We all owe Britney Spears an apology.
After Hulu’s groundbreaking documentary, the entire celebrity media industry has been under harsh scrutiny—and rightly so. Framing Britney Spears documents the singer’s unimaginable treatment by the press before her public breakdown in 2007 and also highlights the infamous conservatorship that sparked the #FreeBritney movement.
First launched in 2009, the Free Britney movement stemmed from concerned fans who had become worried that the conservatorship—put in place by the singer’s father—stripped Spears of her autonomy. The movement has gained major steam in the past couple of years, reaching a wide range of audiences rightly calling into question the degrading conservatorship—Spears is not permitted to spend her own money or enter into contracts (despite engaging in several world tours and releasing albums since the conservatorship was implemented).
Though it is hardly unusual for celebrities to face a shocking loss of privacy, Spears’ treatment felt undoubtedly harsh. As a young teenager dubbed with the “Girl Next Door” label, Spears had to cope with unrealistic expectations during her most formative years. At a time when one would be going to the mall and venturing to prom, Spears was responding to questions about her sex life and whether she was ready for marriage (something that is virtually never asked of male celebrities).
The singer’s high-profile relationship with heartthrob Justin Timberlake was also a major source of scrutiny for the young star. The relationship brought unwanted, intimate questions about the singer’s virginity and highlights the extent to which the media and celebrity culture invaded Spears’ privacy. Timberlake notoriously bragged about taking Spears’ virginity on multiple radio shows, showing how Spears’ agency had been unfairly stripped by someone she trusted. After the couple’s breakup in 2002, press coverage gaslit Spears and the public, painting her in an unfair light and exonerating Timberlake of wrongdoing. To the press and apparently himself—Timberlake was an angelic partner and Spears was all to blame.
Though Timberlake has issued a statement—both for his treatment of Spears and of Janet Jackson — it seemed more like an empty ritual than an apology. Let’s be real, if #FreeBritney wasn’t trending across social media, would he have issued an apology at all?
Aside from her tumultuous relationship with Timberlake, Spears also endured relentless criticism surrounding her relationship with Kevin Federline — the father of her two children. After the birth of her first child in 2005, the singer had countless of frightening run-ins with the paparazzi who hounded the new mother’s every move.
A year later, the couple’s high profile divorce displayed the way in which constant media attention and scrutiny quickly tarnishes not only a relationship, but also individual’s mental health. The singer’s high-profile breakdown in 2007 proved just how vicious the media cycle is. Instead of being seen as someone severely struggling with mental health issues, she was treated with disdain and even mocked. Photos of Spears were used as memes, spread on social media platforms, and printed on coffee mugs—fully validating the dehumanization of someone who had been unfairly criticized and manipulated from a young age. The singer’s shaved hair was even sold on eBay for thousands…I mean, really?
Circling back to the present, Spears took to Instagram to offer her most direct statement on the documentary yet. “I didn’t watch the documentary but from what I did see of it, I was embarrassed by the light they put me in,” Spears wrote, further stating “I cried for two weeks and well…I still cry sometimes.”
Though the post was issued on Spears’ Instagram account, many fans in the comments and on other social media platforms became skeptical of whether she actually was responsible for the statement. Given the singer’s ongoing conservatorship and cryptic Instagram posts—like a red refrigerator and Victorian-era snapshots—onlookers are hesitant to believe Spears has full control over her social media. Because of the hush-hush nature of the conservatorship, it is increasingly easy for worried fans to fall down a rabbit hole of conspiracy-like conclusions about Spears. All we can hope for is that Spears is able to speak her truth. Amidst reports that Spears is interested in a sit-down interview with Oprah Winfrey, that hope may be on its way to becoming a reality — and even if a tell all interview is not in the works, according to sources close to the singer it appears that Spears is more willing than ever to speak out.
Our ever-increasingly digital world makes it easier than ever to get a glimpse into the lives of our favorite stars. Yet despite these gains, it elevates some to levels of super stardom and unprecedented scrutiny that they may not be mentally able to handle. As much as we like to think pop-icons like Britney, Beyonce, and Gaga are superhuman, they have up and downs just like their supporters. We should all take advice from Britney’s 2004 hit My Prerogative “Everybody’s talking all this stuff about me. Why don’t they just let me live?”END
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