The Woman in Me - by Britney Spears
Achieving fame at a young age can be harmful, as evidenced by the experience of Britney Spears. There appears to be a huge difference in how she’s been treated in comparison to Justin Timberlake and even her own sibling. I like her description of freedom.
Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:
He was the one who was drunk. He was the one whose alcoholism had made us so poor. He was the one passed out in the chair. But she was the one who ended up pissing me off the most, because at least in those moments, he was quiet. I was so desperate to sleep, and she wouldn’t shut up.
By thirteen, I was drinking with my mom and smoking with my friends. I had my first cigarette at my one “bad” friend’s house. All my other friends were geeks, but this friend was popular: her sister was a senior and she always had the best makeup, and guys were all over her.
After working nonstop, I went to a barbecue at someone’s house. I was very girly at the time—always in a dress and heels. I was there talking with people, trying to make a good impression, and at one point I ran to go get Felicia and bring her out on the balcony. I didn’t realize that there was a screen door there. I ran straight into it, hit it with my nose, and fell back. Everyone looked up and saw me on the floor, holding my nose. When I tell you I was embarrassed, I swear to God… I got up and someone said, “You know there’s a screen there.” “Yeah, thanks,” I said. Of course, everyone just laughed their little fannies off. I was so embarrassed.
The cameras were trained on me, waiting to see how I would react to this criticism, if I would take it well or if I would cry. Did I do something wrong? I wondered. I’d just danced my heart out on the awards show. I never said I was a role model. All I wanted to do was sing and dance. The MTV show host kept pushing. What did I think of the commenters telling me I was corrupting America’s youth?
I started to notice more and more older men in the audience, and sometimes it would freak me out to see them leering at me like I was some kind of Lolita fantasy for them, especially when no one could seem to think of me as both sexy and capable, or talented and hot. If I was sexy, they seemed to think I must be stupid. If I was hot, I couldn’t possibly be talented.
But I look back now and I think, when it came to Chicago, I should’ve done it. I had power back then; I wish I’d used it more thoughtfully, been more rebellious. Chicago would have been fun. It’s all dance pieces—my favorite kind: prissy, girly follies, Pussycat Doll–like, serve-off-your-corset moves. I wish I’d taken that offer.
My mom was trying to recover from her divorce from my dad, which she’d finally gone through with; depressed and self-medicating, she could barely get up off the couch. My dad was nowhere to be found. And my little sister—well, when I tell you she was a total bitch, I’m not exaggerating. I had always been the worker bee. While I was doing my thing on the road with Felicia, I hadn’t been paying attention to what was happening in Kentwood. But when I came home, I saw how things had changed. My mom would serve Jamie Lynn while she watched TV, bringing her little chocolate milkshakes. It was clear that girl ruled the roost.
Justin told everyone that he and I had had a sexual relationship, which some people have pointed out depicted me as not only a cheating slut but also a liar and hypocrite. Given that I had so many teenage fans, my managers and press people had long tried to portray me as an eternal virgin—never mind that Justin and I had been living together, and I’d been having sex since I was fourteen. Was I mad at being “outed” by him as sexually active? No. To be honest with you, I liked that Justin said that. Why did my managers work so hard to claim I was some kind of young-girl virgin even into my twenties? Whose business was it if I’d had sex or not? I’d appreciated it when Oprah told me on her show that my sexuality was no one else’s business, and that when it came to virginity, “you don’t need a world announcement if you change your mind.”
Yes, as a teenager I played into that portrayal, because everyone was making such a big deal out of it. But if you think about it, it was pretty stupid for people to describe my body in that way, for them to point to me and say, “Look! A virgin!” It’s nobody’s business at all. And it took the focus off me as a musician and performer. 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 (they were, actually) and whether or not my hymen was intact.
Seeing people I’d known so intimately talk about me that way in the press stung. Even if they weren’t trying to be cruel, it felt like they were just pouring salt in the wound. Why was it so easy for everyone to forget that I was a human being—vulnerable enough that these headlines could leave a bruise?
In fact, my family was so against the wedding that I started to think maybe I’d accidentally committed a brilliant act. Because I realized: something about my being under their control and not having a stronger connection to someone else had become very, very important to them. What do I have over you guys? I wondered. Why would someone else be so huge a threat? Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that, by this point, I was supporting them financially.
“I’ve actually learned to say ‘NO!’ ” I wrote, and I meant it. “With this newly found freedom, it’s like people don’t know how to act around me… I’m sorry that my life seemed like it was all over the place the past two years. It’s probably because IT WAS! I understand now what they mean when they talk about child stars. Going and going and going is all I’ve ever known since I was fifteen years old… Please remember that times are changing and so am I.” I felt so much peace after announcing my intention to control my own life at last. Things are going to change around here! I thought excitedly.
I was just so mean. You did not want to hear from me those whole two years. I did not want to be around almost anyone at all. I was hateful. I didn’t want anyone, not even my mom, to come near me. I was a real mama bear. America’s sweetheart and the meanest woman alive.
The magazines seemed to love nothing more than a photo they could run with the headline “Britney Spears got HUGE! Look, she’s not wearing makeup!” As if those two things were some kind of a sin—as if gaining weight was something unkind I’d done to them personally, a betrayal. At what point did I promise to stay seventeen for the rest of my life?
Kevin was just so enthralled with the fame and the power. Again and again in my life I’ve seen fame and money ruin people, and I saw it happen with Kevin in slow motion. In my experience, when most people—especially men—get that type of attention, it’s all over. They love it too much. And it’s not good for them.
So I was young, and I made a lot of mistakes. But I will say this: I wasn’t manipulative. I was just stupid. That’s one thing Justin and Kevin ruined about me. I used to trust people. But after the breakup with Justin and then my divorce, I never really did trust people again.
Feeling like you’re never good enough is a soul-crushing state of being for a child. He’d drummed that message into me as a girl, and even after I’d accomplished so much, he was continuing to do that to me. You ruined me as a person, I wanted to tell my father. Now you’re making me work for you. I’ll do it, but I’ll be damned if I’ll put my heart into it.
Humor made it possible for me not to get consumed by bitterness.
In that moment, I made peace with my family—by which I mean that I realized I never wanted to see them again, and I was at peace with that.
“I’m just grateful, honestly, for each day… I’m not here to be a victim,” I said on Instagram after the conservatorship was terminated. “I lived with victims my whole life as a child. That’s why I got out of my house. And worked for twenty years and worked my ass off… Hopefully, my story will make an impact and make some changes in the corrupt system.”
I felt betrayed by my father and, sadly, by the rest of my family, too. My sister and I should have found comfort in each other, but unfortunately that hasn’t been the case. As I was fighting the conservatorship and receiving a lot of press attention, she was writing a book capitalizing on it. She rushed out salacious stories about me, many of them hurtful and outrageous. I was really let down. Shouldn’t sisters be able to confess their fear or vulnerability to each other without that later being used as evidence of instability? I couldn’t help but feel that she wasn’t aware of what I’d been through. It appeared that she thought it had been easy for me because so much fame had come to me so young, and that she blamed me for my success and everything that came with it.
Freedom means being goofy, silly, and having fun on social media. Freedom means taking a break from Instagram without people calling 911. Freedom means being able to make mistakes, and learning from them. Freedom means I don’t have to perform for anyone—onstage or offstage. Freedom means that I get to be as beautifully imperfect as everyone else. And freedom means the ability, and the right, to search for joy, in my own way, on my own terms.