For a brief moment, Jessica Simpson captured the sympathy of women everywhere when less-than-flattering photos landed her on the cover of US Weekly, People and OK!, and even caught the president's attention.
Granted, some folks didn't feel bad that she was being sacrificed at the gossip and tabloid altar for apparently gaining a few pounds. (Were you one of those who snickered?) But we collectively cringed on her behalf when the tabloids leveled the m-word.
That's right. Simpson was caught wearing "mom jeans."
Ill-fitting, high-waisted denim pants that manage to make your butt look wide and flat, "mom jeans" is also slang used in connection with a woman who's either given up -- or been passed by. ("Mom jeans" have even been lampooned on "Saturday Night Live.")
The fact is, when you're a single-digit size like Gisele Bundchen, you can wear just about any jeans: low-slung, skinny-legged, mid-rise, boot cut, high-waisted, acid-washed, cropped, straight-legged, boy cut or even bell-bottomed. They'll all look good, creating just the right drape as they hang from chiseled hip bones.
The rest of us double-digit mortals? We settle. And that's how you end up in mom jeans, said Stacy London of TLC's "What Not to Wear." London is on a one-woman campaign to strip the world of mom jeans. And she wants to redefine that pejorative phrase as a badge of honor.
"Moms are superheroes. 'Mom jeans' should be a super cool . . . pair of jeans" that are ultra-flattering and can transition from running errands to carpool duty to dinner and a movie on date night, she said.
The good news is that denim makers are finally realizing there's money to be made on denim for a wider audience. Citizens of Humanity, 7 for All Mankind and Abby Z. all have selections to fit a variety of sizes. And London herself is giving Lee jeans a makeover: A new line for the curvier woman is slated to debut later this year.
Still, London said, jeans vary so widely that a woman must have the patience to try on sometimes upward of 20 pair of designer brands, cuts and styles before finding the one that best flatters her shape. (London's tip: You're first looking for a pair that fits the widest part of your body. Then let a tailor do the rest -- that's how you get jeans that look like couture, as if they were made for your body.)
London also decried attention focused on Simpson's weight and said it hit a new low in society's ongoing scrutiny of women's bodies. (Even President Obama referenced Simpson in an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, who held up a copy of US Weekly that had his family on the cover, but not the president. "You got replaced by Jessica Simpson," Lauer said. The president responded: "Yeah, who's in a weight battle, apparently. Oh well.")
Though tabloids have always shredded celebrities who dare to put on weight or look less than perfect -- ask Tyra Banks, Eva Longoria Parker and Jennifer Love Hewitt -- this latest flap was treated like a legitimate news story, dominating several news cycles. Everyone, it seemed, had an opinion -- and no qualms about sharing it.
"It infuriated me to no end, we are getting more and more vicious," London said.
Over at US Weekly there was a feeling that Simpson was just getting what she deserved.
Ian Drew, Us Weekly editor at large, points out that Simpson had no problem being objectified and inviting the public to discuss every aspect of her body when she was flaunting her barely there Daisy Dukes for the movie "The Dukes of Hazzard" or the video "These Boots Are Made for Walking." So she shouldn't complain when people do the same when the image she cuts is not so svelte -- or flattering, Drew said.
London scoffed. Look closer and you'll see a knockout figure envied by many. Simpson's "crime" was one of fashion -- not weight gain.
That outfit -- high-waisted jeans that were a tad too tight, with patch-front pockets cutting across the widest part of Simpson's thighs, and the lack of a sufficiently supportive bra -- would be difficult for anyone to wear, London said. "Frankly, she's gorgeous. . . . [but that outfit just] wasn't flattering enough for the beauty that she is."