Surrounded by the gorgeous creatures who make up the cast of the new Melrose Place, you'd have to be pretty crazy to break Hollywood's strict diet rules, right? But Ashlee Simpson-Wentz just isn't a no-carbs kind of girl. Watching her hungrily breathe in the smoky barbecue aroma emitting from the long table of catered eats on the set of the popular nighttime drama, it's easy to see this is a woman who loves food. One of her faves right now is Mexican, and she talks animatedly about taco night, a once-a-week event that she and her rocker husband, Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz, host for family and friends at their Beverly Hills home. ("It's so gooooood!" she enthuses.)
She's also crazy about the fare at the Beverly Hills Hotel's swanky Polo Lounge. "They don't allow paparazzi" is how Ashlee explains her allegiance, though as she dreamily recalls last night's mea--"I had a cheeseburger with ranch dressing, French fries, and tomato soup--it's obvious she digs the grub too.
While Ashlee's robust appetite might cause tabloid reporters to wonder if the 25-year-old is eating for two, you heard it here first: She's not. Fact is, she's slimmer than ever. Snug Ya-Ya jeans highlight her lean lower half, and a skimpy tank top reveals toned arms. Her secret: "Bronx Pilates!" she says. Bronx, as any celeb-watcher can tell you, is the name of her 1-year-old son. "And these," she says, pointing to her toned biceps, "are from holding him. He's in my arms all the time."
Finding Inner Peace
Sitting inside her on-set trailer later in the day, Ashlee has a lit-from-within glow. Part of it is her hair, which has been dyed a warm auburn to mirror the red locks of Laura Leighton, who plays the mysteriously murdered Sydney Andrews on the show (who just may or may not be her mom). But there's another reason for the radiant look: her blissful family life.
It's hard to believe this is the same girl who freaked out her mother by dying her natural blond locks Joan Jett black on the 2004 MTV reality show that chronicled her life. Credit Pete, her husband of a year and a half, for her mellower outlook. "He worked hard to get me, let me tell ya," Ashlee says with a sweet smirk. "But I'm glad he did, because there was a moment when we had become such good friends and I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm in love with you!' He's my best friend in the world, and he's an amazing dad. [Being married] made me able to share more. Now Pete and Bronx come first. It has humbled me."
This level of contentment seemed out of reach when Ashlee was an uberambitious teenager standing backstage watching big sister Jessica prep for concerts and fantasizing about putting on a show of her own. Though she was one of the youngest students accepted to the School of American Ballet in New York City (she was 11), her ultimate dream was to become an actor and singer. When she turned 18, Ashlee moved out of her parents' house, and within five years managed to cross off almost everything on her career to-do list: She turned what was supposed to be a two-show appearance on 7th Heaven into a regular role; released two hit albums, 2004's Autobiography and 2005's I Am Me; and, in 2006, starred as Roxie Hart in the London production of Chicago. "Fear is not something I live b--never hav--especially when it comes to my career," she says. "I'd rather go to the edge and see what happens."
That confident attitude has helped Ashlee get through some highly publicized rough patches: a disastrous lip-synching appearance on Saturday Night Live in 2004, deafening boos during a halftime show at the Orange Bowl a few months later, and a media maelstrom in 2006 when she reportedly had rhinoplasty to remove a bump from her nose. But Ashlee has taken it all in stride. "It's been ups and downs," she admits. "But all of that has helped me become the person I am today."
The person she is today is a beautiful, successful, "really young mom," as Ashlee calls herself. She's also eager to point out that having a baby at 24 "wasn't something I had to second-guess. It was the most calm I'd ever been in my life."
It was also, of course, the biggest she'd ever been in her life. She put on 50 pounds, and her breasts just kept growing. "I had E's!" she says of her booming bra size during her five months of breast-feeding (she's back to a B-cup now). Fortunately, her husband was fine with the changes. "Pete isn't worried about stretch marks," she says. "He always makes me feel sexy."
Still, two weeks after Bronx's birth in November 2008, Ashlee set out to lose the weight. She tried a home-delivery meal plan, with mixed results. "It was hard, because I'm an eater," she says. "If I want a grilled cheese sandwich, I'll eat a grilled cheese sandwich." Getting into exercise mode came more easily. With the help of a trainer, she set up a gym in her house and began circuit training ("I can't do the treadmill for 45 minutes straight," she admits). A month later, she had lost half the weight. (For more of her fitness secrets, turn the page.)
These days, she fills a bikini quite nicel--which is a good thing, considering it's frequently her on-camera attire while lounging poolside at the Melrose apartment complex. In one episode, she strips down to a two-piece, her flat tummy offering proof that those workouts have paid off. But Ashlee quickly dispels any notion that her sweat-fests were the result of pressure to look Hollywood-thin, calling such ideas "bullshit."
"I wasn't in a rush to get back to this body for anyone else," she says. "It was more like, 'I wanna look good [for me]. I wanna feel good.' " And she does, though Ashlee is realistic enough to know that "there's gonna be a time when I'm way curvier, and that'll be sexy too. What defines sexy is not someone's weight. Personally, I like curves."
Other people aren't as forgiving. Her sister, Jessica, was taunted in January after an unflattering photo of her surface--the result of an unfortunate fashion choice (high-waisted jeans) and a weird camera angle. When the subject comes up, Ashlee jumps to her defense: "It's disgusting that people would say those things. My sister has an incredible body. I feel sorry for anyone who would judge her, because she's one sexy lady."
She's also a cool aunt. When Ashlee and Pete want a date night out, they often dial up Jessica to babysit. For longer stints like Fall Out Boy's recent tour in Japan, Bronx is in tow. "I believe in letting life happen," says Ashlee. "There's good, there's bad, and then there's great. If you learn from those things, you grow. I've really done a lot for 25, and there's still a lot to come."