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“You have to speak the thing that you’re feeling, even if it scares you. You have to tell your story. You have to raise your voice” says Britney Spears in her memoir.
In the late ’90s, Britney Spears exploded onto the music scene with her debut hit “Baby One More Time,” catapulting her to the zenith of pop stardom. The world watched in awe as this talented teenager mesmerised audiences, setting records and cementing her status as an icon. But behind the glamour, an unrelenting storm of public scrutiny and paparazzi’s relentless flashbulbs began to close in.
“Baby One More Time,” released in 1999, remains one of the highest-grossing albums by a solo teen artist, even 20 years later now. Britney Spears, the pop princess, was adored by millions, yet her life was far from a fairy tale. Her every move was dissected and sensationalized by the media, turning her personal struggles into a public spectacle.
No matter what her achievement was, her achievements were reduced to her sexuality.
“It took my focus off me as a musician and performer. I worked so hard on my music and on my stage shows. But all some reporters could think of to ask me was whether or not my breasts were real (they were, actually) and whether or not my hymen was intact”, writes Spears.
In 2008, Britney’s life took a momentous turn as it appeared to unravel right before us. The images of her shaving her head and attacking a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella shocked the world. It was a moment of vulnerability and despair, but we must ask ourselves, is shaving one’s head a cardinal offence? In hindsight of time, the answer is a resounding no. But that incident was one of the things that led to conservatorship.
In her own words, Britney reflects on those dark days, “You can’t even do any damage with an umbrella. It was a desperate move by a desperate person.” Her actions were a cry for help, a plea for understanding as she grappled with perinatal depression, anxiety, divorce, the loss of her maternal aunt Sandra, with whom she was very close, and a contentious child custody battle.
The most insidious chapter in Britney’s life was the conservatorship imposed upon her in 2008, with her father, Jamie Spears, assuming total financial control over her assets and making medical, and personal decisions.
“I call the shots. You sit right here in the chair, and I’ll tell you what goes on,” he declared, writes Spears in her book. It’s chilling to think that Britney Spears, a global superstar, was stripped of her agency in such a manner.
Her father’s control drowned out Britney’s voice, autonomy and creativity as an artist. It reduced her to just a money-making means for her parents.
Even when she was not qualified enough to make her own decisions, she was scheduled to give back-to-back performances. In fact, through her conservatorship, “I was working my ass-off”, she says.
Doesn’t this sound uncomfortably familiar to what countless Indian women endure? Even as adults, many of us have our finances and life decisions controlled by our parents or in-laws. The parallels are striking, emphasizing that issues of autonomy and agency transcend geographical boundaries.
“There have been so many times when I was scared to speak up because I was afraid somebody would think I was crazy. But I’ve learned that lesson now, the hard way. You have to speak the thing that you’re feeling, even if it scares you. You have to tell our story. You have to raise your voice.” Spears writes in her memoir, The Woman In Me.
As Spears writes in her book, “I couldn’t take a bath in private. I couldn’t shut the door to my room. I was watched, even when I was changing. I began to feel like I was being ritually tortured”. I felt like I was reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood paints a dystopian world where women’s lives are meticulously controlled, their rights and freedoms stripped away in the name of a totalitarian regime. In Britney’s memoir, we witness a real-life struggle against a different kind of control, but one that nonetheless suppresses her voice and agency. Both narratives highlight the harrowing consequences of a system that seeks to dominate and silence individuals.
During the span of 12 years under conservatorship, she has done a variety of shows, repeatedly toured the world, and also released multiple albums. In her book Spears writes, “The conservatorship was created supposedly because I was incapable of doing anything at all. So why was it that a few weeks later, they had me shoot an episode of How I Met Your Mother and then send me on a gruelling world tour?”
Her Las Vegas residency “Piece of Me” was launched in 2013, where she continued to give performances for four years, with a staggering ticket sales of $137.7 million across 250 shows.
In 2018, Britney abruptly ended her Las Vegas residency and she was sent to an undisclosed hospital. This set alarm bells ringing among her fans. They sensed something was amiss, and thus began to trend the #FreeBritney movement. It was a battle cry for justice and liberation from the oppressive shackles that had ensnared her. This eventually led Spears to battle against the conservatorship.
Britney Spears, once silenced, is now using her voice to raise awareness about the challenges she faced. Her fight isn’t just about her, but about challenging the systems that deprive individuals of their freedom and agency.
It’s a battle that calls on all of us to support not just Britney but every person facing similar struggles. It’s a reminder that we should never underestimate the power of a single voice in the quest for justice and autonomy.
To me, the book underscored the significance of having a loving and accepting family that stands by our side, regardless of the choices we make. Something we can go back to. It gives a sense of assurance. It’s truly difficult for me to imagine a situation where my own family would fail to trust my decisions and, worse, manipulate me into believing that I am a disgrace.
How often do parents readily support a daughter going through a divorce or facing challenges in her marriage or relationship without immediately resorting to blame? How frequently are we told to suppress our feelings and put on a façade of a smiling face, just as Spears experienced?
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