When Britney Spears chose to shave her head, it became a symbol of her public decline. In reality, it was her way of saying “Fuck you” to a world that constantly had opinions about both her body and her private life. The toxic celebrity gossip culture has cleaned itself up since the 2000s, but we still seem to struggle with not having opinions about who Britney Spears should be.
With determined steps, Britney walks through the glass door of Esther’s Haircutting Studio in Los Angeles. She asks the salon’s owner to shave her head. He refuses, so she takes matters into her own hands. One by one, the brown locks fall to the floor. The sidewalk outside the large glass windows is illuminated by the flickering camera flashes. Paparazzi photographers jostle for space to capture the best shot.
During that time, paparazzi trailed Britney Spears like a flock of eager vultures. In February 2007, they managed to captur the moment that would shock the entire world. The pictures of a visibly distressed Britney sold like hotcakes, and so did the story of what would later be referred to as her mental breakdown. She’s completely lost it now – come and read all about it!
MTV Video Music Awards, September 9, 2007. Britney performed “Gimme More” and the evening was meant to be her comeback to music after a period of personal issues and disheartening headlines in the press. However, she was noticeably uncomfortable on stage and seemed to stumble through the choreography. Afterward, she received harsh criticism for both her performance and her appearance. In a newly released autobiography, Britney recounts how she had a panic attack just before going on stage.
Britney Spears’ autobiography, “The Woman in Me” was released in October 2023. The sales figures, which have propelled the book to the top of Amazon’s Best Sellers Book List, indicate that she still possesses impressive popularity, despite having taken a step back from both the spotlight and the music industry.
The incident at the hair salon is one of the many tragic stories documented in “The Woman in Me”. It was an act of rebellion when she took the clippers into her own hands – her way of saying “Fuck you” to a world that has scrutinized her for years and had opinions about who she should be and how she should look.
Small-town girl Britney was initially portrayed as an innocent “good girl”. However, in 1999, she created one of her first major scandals when she posed in lingerie on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Instead of questioning the culture that objectifies women, it was the 18-year-old Britney Spears at fault for not being a good enough role model for her young fans. The illusion of the perfect Southern American girl began to unravel just a year after her breakthrough with “Baby One More Time”.
Britney Spears poses during a portrait session on October 2, 1998 in Los Angeles, California.
The realization that Britney is a human being like everyone else did not sit well with either the public or the media. An example that encapsulates what Britney endured in the 2000s is the interview with Diane Sawyer for ABC Primetime from 2003. An uncomfortable – and at times crying – Britney endured a 42-minute-long cross-examination about why she wasn’t a better role model, why she was no longer a virgin, and how she dared to make Justin Timberlake upset during their relationship.
The celebrity press was often completely insane during the ’90s and 2000s. Britney Spears, initially placed on the highest of pedestals, was soon led to the guillotine. From this ruthless climate, monsters like PerezHilton.com were born, a gossip site that has since cleaned up its act to some extent but was previously a notorious hub for toxic celebrity gossip. Mario Armando Lavandeira, the man behind the pseudonym Perez Hilton, has later apologized to Britney Spears for the adult bullying she endured.
As if the press’s witch hunt weren’t enough, Britney also had to live under a strict conservatorship for 13 years. This conservatorship, after lengthy court proceedings and a stirring testimony by Britney herself, was terminated in November 2021. Since the conservatorship was lifted, we have been able to witness Britney’s freedom on her Instagram account. We are treated to a disjointed cavalcade of images, ranging from miniature tea sets, bare bottoms, cute pastries, to blurry videos where she dances with knives (props!).
One thing is for sure. Britney Spears couldn’t care less about presenting herself in any particular way, which sets her apart monumentally from many other global superstars and their carefully curated feeds. The ability to comment on Britney’s posts has been disabled since 2022. Before that, fans in the comment sections were convinced that Britney herself wasn’t the one posting the content. (There is actually a conspiracy theory circulating that Britney Spears is still not free, and that images and videos of the star are AI-generated).
Comments like “This is not normal behavior for a woman in her 40s,” “She can’t dance,” and “She looks awful” were also frequent occurrences.
From fans to haters, everyone still seems to have an opinion about Britney Spears. In December 2022, she posted a message with the quote: “You think you know me? Think again.” In light of her revealing autobiography, where Britney, for the first time, gets to control the narrative, one can truly question whether we have any idea who Britney is.
The hit song “Lucky” from 2000 became a grim prophecy. Behind the glittering façade was someone who had been stripped of her autonomy as a teenager. Surrounded by sensationalist journalists, money-hungry family members, industry figures, and paparazzi, Britney was torn apart as everyone wanted a piece of the pie.
“The Woman in Me” serves as a way for Britney to reclaim power over her own story and identity. The Instagram posts that followers find strange may even be her way of once again saying “Fuck you” to a world that seems incapable of not having opinions about who she should be. Or, to quote Britney’s hit “Overprotected” from 2001: “I’m so fed up with people telling me to be someone else but me.”