She has never truly experienced liberty.
In her youth, Britney found solace from her challenging family situation – her father’s alcoholism often causing conflicts with her mother – by spending time outdoors. This gave her a feeling of excitement and risk, as she recalls. She also finds a sense of invincibility through performing. However, at the age of 16, she becomes a target of public attention – unable to leave her house without being swarmed by fans, and her passion for singing and dancing now a profitable asset.
During her second album, she had very few desires. One of her most joyful memories was skinny-dipping with her dancers after performing at Rock in Rio in January 2001. She reflects, “It was a small act of rebellion and a sense of freedom, but I was simply enjoying myself as a 19-year-old.” Following her breakup with Justin Timberlake, she fantasizes about leaving the pop music industry and starting her own business. However, looking back, she realizes that she didn’t give herself enough time to heal from the breakup. Unfortunately, when she asks for a break, her request is not only denied but also seen as a potential act of rebellion that needs to be suppressed and questioned.
In this constrained setting, small acts of kindness hold great significance, such as Paris Hilton encouraging her to enjoy herself after a long time, resulting in some infamous nights out with the heiress and Lindsay Lohan. Once again, Britney’s actions are seen as crossing boundaries and potentially damaging her ability to earn money. On one occasion, she has her mother watch her sons while she goes out and returns home drunk; her mother yells at her, according to her account. “The humiliation I felt was devastating. I stood there, shocked, and realized that I am not allowed to have fun.” As the restrictions become stricter, Britney rebels – ultimately leading to her being legally stripped of her freedom for 13 years, under the control of her father through a conservatorship.
She felt as though her body belonged to the public.
Since the beginning, Britney’s body has been subject to scrutiny. The media, particularly after the release of her first two music videos, “Baby One More Time” and “Sometimes,” closely observed any changes in her appearance and jumped to the conclusion that the 16-year-old had undergone breast augmentation, rather than acknowledging the possibility of natural puberty changes. Britney noticed that talk show hosts often asked her about her chest, while her boyfriend Justin Timberlake was asked more serious questions about his music. This was just one of the numerous pressures she faced that eventually led her to a breaking point. In 2007, when she wrote about shaving her head at a salon, she saw it as a rebellious response to the impossible beauty standards imposed on her: “I’d had to smile politely as TV show hosts leered at my breasts, while American parents accused me of corrupting their children simply by wearing a crop top.”
After a brief moment of freedom, she is forced into a conservatorship a year later, giving control of her body to the same entity. Despite dieting and exercising, her father constantly criticizes her weight. The intense gym routines leave her feeling mentally overwhelmed. Her diet and every aspect of her life are closely monitored, even during her Las Vegas residency. Despite being physically capable of performing flawlessly onstage and carrying two children, she is now having every calorie recorded for others to profit off of her body.
Reworded: In contrast to the conservatorship, she expresses that freedom is being able to gain weight without being criticized and enjoying her favorite foods like chocolate. It also means sharing selfies on Instagram, whether they are revealing or not. She acknowledges that some may not understand this, but she explains that after being constantly photographed and controlled by others, taking her own photos and feeling confident is a source of joy for her.
“She was trapped by the concept of ‘virginity’.”
Britney was heavily promoted as a virgin, an outdated and unappealing concept that turned the 16-year-old’s natural sexuality into a ticking bomb. However, she reveals that she actually lost her virginity at 14 to her older brother’s best friend, which she is content with. The obsession with her “purity” shifted attention away from her talents as a musician and performer, as some journalists only seemed to care about the authenticity of her breasts (which they were) and the state of her hymen.
When Timberlake publicly reveals that she was unfaithful to him, she is branded with a symbolic mark of shame. Despite feeling powerless against this narrative (“I don’t think Justin realized the impact of publicly shaming me. I don’t think he fully comprehends it to this day”), his disclosure of their sexual relationship was actually empowering. “To be frank, I appreciated Justin’s transparency,” she states. “Why did my managers go to such lengths to portray me as an innocent, virginal young girl even in my adulthood? It’s no one’s concern whether or not I’ve had sex.”
However, she was unable to break free from the pattern that Timberlake had initiated: she reflects on her 2004 Onyx Hotel tour as being “overly sexual, to begin with. Justin had publicly humiliated me, so my response on stage was to also push boundaries. But it was a terrible experience.”
She has a flawless understanding of color tones.
