The Britney Show

Britney Spears’ pop-tart
image was created as a fantasy for the average man, but since her brush
with the ugly side of fame, she’s been subjected to the average female
nightmare. The public, and press, have leveled at Spears a litany of
critiques that are familiar to everyday women: she’s lost her sex
appeal, she’s a bad mother, she’s "crazy," she’s fat, she’s
over the hill before the age of 30, she’s angry and out of control.
When Spears smashed her teen-queen façade by shaving her head, acting
out, and being less than impeccably groomed, the public reacted with
loathing and voyeurism; now, Spears’ "comeback" consists of losing her legal
at 27 (her birthday was Tuesday), being micro-managed back into the
same role she had as a comely teenager–the role that may have caused
all the problems to begin with.  

On Sunday night two weeks ago, Mtv aired
a Britney-approved documentary in which she opened up about her life for
the first time in years. But the two hours of TV were more tragic than triumphant.
In between moments of happy rehearsals and studio antics, the film focused
in as Britney tearfully described
her current life as "sad,"

plagued by angsty boredom despite the rehearsals that are supposed to
give her joy. The documentary included a moment in which Spears said
that every day to her now feels like "Groundhog
," as well
as some shocking footage of her car being mobbed by paparazzi and her
handlers shielding her with a sheet as she shopped. Spears said she
longed to take walks without being hounded, to "feel the crispy air…
be a part of the people." One of her entourage expounded: "The
only time she’s free is when she’s in a closed four by four space."  

In light of all that, it’s
been disturbing this week to watch Spears go
through the motions

of performances meant to highlight her toned physique and ability to
do some rudimentary dance moves. One wonder whether Spears is ready
for this "comeback," or whether the army of male managers, including
her dad, have foisted it on her because they don’t know what else to
do–and she’s their cash cow. A woman who
has been in the public eye since before
she could make decisions for herself

can’t break away from her abusive lifelong relationship with her audience,
as their sex-object, squeal inducer and punching bag.  

Writing about Britney in the
midst of this blatantly-engineered publicity blitz is problematic: by
paying attention to her, we are feeding the machine that keeps her in
a cycle of public humiliation and redemption. We are reinforcing the
presentation of a person–a woman–as merchandise.   

But Britney’s story is hard
to ignore because it brings up so many disturbing reminders of society’s
treatment of women, particularly our bodies. In the Spears explained
that she shaved
her head
as "a
form of rebellion" and a way of  "feeling free… shedding
stuff that had happened." The reason that the world reacted so violently
to the shaved scalp was she was rejecting her beauty and turning herself
into something other than an object of desire. Similarly, her mid-routine kiss with Madonna remains a hot topic years
later because Madonna, who presents herself as an empowered, highly
sexualized, aggressive women, was symbolically seducing and converting
Britney from virginal teen queen into something far more threatening. 

With all these classically
sexist overtones to the Britney drama, it’s no wonder that women are
reacting so personally. On Jezebel, several (excellent) threads about Britney have drawn out commenters’ own experience
with eating disorders and mental illness. Britney is an object of fear,
obsession, pity disgust and love for women because her journey–at
least when it comes to scrutiny of her appearance and relationships–is
ours writ large. She has suffered through breakups, family problems,
pregnancies, body image issues, (rumored) postpartum depression and
defiant self-destruction in front of millions. Many women suffer through
at least some of these things. Sure, they do it with a smaller audience,
but they often feel the same humiliation when they get caught in sweatpants
or with unshaved legs, behave unthinkingly, make bad romantic choices,
grow out of their adolescent bodies, get dismissed as crazy, are frowned
upon as irresponsible parents or, after giving birth, are desexualized and

The obsession with her thinness
is  perhaps the most blatant of these problems. As Rebecca Traister wrote last year after Spears’ infamous
VMA performance: 

    Wonder why your daughters
    have eating disorders and hate their bodies? Maybe because they’re reading
    reports that label the thin young woman dancing around in a bra and
    panties physically unappealing and obese. 

Indeed, after that performance,
the AP
, with its
tongue not far enough in its cheek, that Britney’s physique was the
"most unforgivable" aspect of her performance. And now that she
can bare her midriff without shame, she is considered healed. Her father,
cried during the documentary because his daughter was "beautiful"
again. Talk about unhealthy messaging. 

During that flabby midriff
era, Britney may have been the controlling her life and image the only way she
knew how: by flouting public requirements. The reality is we don’t
know what Spears really thinks or feels beyond the clues she offered
on TV. What we do know is that her handlers, parents, managers, paparazzi
and the public may have irreparably damaged her life for profit and
gratification, leaving her trapped between being a wind-up-toy and a
train wreck. Perhaps that’s why so many are rooting for this woman’s
comeback, even as it feeds a vicious cycle for her and all of us. 

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  • invalid-0

    Wow. This is the possibly the most intelligent analysis I’ve read on Ms. Spears.

    When we pause and think of her *as a woman* instead of as an icon, we naturally develop a perspective towards her based in compassion – rather than scorn, belittling humor, or apathy. Thank you for writing such an article. It’s tremendously refreshing.

  • invalid-0

    You know, in reading this article about Britney it got me to thinking about actresses that are trapped in a somewhat similair cycle.

    Like Jessica Alba, for example. Sometimes I feel that she’s not given any good roles because she’s seen as this gorgeous young woman, and if she tries to break out of that role, that stereotyping, she gets shut down or given bad scripts and has to go back to the pretty roles (showing off her good looks) since they’re the good paycheck providers.

    Still, while there’s a price to pay for being famous, women more often than not seem to get the short end of the stick.

    (I say this as only a casual fan of current media entertainment, so I can’t say anything definitive.)

