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Britney Spears in her own words: The star finally has her say in The Woman In Me | Ents & Arts News

For all the noise that has surrounded Britney Spears, little has ever come from the star herself.

Ever since Baby One More Time announced her arrival as a superstar at the age of 16, Spears has made headlines: her appearance, her sex life, her break-ups, her breakdown – every movement scrutinised, analysed, objectified, criticised.

Paparazzi photographers followed her like an “army of zombies” and for 13 years she lived under a conservatorship that controlled her life.

She was one of the biggest stars on the planet but could not make her own choices – from trainers to boyfriends, it was all vetted.

Undated handout photo issued by Simon & Schuster of the front cover of Britney Spear's memoirs The Woman In Me. The book will be published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, in October this year. The US pop star said she had had "a lot of therapy" to help get the book done and hoped fans would like it. Issue date: Wednesday July 12, 2023.
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Pic: Simon & Schuster

Now, after being freed from her conservatorship following much-publicised legal proceedings in 2021 – and the #FreeBritney campaign from fans – Spears is telling her story in her own words, in the memoir The Woman In Me.

The title is significant, referencing a lyric from the song Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman, released earlyish in her career from her third album, Britney, in 2002: “I’m not a girl, don’t tell me what to believe… I’m just tryin’ to find the woman in me.”

Spears was just 20 when the song was released. Sexualised from a young age, at the same time shamed and criticised about her womanhood, she could not win. As she puts it: “No one could seem to think of me as both sexy and capable, or talented and hot. If I was sexy, they seemed to think I must be stupid. If I was hot, I couldn’t possibly be talented.”

And then, after she became a mother – all she had ever wanted – she was placed under the conservatorship, with her father Jamie and others in charge. Under this legal arrangement, she became “a sort of child-robot”, she says. “I had been so infantilised that I was losing pieces of what made me feel like myself… the conservatorship stripped me of my womanhood, made me into a child.”

The Woman In Me is a short memoir, less than 300 pages. Spears’s storytelling is straightforward, addressing aspects of her life, good and bad, matter-of-factly before moving on to the next. She doesn’t need to embellish – the facts are emotive enough.

Framing Britney Spears is set to air in the UK on Sky Documentaries
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Pic: From the documentary Framing Britney Spears/ Sky Documentaries

‘There is so much freedom in being anonymous’

The star begins with her early life growing up in Kentwood, Louisiana, detailing a somewhat difficult childhood due to her parents fighting and father Jamie’s drinking. She was drinking and smoking by the age of 13, she says, and started driving at that age, too.

As she details her rise to fame, it is clear how underestimated she was from the start. As many who were involved in her career and the Baby One More Time video have previously said, the idea for the bored schoolgirl and her classmates dancing in the corridors – a huge part of the song’s success – was all hers.

Back then, she “had nothing to lose”, she says. “There is so much freedom in being anonymous.”

Once that song was out in the world, her life, her freedom, would never be the same again.

Read more:
Ten revelations from The Woman In Me
The key claims made in star’s 2021 court speech

FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2002, file photo, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears wave to the crowd prior to the start of the 2002 NBA All-Star game in Philadelphia. Timberlake told E! News on Sept. 13, 2016, that he's open to collaborating with Spears. Spears mentioned Timberlake last month in answering a question about who she would like to work with one day. (AP Photo/Chris Gardner, File)
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Pic: AP/Chris Gardner

Spears goes on to describe her relationship with fellow Mickey Mouse club protege Justin Timberlake, describing their romance and claiming he cheated on her, but says she “let it all go”, eventually also cheating on him. Perhaps the biggest revelation from the book, that she had an abortion during their relationship, was previewed before its release. To Spears, the pregnancy wasn’t a “tragedy”, she says, but Timberlake said they weren’t ready.

When they broke up in 2002 they were a couple barely out of their teens – a difficult time in anyone’s life, let alone under the glare of paparazzi flashes and tabloid headlines. He dumped her by text message, she says. She details her hurt, but also defends Timberlake about another aspect of their break-up that he has since been publicly criticised for – admitting to an interviewer that they had slept together, despite her being marketed as “an eternal virgin”.

Timberlake is yet to comment on Spears’s memoir, but has previously apologised for his comments on their sex life. But the star says of this: “Was I mad at being ‘outed’ by him as sexually active? No. To be honest with you, I liked that Justin said that. Why did my managers work so hard to claim I was some kind of young-girl virgin even into my 20s. Whose business was it if I’d had sex or not?”

Spears says she started to increasingly suffer anxiety as she made headlines whatever she did. What happened in the years that followed has been well-documented: her 55-hour Las Vegas marriage to childhood friend Jason Alexander; her marriage to dancer Keven Federline later that year and the subsequent birth of her two sons, and then the struggles she faced after their split amid a custody battle. She suffered perinatal depression, she says, as her “vulnerable” babies were placed in “the world of jockeying paparazzi and tabloids”.

When it became too much, she famously shaved her head. This was her “f*** you” to the world, to everyone who wanted her to be the beautiful good girl, the pop princess puppet.

Not long after this, plans for the conservatorship were put in place.

Supporters of Britney Spears outside the courthouse in Los Angeles

#FreeBritney: ‘I’ve been through too much’

Spears says she started attempts to free herself from the legal arrangement in 2014. Hearings took place in private, but as the #FreeBritney movement grew and a documentary was released about it early in 2021, the world became aware that something wasn’t right. Then, in June 2021, Spears finally had her say in open court, giving a four-page statement over 20 minutes, telling the judge: “I want my life back.”

Five months later, the order was lifted. Since then, Spears has gone through a miscarriage, married and subsequently split from Sam Asghari. Fans now hear from her through her Instagram page, on which she shares dancing videos and often naked or semi-naked pictures or clips.

Concerns for her welfare have been raised about her posts, but as she explains in the book: “I know that a lot of people don’t understand why I love taking pictures of myself naked or in new dresses… I think if they’d been photographed by other people thousands of times, prodded and posed for other people’s approval, they’d understand that I get a lot of joy from posing the way I feel sexy and taking my own picture.”

Instagram aside, The Woman In Me is the first chance to hear about all of these much-covered ups and downs of her life in in Spears’s own words. She is honest about her flaws – that she was never good at fame, that she did occasionally take prescription drugs, she did cheat – but it is clear she was let down by so many. There is an undercurrent of anger: at the industry, the men who wronged her, her family, all those who made money out of Brand Britney while she was suffering.

Like many child stars before her, Spears has not experienced a normal transition into adulthood. At least now, hopefully, she gets to call the shots. Her book gives her the chance to have her say, but she doesn’t want to look back and reflect on the what ifs.

“It’s difficult for me to revisit this darkest chapter of my life and to think about what might have been different if I’d pushed back harder then,” she says of the conservatorship. “I don’t at all like to think about that… I can’t afford to, honestly. I’ve been through too much.”


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