In a USA Today interview published on Tuesday (December 4), Portman mentioned the real-life pop star while discussing her portrayal of a fictional pop star in her film, Vox Lux. The actress juxtaposed having felt "really lucky" to look up to Madonna as a child "because I saw someone who was brazen and disobedient and provocative and trying to mess with people and always changing," with later having seen Simpson "on the cover of a magazine saying ‘I’m a virgin’ while wearing a bikini."
In her teen brain, Portman said, "I was confused. Like, I don’t know what this is trying to tell me as a woman, as a girl."
Simpson, who broke into the music industry as a teen, was "disappointed" by the comments about her 1999 photo shoot, and took to Twitter to lament that "as public figures," she and Portman could both relate to the struggles of controlling their image.
"I was taught to be myself and honor the different ways all women express themselves, which is why I believed then — and I believe now — that being sexy in a bikini and being proud of my body are not synonymous with having sex," Simpson wrote. "I have always embraced being a role model to all women to let them know that they can look however they want, wear whatever they want and have sex or not have sex with whomever they want. The power lies within us as individuals."
Simpson closed her strong statement by encouraging Portman "to not shame other women for their choices," particularly in our current Time's Up climate — a cause that Portman herself is passionate about.
Happily, Portman heard Simpson loud and clear, and promptly issued an apology. "I would never intend to shame anybody and that was absolutely not my intention," Portman told Entertainment Tonight. "I was really talking about mixed media messages out there for young women and completely apologize for any hurt it may have caused because that was definitely not my intention."
She then clarified that she was trying to convey the mixed messaging she felt throughout her youth. "There are a lot of messages for how women should be, and women should be allowed to do whatever they want," she explained, but acknowledged that she could have — and should have — made her point without calling out Simpson in particular. "It is a mistake to say anyone's name."
This quick back-and-forth is an apt reminder that our words matter, and infusing them with compassion can be an easy way to spread positivity while combating negativity.