    Can’t be too fat, gotta have straight hair, don’t look too ethnic…

    If anything, I hope that Britney is able to gain some control over her life. Maybe she’ll be able to retire early as a singer and pursue whatever makes her happy.

  • harry834

    I wonder if Britney’s mental problems (assuming that’s true) have required her handlers to take drastic measures to stop her from hurting herself. This happens to mental patients, doesn’t it?

    On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that these handlers are motivated right. They are taking money for her work. They do want to keep her public image good (which is not the same as caring for her welfare). 

    Other options they could take: use their power of control to put restraining orders (or some legal barrier) on all these paparazi. Make them, rather than Britney, the one who has to suffer restraints.

    But it also seems that the handlers could be victims themselves in a way: the only way for them make money is to maintain the image for the satisfaction of the vicious public consumers. But then, don’t they have enough money to not worry about poverty?

    It’s a shame that those who are truly concerned for her have little access to reliable information.


  • harry834

    how much her dating life is controlled. I once heard someone on Chelsea Handly say Jessica and Ashley Simpson’s dad "knew what he was doing" by pushing them towards certain marriages. "Those girls are so out of control that they’d probably be strippers if not for his control".

    Needing to have your father choose your marriage? The barbarian dark ages are lurking.

  • invalid-0

    Poor Britney, she is an instrument of her father and the media. The report is very fitting.

  • invalid-0

    In today’s generation, sex sells among the celebrities is very common. There are some celebrities that are engaging to this kind of situation. Let’s take Britney Spears as an example. Britney Spears has or will never been in need of a payday loan. She has been able to afford her own things since her childhood. The release of her new “Circus” album has attracted the eye of the media hurricane. Yet it seems almost impossible to forget how “circus-like” her career and life has been. Britney Spears reminds you a lot of Madonna – one of the most popular and controversial pop artists of all time. People like to follow people in the news, especially those who do the most unpredictable, bizarre things. Britney Spears, like Madonna, can do just that and does it really well. You probably remember the erratic event that took place in the beginning of her wild days. She had a “married today, annulled tomorrow” type of wedding to a friend she grew up with in Las Vegas. She has put out four or five albums and has earned herself a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Her story is actually astonishing if you really think about it. Click here to read the full article yourself on the payday loan.

  • invalid-0

    I was previously disgusted to see Britney with her hair totally shaven. Now that I’ve read this article, my disgust turned into sympathy. Frankly, it’s kinda sad to know how a young girl’s life is ruined like that.

  • invalid-0

    it is very easy to look at britney as a messed up young lady but the fact is that she is a real person, with real issues to deal with. her issues are bigger than most, considering shes been famous forever, and programmes like this allow us to see her human side and therfore relate to her troubles.

  • invalid-0

    I have to agree with much of what you have said here and my heart goes out to the Britney’s of the world and on a much larger scale all those women of the world that are treated in like manner but do not have the fame, in fact they are treated as no one and no body other than what they can provide to those that desire what they have. When I watched Britney’s recent interview that you refer to, my heart was broken as we started to see behind the curtain of her life and see the broken or at least wounded spirit that she hides so well.

  • invalid-0

    Poor Britney? Really? I think that the article is great in explaining what Britney went through and in showing how media is influencing and promoting destructive behaviour in our teens… But when I started reading some of the comments…

    Common people. Almost everybody I know has had harder life than Britney. She’s got everything she wanted – the fame and the fortune – but she wasn’t happy with it. I can understand that. I can understand that even thought she’s got all those things she’s still not happy. But portraying her as some sort of a tragic figure because of that is going too far.

  • invalid-0

    great information and great post thank you..

  • invalid-0

    nice post thank you so much.

  • invalid-0

    Britney is really an unlucky girl in my opinion. Thanks a lot for this post. Best regards from Geldbörse

  • invalid-0

    As a practicing hypnotherapist, I regularly see individuals who are highly concerned about their body image, some to the extent of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and obesity as they struggle with maintaining a sensible weight. Often body dysmorphia is a factor. I urge anyone seeking assistance to explore the work of Paul McKenna in the UK and USA – using hypnosis and NLP great changes can be made quickly.

  • invalid-0

    This is brilliantly written. I am so tired of reading the same rehashed uninteresting analysis of who Britney Spears is. You have given me something fresh and insightful. You make the point so well that Britney is human too. We all have our problems, character flaws and people in our environment who do not support us. I am rooting for Britney to return even bigger and better than before.

  • invalid-0

    Well the new show of britney is pretty good. I have seen the first show of her and i love it !

  • invalid-0

    This is a superb analysis, and I suspect a similar story could be told about many of those we watch, day in day out, on our TV screens. The pursuit of a career in showbiz is like a Faustian bargain in which the performer gets fame and fortune and we get to own them and have the right to an opinion on everything they say or do. As Bob the Reviewer says, it has its compensations, but it also comes at a pretty high price. I don’t think it’s unreal to spare these folks some human sympathy from time to time.

  • invalid-0

    Kids childhood are being taken away everyday by letting them stay inside the house and not enjoying the outdoors. we need to change that.

  • invalid-0

    I am left with the belief that Britney was pushed too hard as a child and was never permitted the time to develop. Just look at all her problems. Most of these are related to her lack of maturity.

    Parents should think twice about pushing their children to become stars. Robbing a child of their childhood is not acceptable in my eyes.

    And yes, the media is obsessed with Britney. The reporters are like vultures waiting to feed on Britney’s next blunder. This underscores the problem with the priorities of our society. Most people would rather watch Britney fall on her face then watch what the politicians are doing with a trillion dollars in taxpayer bailout money.