Fifty Shades of Jessica Simpson

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson smooch for the camera (instagram.com).

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson smooch for the camera (instagram.com).

Beyoncé may have been drunk in love, but Jessica Simpson is apparently bound in love—as in BDSM. The singer-turned-fashion mogul celebrated her first Valentine’s Day married to former NFL player Eric Johnson by posting three photos of them to her Instagram account. Inspired by Fifty Shades of Grey, the #FIFTYSHADESOFJOHNSON pictures certainly offer a different view of marriage.

Take a look at the pictures and you’ll quickly forget that you’re looking at the parents of two toddlers. Take a look, and you’ll need to be reminded that the mother in the photos was previously famous for her virginity.

In the first picture, the Weight Watchers spokeswoman shows off the results of her hard work. She reclines with her eyes closed, while barely dressed in a tuxedo jacket and some lacy knee highs. One of her shirtless husband’s hands tugs at the jacket revealing a lacy bustier; his other hand mysteriously disappears between her legs.

In the second photo—the only color photo of the three—Johnson appears headless, shirtless, and on his knees. He lifts Simpson’s bare thigh to his torso, while she is contorted in a position that looks rather uncomfortable. The whole image is incredibly impersonal and somewhat menacing; she’s looking off into the distance behind him, and Simpson, like us, cannot see Johnson’s face. They look more like john and hooker than husband and wife.

The last photo is the most traditional newlywed shot. We see Mr. and Mrs. Johnson smooching. The Mrs. grabs her husband’s face with her hand, which could be passionate or controlling, given the other photos. It’s the caption lightens the mood: “I’m so in love with you,” coos Simpson to her Valentine.

That’s a sweet sentiment. Yet, why is this photo shoot how Simpson and Johnson chose to commemorate their still newish love? And did they take these pictures themselves, or was there a photographer? Looking at these photos of a theoretically private couple feels voyeuristic, even if we know Simpson voluntarily shared them with us.

When Beyoncé performed “Drunk in Love,” her steamy ode to marriage, at the Grammys in 2014, she won plaudits for making marriage, and marital sex, seem hot. By contrast, the Johnsons look like they’re using a much-hyped movie to generate personal buzz. Their pivot is problematic for several reasons:

First, sharing such intimate pictures publicly—even with a spouse’s permission—seems like a violation of the bonds of marriage. To succeed, marriages need boundaries. We don’t need to see what they do behind closed doors. TMI, whether verbal or pictorial, is still TMI.

Second, using “mommy porn” to burnish cool credentials is questionable. This contemporary twist on ‘70s key parties is worse: Those bored suburbanites’ children never had to confront photographic evidence of their parents’ proclivities on Instagram.

Third, could associating with Fifty Shades of Grey be cool anyway? The books and movie have begotten so many products and articles, any new iteration feels like beating a horse that died seven generations ago.

Fourth, according to a 2013 study, Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele’s relationship meets CDC guidelines for both emotional and physical abuse. After the last several months of debating sexual assault on campuses, why should Americans glorify this couple’s arrangement? Let’s remember consent isn’t everything. It can be the result of a young woman feeling pressured by her partner or peer group.

None of this feels terribly romantic or sexy. And all of it feels like a remarkably odd choice for newlyweds celebrating the holiday of love. Maybe next year they can make headlines by publishing pictures of Johnson holding doors for Simpson, helping Simpson with her coat, and playing with their children. Celebrate chivalry and enduring love, because that’d be worth framing.

This article appeared in Acculturated.

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