Britney appears to have a kind and innocent nature, but she has a skill for portraying others in a sharp and precise manner. In her writing, she mentions that Timberlake’s band, ‘NSync, were quite fond of hip-hop and would occasionally make an effort to blend in with Black artists. At an event, Timberlake becomes visibly enthused upon spotting Ginuwine and loudly exclaims, “Oh yeah, fo shiz, fo shiz! Ginuwiiiine! What’s up, homie!”
It is shocking to hear that Britney was pressured to have an at-home abortion to avoid being seen at the hospital. She endured the painful experience without any relief, while her husband Timberlake proved to be useless in a crisis. In an attempt to help, he played guitar while she was in agony. Equally cringe-worthy is her ex-husband Kevin Federline’s delusional pursuit of a music career. Britney expresses perplexity at his lack of self-awareness and acknowledges his sincerity.
Being a mother makes her susceptible.
After Britney becomes pregnant with her first son, she hopes that it will keep her safe from the media attention: “I wanted everyone to stay away and give me space because there’s a baby here!” However, this plan doesn’t go as expected. The paparazzi become even more aggressive, especially after she has two children in quick succession – getting pregnant again just three months after giving birth to her first child. Britney experiences postnatal depression and feels helpless in her ability to protect her sons: “I became depressed when I couldn’t keep them safe inside my body anymore…I wanted them back inside me so the world couldn’t harm them.”
She strongly feels that she has been treated unjustly due to a perceived contract with the public and media, which she never agreed to. She expresses frustration that they expected her to allow photographers to take unflattering photos of her and her infant sons. The scrutiny of her postpartum body and natural appearance was seen as a wrongdoing and betrayal by those who felt entitled to her looking a certain way. She questions when she ever made a promise to remain a certain age forever.
She explains that she has come to realize that her previous life was completely taken away from her. She couldn’t go out in public without being noticed, couldn’t make mistakes as a new mother, and couldn’t trust those around her. She felt trapped with no freedom or security. Additionally, she also struggled with severe postpartum depression during this time, which led her to have suicidal thoughts. She openly admits that she felt like she couldn’t go on if things didn’t improve.
She is aware that she is stuck in a state of halted progress.
It is commonly believed that celebrities are forever stuck in the age they achieved fame, but Britney never had the opportunity to experience a true childhood or adulthood. In her 2001 song “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman,” she seems to have foreseen this struggle; she is acutely aware of the divide between the two stages of life. Following her breakup with Timberlake, she compares herself to the character of Benjamin Button. She reflects, “In some way, that year, as I became more vulnerable, I also began to feel like a child again.”
The condition of postnatal depression exacerbates. In a section of remorse, the writer expresses feeling as though she had taken on the role of the baby and transferred her frustrations onto her interior decorator. She explains, “One part of me was acting like a demanding adult, yelling about white marble, while another part of me suddenly reverted to a childlike state.”
When she is placed under the conservatorship, she experiences a regression and feels dehumanized due to the constant monitoring. She describes feeling like a robot, specifically a child-like robot. The conservatorship took away her sense of womanhood and reduced her to a child. She struggles to articulate the rapid shifts between feeling like a little girl, a teenager, and a woman, caused by the loss of her freedom. She was expected to behave wildly on stage, as instructed, but act like a robot the rest of the time.
in today’s society.
It appears that music is no longer a top priority in modern society.
In her early days, Britney expressed her love for creating music. She had a conversation with producer Max Martin about incorporating more R&B elements into her sound rather than sticking to straight pop. Before recording Baby, One More Time, she listened to Tainted Love and purposely stayed up late to give her voice a gravelly and “fried” tone, inspired by Marc Almond. Britney was known for her perfectionism in the studio, often spending hours in the booth. The concept of the school setting and uniforms in the Baby music video was her own idea. She reflects that this was the time in her life when she was most passionate about music, as she was relatively unknown and had nothing to lose if she made mistakes.
Following that, her music is hardly mentioned in A Woman Like Me. There is a brief acknowledgement of her record-breaking achievements, and the iconic song Toxic is summarized in one sentence. The only album that receives significant attention is Blackout from 2007, which is considered a cult favorite and was created during a difficult time in her public life, yet still had great potential. The studio provided a safe haven from the constant paparazzi attention she faced outside. Despite the messy DIY video for the single Gimme More being “by far the worst video [she] ever shot in [her] life”, its roughness caught the attention of more interesting people who wanted to work with her. She also expresses admiration for her 2016 album Glory and takes pride in her collaboration with Elton John in 2022. However, she currently has no plans to continue making music.
