Britney Spears has been a superstar since her breakthrough hit Baby One More Time in 1998. This year, she rehashed her journey from then to now in her book The Woman in Me. It’s a conversational, approachable, and honest tell-all about her childhood, teen years, family dynamics, and the years she lost due to her father’s conservatorship (light spoilers ahead for those who haven’t read it yet).
Back in the last century, Spears’ successful albums and approachable bubble-gum pop persona made her an immediate household name and media darling. Prior to her conservatorship, I knew her for her strong work ethic and for handling difficult interviews with a maturity beyond her years.
Of course, a lot of the attention around Spears was speculation about her virginity. Her romance with Justin Timberlake and guesses about their sex life spurred a lot of judgment of the young starlet (while Timberlake went unscathed). But it was the advent of social media and the paparazzi craze around Britney Spears that truly caused years of misunderstanding and criticism. Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr were new back then. They provided ways for ordinary people to voice their opinions and pile on public figures.
Suffice it to say, many onlookers didn’t feel Spears’ 2008 conservatorship was a big deal. After all, the public wasn’t privy to the goings-on of Britney Spears’ private life. There was something much darker going on, and it’s only decades later that we can fully grasp what it was.
Spears’ conservatorship ended in 2021. She’s gone on to thank the fans and advocates who stood by her. Via Instagram, she’s slowly let the public get to know her again. After 13 years of involuntary silence, her story is now too big to fit into a celebrity profile, social media post, or live interview. She needed a full memoir and indeed, she delivered.
Full disclosure: I wasn’t a fan of Britney Spears in her heyday. I was into alternative rock and hip-hop. Many of my favorite stars at the time were open about the abuses of the music industry, the dangers of services such as Ticketmaster, and the greed of record labels. I was a junior high kid who didn’t understand how child and teen stars are often targets for powerful adults and their agenda.
Like so many who had dismissed Britney Spears in the past, I did eventually start enjoying her music thanks to its constant rotation at clubs, malls, and social gatherings. Its unavoidability softened my attitude and made me see her and her fans differently. I remember the concern many people expressed when her conservatorship began. They called it sexist, power-hungry, and demeaning back then. And lo and behold, according to The Woman in Me, it was these things and much more.
Spears speaks of her experiences with a clarity only hindsight can provide. The memoir discusses sexual experiences in her youth and the awkwardness of having to pretend to be a virgin when she wasn’t. She gives us intimate moments with her family and previously unknown information about her relationship with Justin Timberlake. Spears blatantly calls out the hypocrisy of her conservatorship and explains that the courts allowed it because of her supposed “inability” to do basic tasks. Even so, she was able to guest-star in How I Met Your Mother, create successful, award-winning music, and even do a residency in Las Vegas.
Most harrowing of all are her revelations of paparazzi chases and descriptions of a period in a Beverly Hills facility sometime in 2018, where she was placed against her will and forced to stay for months. In the meantime, her family continued to reap the benefits of her hard work.
If someone as powerful and adored as Britney Spears could go through something like this for years, how does that bode for people with fewer resources?
People stuck in cycles of abuse, feelings of being trapped either through legal systems or cultural mores are sure to find solace in The Woman in Me. Not all of us will have the chance to tell the world about our experiences, but we can use our stories to give hope to others. I know I felt empowered and full of grief after reading this.
Latinas are so often trained to be submissive and be both virginal and sexual. We will not know the heights of superstardom except in a few cases, but hopefully, many of us will experience the power that comes after owning our stories. Certainly, this memoir is a great read for those who wish to do just that.