Note: Earlier today, . As many people have already noted, this is an extremely unfortunate move on ABC’s part: It’s giving the network’s imprimatur to someone who has worked, methodically and relentlessly, to undermine public health.
In (dis)honor of McCarthy’s new perch, I’ve decided to post a chapter of my book The Panic Virus titled “Jenny McCarthy’s Mommy Instinct” on the blog. Since it’s well over 5,000 words, I broke it up; this first part is about McCarthy’s rise to fame and her embrace of a different theory regarding her son. There are three more parts: “Jenny brings her anti-vaccine views to Oprah,” “Jenny legitimizes the scientific fringe,” and “The real dangers in following Jenny’s advice.”
Jenny McCarthy’s career in the public eye began in October 1993, when, at the age of twenty-one, she was named Playboy’s Playmate of the Month. Not long thereafter, she was crowned the magazine’s Playmate of the Year, and for much of 1994 she hosted Hot Rocks, an hour-long Playboy Channel TV show that aired “uncensored” music videos.
Her rise to mega-stardom began in earnest in 1995, when MTV hired her to co‑host its new dating show, Singled Out. From the show’s first episodes, it was clear the five-foot, seven-inch native Chicagoan’s appeal had at least as much to do with her fearless sense of humor and the guileless way in which she broke taboos as it did with her bleached blond hair and her buxom physique: Every time she gleefully sniffed her armpits or bragged about the potency of her flatulence, she reminded the world that you didn’t need to be an ethereal waif like Kate Moss or a supercilious beauty like Christy Turlington to be a sex symbol.
By 1996, McCarthy had become one of the most ubiquitous stars in the United States. That year she appeared on two more Playboy covers and bidding wars broke out whenever she announced her intention to work on a new project. In 1997, she had two eponymous shows at the same time—MTV’s sketch comedy program The Jenny McCarthy Show and NBC’s half-hour sitcom Jenny—and was paid $1.3 million by HarperCollins for her quasi-autobiography, Jen-X. Then, in an instant, her appeal seemed to evaporate. Despite a massive promotional campaign, Jenny tanked—its ratings were so bad that it was canceled after a single season—and her book flopped as well.
The stall in her career gave McCarthy a chance to focus on her personal life. In 1999, she married an actor and director named John Mallory Asher, and in 2002 she gave birth to the couple’s first child, a boy named Evan. Shortly thereafter, she became an unlikely publishing phenomenon: A decade after the combination of her just-one-of-the- guys attitude and girl-next-door good looks made her the object of teenage boys’ fantasies, she discovered that her willingness to openly and honestly tackle subjects other people were too timid (or uncomfortable) to address held a similar appeal for thirtysomething women trying to navigate their way through adulthood. In 2004, she released Belly Laughs, a book about pregnancy in which McCarthy addressed topics like butt-hole problems and pubic hair fiascos; it ultimately sold more than 500,000 copies. Her next book, 2005’s Baby Laughs, didn’t do quite as well, although its sales figure of 250,000 copies still made it an unqualified success.
Then things seemed to unravel once again. Dirty Love, a film McCarthy wrote and starred in and which Asher directed, was released to universally bad reviews: In his zero star write-up, Roger Ebert said the “hopelessly incompetent” film was “so pitiful, it doesn’t rise to the level of badness.” Instead of being refreshingly honest, McCarthy’s attention-getting antics—like the scene in Dirty Love that featured her wallowing in a pool of her own menstrual blood—seemed increasingly desperate and contrived. Even Life Laughs, the third book in her trilogy on early motherhood, didn’t do nearly as well as her previous two books. By the end of the year, her personal life had also hit a rough patch, and she and Asher filed for divorce. To top it all off, Evan, her perfect, blond-haired, blue-eyed little boy, was having problems of his own.
• • •
In the spring of 2006, McCarthy and her son were walking in downtown Los Angeles when a woman approached them. “You’re an Indigo,” the stranger said. “And your son is a Crystal.” McCarthy barely had time to shout, “Yes!” before the woman left as quickly as she’d come.
That chance encounter served as McCarthy’s introduction to a New Age movement based on the belief that a group of spiritually advanced children known as Crystals are destined to lead humanity to its next evolutionary plateau. (Parents of Crystals recognize each other through the purplish aura they emit, hence their designation as Indigos.) It was only then, McCarthy would say later, “[That] things in my life started to make sense.” Evan had always been a unique kid—he seemed less social and more intense than other children his age—and several doctors had already broached the topic of whether he had a behavioral or developmental disorder.
McCarthy’s embrace of Crystal beliefs gave her the strength to reject doctors’ efforts to squash Evan’s spirit. “The reason why I was drawn to Indigo, and probably many other mothers [are] too, was the fact that my son was given a diagnosis for a behavior issue,” she explained later. “I would not accept this negative label they were trying to put on my son and found out that he mirrored Indigo characteristics. . . . Once moms educate themselves, and find out what other mothers of Indigos do for behavior issues, we generally find the answers and solutions for everything.”
That summer, McCarthy launched IndigoMoms.com, an online portal for Indigos looking to connect with one another. It included a social networking area called “Mommy+Me,” a forum where McCarthy would answer readers’ questions, and an e‑commerce section that offered tank tops and baby doll tees for sale alongside one-year subscriptions to something called a “Prayer Wheel”; the services of McCarthy’s sister, Jo Jo, a “celebrity makeup artist”; and Quantum Radiance Treatment by McCarthy’s friend Nicole Pigeault.
IndigoMoms.com never really caught on, and by the end of the year, McCarthy pulled the plug on the site. (It remains available only through a service that collects archives of Web pages.) As it turned out, by that point McCarthy was already deeply involved with another parent-led movement defined by its opposition to conventional medicine.
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