The conservatorship she lives under is a tale of terror.
“It is appropriate that The Woman in Me is coming out a week before Halloween. Despite our previous knowledge about Britney’s 13 years under a conservatorship, her retelling of its establishment, her life under it, and her inability to break free from it is reminiscent of a horror tale. It is disturbing, akin to a plot from a Victorian novel, not the actual events of a woman in her thirties in recent years.”
When she becomes worried that Federline may restrict her access to her children, she retreats to a bathroom with one of her sons. Suddenly, a Swat team in dark attire barges in, acting as if she had harmed someone. She is then detained against her will in a hospital. Shortly after, her mother invites her to stay at her beach house, claiming that the police are after her. Upon arrival, she is once again met by a Swat team. Feeling helpless, she reflects on the fact that she is just a petite singer who always shows respect by using “sir” and “ma’am,” yet is being treated like a criminal or predator.
Britney claims that her father, who she describes as an alcoholic and a failed businessman, has complete control over her life through the conservatorship. She is constantly monitored and heavily medicated. Any potential romantic partners must undergo background checks and blood tests, sign non-disclosure agreements, and be fully informed of her sexual history before going on a date with her. This strict system has prevented Britney from having normal social interactions and finding love, greatly impacting her music, career, and mental well-being.
She agrees to the arrangement in order to maintain contact with her sons, but questions how she can perform at such a high level while being seen as “too sick to make my own decisions.” She makes unsuccessful attempts to break free from the situation, while her father sends her to rehab and Alcoholics Anonymous because she has been using over-the-counter energy supplements. The women at AA inspire her to start taking control of her life, but she continues to face obstacles. Her father refuses to let her remove her IUD to start a family with her now ex-husband, Sam Ashgari (they have since divorced after Britney completed the memoir). When she objects to a new dance move suggested for her Vegas residency, she is sent to a solitary rehabilitation facility for two months, which is the most disturbing part of the book.
She was confined, placed on lithium, subjected to constant testing and required therapy, unable to see her children or pet, unable to have privacy while bathing or dressing or closing her room door, and had strict bed and waking schedules. During blood tests, “the person drawing my blood was accompanied by a nurse, security guard, and my assistant. Was I a cannibal? A bank robber? A wild animal? Why was I treated as if I were about to cause harm and kill them all?” She questions if her family is plotting against her. She felt slowed down and restricted, stating “I started to feel like I was being intentionally tortured,” and disconnected from her own body. She concludes that the intention of her stay was not for healing.
She shares that she is fearless after that incident, stating, “however, it doesn’t give me a sense of strength, it just makes me feel sad. I shouldn’t have to be this strong.”
A nurse introduces Britney to a growing fan movement that is bringing attention to concerns about her conservatorship. In June 2021, she contacts 911 to report her father for abuse related to the conservatorship, just days before a court hearing. She explains that her voice has been manipulated and used against her so many times that she is afraid it won’t be recognized if she speaks freely. After finally being granted her freedom in November 2021, she expresses feeling a range of emotions including shock, relief, happiness, sadness, and joy.
No affection is lost towards her family.
Britney shares her experience of constantly feeling inadequate in her upbringing due to her father’s suspected alcoholism, neglect, and harsh expectations. She also discusses how her mother contributed to this feeling of inadequacy. Additionally, Britney is candid about her younger sister, whom she describes as a spoiled child who was shielded from the struggles of Britney’s impoverished childhood because of her own achievements. Britney reflects on the difficult situation she and her mother were in, having to witness the unpleasantness and aggression without any hope of escape.
Despite Britney’s status as the top pop star, her parents continue to have a significant influence on her career. This includes forcing her to participate in humiliating television interviews, without explaining their reasons. Through the conservatorship, her father legally gains control and even states, “I am Britney Spears now,” while her family appears to rely on her financially while she lives a highly limited life.
Upon returning home from a mandatory stay at a harsh rehabilitation center, she discovers that her childhood possessions, including a binder filled with her personal poetry, have been discarded by her parents. She experiences intense sadness as she reflects on the tears she shed while writing those pages. Although she never intended to share them with anyone, they held sentimental value to her. However, her family had treated them just as they had treated her – by throwing them away. She makes the decision to begin anew with a fresh notebook, and in that moment, she comes to terms with her family. This means that she realizes she no longer wants to have any contact with them, and she is content with that outcome.
Britney states that she is putting effort into cultivating a sense of “compassion over anger” towards them, but acknowledges that it is a challenging task.