to 18%.

So, while Simpson and Johnson are engaged and not merely dating, they remain unmarried, which matters sociologically speaking. “Unmarried parents are six times more likely to split by their child’s fifth birthday than those who are married”.

With two kids under two, it’s doubtful Simpson is going anywhere. The only questions remain Johnson’s long-term commitment and how Simpson changed so much over the last decade. If 22-year-old Jessica Simpson could see herself now, would she be scandalized?

This article appeared in Acculturated.

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