Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge Britney Spears fan. I have three different Britney T-shirts, I am one CD away from completely owning her discography, and I even performed a version of her conservatorship hearing as an assignment in my drama class a couple years back. In a word, I’m obsessed! But this wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t until 2021, when I, along with the rest of the world, was exposed to her struggles under her court-ordered conservatorship, that I transitioned from a casual listener to a die hard fan. I was so inspired by her story, so fascinated by her early stage presence and image, and so eager to see her free from the conservatorship which allowed her family to make decisions about her life, her body, and her future.
November 12, 2023 marks the second anniversary of the termination of the conservatorship that dictated Spears’ life for well over a decade. The release of her memoir, The Woman in Me, signals a powerful move towards her personal healing and is a reclamation of her life and her voice. As someone who was an active member of the online #FreeBritney movement, this memoir was something I had been anxiously awaiting since it was announced. Here are my biggest takeaways after having read it. I have no interest in diving into the most “scandalous” parts of her book, as that is not her focus. Instead, I hope to explore the ways in which her story can inspire all of us as we engage with our own histories, traumas, womanhood, and personal healing journeys.
Spears was uncomfortable with her public image
It’s not often that an artist’s first single is a hit. Britney Spears is a huge exception to this rule. Her first single, …Baby One More Time, made her an instant household name, and her album of the same title went on to sell 25 million copies. But that instant fame, at such a young age, came with a lot of unwanted attention.
Britney Spears speaks in her memoir of the efforts that her management team went through to construct an image of her that was pure and, most importantly, virginal. This seemed to have two main effects: 1) it gave the media and general public a sense of entitlement to speak about her sexuality and 2) it led to intense backlash whenever she appeared to step out of what she refers to as her “eternal virgin” persona. Articles have been written in the past which examine the role that purity culture played in the lives of Spears and other pop stars of her generation, but it feels so powerful to have her speak about what it felt like to live it.
Several moments from her book clearly reveal just how uncomfortable she was with the restrictive persona that she had been encouraged to adopt as a teenager. She reveals that, as she noticed more older men in the crowd at her shows in the early aughts, she began to feel like “some kind of Lolita fantasy,” as if her eternal virginity and perceived youth/purity were making her an object of sexual fascination. She describes feeling as if this attention on her sexual image took away from her music and artistry. As she states, “no one could seem to think of me as both sexy and capable, or talented and hot”. In an era where purity was an extremely marketable quality for a pop star, Britney Spears’ early career became defined by her “girl next door” innocence. Now, over twenty years later, she is using her memoir to examine and reject this image and to challenge those who fed into it and benefited from it. She asserts her right to her privacy and her sexuality, reclaiming her personhood amidst continuous media campaigns which choose to paint her only as an object for public consumption.
Her relationship with her body has always been defined and policed by others
It wasn’t just Spears’ sexuality or purity which became open to public discussion and scrutiny. As Spears states, “I worked so hard on my music and on my stage shows. But all some reporters could think of to ask me was whether or not my breasts were real”. This speaks to a culture of misogyny within popular media, a culture which feels that the female body is worthy of public examination and which promotes the idea that women in the public eye are undeserving of their humanity.
In her memoir, Spears describes the moment she realized that she was vulnerable to media backlash because of the way she looked, the choices she made, and the clothes she wore. Following her VMA performance in 2000, MTV sat her down and had her watch a series of interviews they had conducted on the streets of New York. Most of the interviews had the same message: she wore an outfit that was too skimpy, “too sexy” for someone who was a role model to so many. The point of the interview was clear to Spears; MTV wanted to capture her reaction, perhaps even hoping she would cry or have some sort of emotional outburst. The message was obvious: whether she was a sex object or “corrupting America’s youth,” her body was fair game for the public.
The policing of her body intensified even more while under her conservatorship. Whether it was her father insulting her body and its changes, her series of involuntary visits to rehab facilities, or the intense diets she was placed on, she came to understand that her body was no longer her own. Her memoir clearly portrays the devastation and hopelessness that she felt under these conditions, the efforts that her family and conservators undertook to keep her in a state of powerlessness, and the healing that she is now doing to realign with herself and her body.
Instagram has been a large part of this realignment. She states that after being “photographed by other people thousands of times, prodded and posed for other people’s approval,” it feels liberating to pose how she chooses, on her terms. Regardless of continued criticism, her body is completely her own, and she finally gets to decide what she does with it.
It’s so important to finally hear HER voice
I’ve seen some discourse online which focuses on the fact that her book is “ghostwritten,” as if this would take away from its authenticity. In the book’s acknowledgements, Spears thanks her “collaborators”. It is obvious that she had help writing the novel, but this is a very common practice for celebrity memoirs. Spears is a performer, an entertainer, not a novelist. As someone who understands the scope of the restrictions she was placed under during the conservatorship and the trauma she endured, it is enough to know that the book represents her voice and her story, as she wants it to be told. After years of having little to no say on her image, her career, or her narrative, the release of this book represents a profound shift. For the first time in over a decade, we have the privilege of hearing Britney Spears as she wants to be known, not as her conservators, or her management, or the media want to present her. Whether or not each line was written by Spears herself is not important to me. I am satisfied with the knowledge that this was authorized by her and that it is her voice, her truth and no one else’s.
Strong women create strong women and we are nothing without each other
Though Spears does speak critically about those who harmed her throughout her life, she mentions many people who inspired her throughout her struggles. Though she mentions famous artists, like Reese Witherspoon, Mariah Carey, and Madonna, some of her most powerful inspirations were found in her Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. At a certain point in her conservatorship, she was forced to attend regular AA meetings, despite being barred from consuming alcohol. It is clear that this was a ploy to continually break her spirit. But as she describes, “I found a human connection in those meetings that I’d never found anywhere before in my life”. The strength and stories of the women she encountered in those meetings gave Spears the support that she needed in her darkest moments.
Those in charge of her conservatorship recognized that human connection was necessary to Spears’ well being. In order to keep her under their control, they did everything they could to prevent her from building meaningful relationships with others. She was given limited time with her children, her conservators put extreme strictures on her romantic relationships, and she had people disappear from her life if it seemed like they had any chance of encouraging her to stand up for herself. She describes a moment with a hairdresser who criticized her intense work schedule, who was then swiftly removed from her service and never seen again.
Even in our darkest moments, the strength and support of loved ones and people who genuinely care can help us to see a glimpse of the light. Her creativity was her spark, her passion, and her conservatorship stole that from her and treated her as nothing more than a money-making machine. Spears’ story proves that our isolation helps to keep us susceptible to exploitation and disassociation. We need to rely on other people and to actively seek out relationships with those who will encourage our strength and our fullness. They saved Britney, and they can save us, too. The strongest message of her memoir is simple: you are strong, you are deserving of joy, you deserve to live life on your terms. For all that she has given the world, I hope that she continues to believe all those things about herself.
Britney Spears’ memoir, The Woman in Me, can be found wherever books are sold.
Featured image credit: Gallery Books
Hi! I’m Brynn, and I’m super excited to be writing on the blogs committee this year. I am a third-year Women’s and Gender Studies student with interests in film, feminism, theatre and social justice. Blog writing provides me with the perfect opportunity to combine all of these passions. I hope you will join me on my blog journey!