Jessica Simpson seems really happy these days.
“I am,” she told USA TODAY’s Ann Oldenburg Monday night in an interview at the Women’s Conference in Long Beach, Calif.
Should we thank her football player boyfriend Eric Johnson for that? “He definitely makes me very happy. He brings out a lot of light in me and makes me very comfortable being who I am. It’s nice to be with somebody who praises you for the right reasons.”
A turning point was her celebrating her 30th birthday in July. “I love being 30. The moment I turned 30, I really did feel a switch in my life. I was in Capri and I was with my boyfriend and my family and my friends, and I just felt this coming of age moment, this moment where I really just felt the happiest I’ve ever been and I love the woman inside of me.”
But she doesn’t seem to be feeling the clock ticking and isn’t thinking about a wedding. “Wedding? Right now I’m focused on my precious nephew and godson.” However, she adds, “I am from the south so I’ve definitely dreamed of being married my whole life and having children, so hopefully that’s in my future.”
Not even bumping into her ex, Nick Lachey last week in Hollywood could dampen her good mood. “He was at the same restaurant,” she confirms. “I didn’t speak to him.”
What she wants to speak about is self-esteem. She will appear at a Dove-sponsored session on Tuesday that includes Gayle King and Katherine Schwarzenegger talking about building self-esteem in young women.
“I went through a really hard time, a couple years back with people just harping on the pressure of how to look perfect – obviously using me and my weight. It was a tabloid frenzy,” says Simpson.
And she’s still scrutinized.
“I feel like people are constantly curious as to how much I weigh or what I look like or what I wear.”
It would be impossible not to notice it, she says. “There’s no way you’re not going to be affected by the ugly things people say about you. It’s very hurtful. It definitely brings up a lot of your own insecurities. It takes a great family and wonderful friends – and love definintely helps, too – to get through it.”
Her response was to do The Price of Beauty TV show for VH1, which explored beauty around the world. And now she’s working on a new incarnation of that focusing on facing your fears. “It is a lot about self esteem, about finding yourself in a different way. A lot of it has to deal with fear — facing your fears and knowing if you face that fear it will make you better as a person. It will be a challenge for women around the world. I will face the fear with them.”
She says she’s “pulling it together” now, and while she isn’t ready to announce a network or air date, she says, “We already have offers from all around.”
Ask her what she’s afraid of and she says, “There’s a lot of things I’m afraid of.” Such as sky diving and stand-up comedy, she says, too thing she’ll attempt on the show.
But before that, Simpson says she has just recorded her second holiday album, Happy Christmas, which will be carried exclusively by Macy’s and will be out Nov. 23. So for Thanksgiving, we should look for her on a float at the Macy’s Day Parade.
“It’ll be my first Thanksgiving in New York,” she says. And she plans to have a nice traditional dinner. “We’re getting a stove and an oven put in our hotel room. I will be cooking. After riding on the float for hours.”
After our chat, Simpson sat with Maria Shriver and Oprah Winfrey Show contributor Ali Wentworth for a similar discussion on the main stage. She brought up the fear show and mentioned sky diving to them, too, to which Wentworth replied: “I’ve gone sky diving!”
“Did you pee?” asked Simpson, stunning Wentworth for a second. “I’m afraid I’m going to pee my pants.”
Said Wentworth: “I’m not going with you, then.”
In that discussion, Wentworth asked what a day of pampering is like for Simpson. “A good pampering day for me would be vegging out on the couch, eating whatever the heck I want to eat and watching all my TV shows.”
Normally, a pet might be snuggled up with her, but, she says, “Unfortunately, my little Daisy was taken by a coyote earlier this year. I’m not ready to get another dog yet.”
Given all the discussion of weight and body image, Shriver asked Simpson about the role of food in her life. “When I’m hungry, I’ll eat,” said Simpson. “When I’m not hungry, I won’t. I’m not really that much of a calorie counter, but I do think about it. I make sure I’m working out to make sure I feel good about myself.”
She then admitted, “I’m from Texas, I like everything fried, which is the really unfortunate thing. My relationship with food? I want it when I’m sad. When I’m happy, I don’t think much about it. But I do like to go out on a date for a good dining experience. It’s important not to say, ‘I can’t have this’ because then I obsess about it.”
Did she ever think about just packing it up and going home to Texas during moments of pain in the spotlight? “Heck, yeah!” said Simpson. “Many times I wanted to surrender and give up. But I have a calling in my life. And if I have to go throught that scrutiny, I will.”
Calling? “I just want to be a part of changing the world. Is that too much to ask?”