Britney Spears has told us exactly how to drive a woman mad.

Britney Spears' body hasn’t belonged to her for 25 years. 

When she was 16, it belonged to America. 

And America was concerned. About what how she was dressing it – in "sexy" school uniform and crop tops – and what she was doing with it.

Had she had breast implants, or was that growing up? Was she having sex, or was she still Mickey-Mouse Club chaste?

When Britney was in her early 20s, it belonged to the paparazzi.

They were concerned. Their constant vigilance and scrutiny was uncovering changes.

Was she pregnant, or just getting "fat"? Was she drinking too much and getting 'soft'? Was she losing that damn baby weight fast enough? 

By the time she was 28, her body belonged to her father.

He was concerned. Could she get it together to make him hundreds of millions of dollars on a Vegas stage? Could she make it dance, sing, perform, fit into the tiny, glitzy costumes he had in mind?

Watch the trailer for Britney vs Spears. Post continues below.

Video via Netflix.

Now, Britney is 41, free, and her body is hers again. Except it’s not. Because we’re still concerned.  


Why does she wear those tiny bikinis? Why does she dance like that? Does she know what she looks like? 

But now, at least, Britney is speaking. And she has something to say about her body. 

In The Woman In Me, the memoir released today, written with ghost writer Sam Lensky, she says that in those pearl-clutching all-American days, "I'd smiled politely while TV show hosts leered at my breasts, while American parents said I was destroying their children by wearing a crop top."

In those dark, mid-noughties paparazzi years, when she was caught up in the exact moment celebrity culture went nuclear, with peak gossip magazine sales and the birth of TMZ and Perez Hilton, she says the ever-present, hundreds-strong hordes of paparazzi treated her body as an insult to them. 

"As if gaining weight was something unkind I'd done to them personally, a betrayal. At what point did I promise to stay 17 for the rest of my life?"

And of the years in captivity, she says, "My body was strong enough to carry two children and agile enough to execute every choreographed move perfectly onstage. And now here I was, having every calorie recorded so people could continue to get rich off my body."

And of now, and why she chooses to present herself the way she does on her much-discussed Instagram account: "I think if they'd [we'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, doing whatever I want with it."


What was done to Britney Spears, in the name of the price of fame and a voracious public interest, could be a very effective blueprint for driving a person mad. Particularly, a woman. 

First, celebrate them, tell them they are beautiful, talented, desirable, a goddess among mortal girls. Then, stalk them, spy on them, critique their every move, their every choice. Amplify the smallest slips, mock their major mistakes. Then take away their freedom and tell them it's for their own good. And while they're imprisoned, broken, silenced and pliable, exploit them for money, and tell them they're too dangerous to themselves and their children to ever be free.

Is it any wonder that the "free" version of Britney Spears doesn’t appear to be doing so well? That she still isn't giving us what we wanted from her? That we don't care if it feels great to spin and dance in her bikini, hair flying, eyeliner smudging, smiling and pouting for a camera? She doesn't look right.

Britney’s clearly not right. She’s barely participating in the promotion of her own memoir, other than to post about how, after the first released extract started a row about the abortion she had in her late teens, "My motive for this book was not to harp on my past experiences which is what the press is doing and it’s dumb and silly!!!"

But for a woman who's been concern-trolled to within an inch of her literal life, it must feel good to have her version of her story, the voice within her body, out there for the first time in for ever.

In 2006 and 2007, I would look at Britney Spears' body every morning when I got to work. It was part of my job, along with many others, to sit at a table with the picture editors of the magazine I worked for, and trawl through the inevitable slew of Britney pictures that would have come in from LA overnight. 


It was a time when Britney's breakdown was the only show in town. Almost every night, it seemed, she would go on a drive around Hollywood, pursued by literally hundreds of men with cameras, and do mundane things that caused chaos. Stopped at an In And Out burger. Ran into a Seven Eleven for snacks. Sat outside her ex-husband's house, hoping for a glimpse of her baby sons. Shaved her head in a random barber shop. Smashed the headlights of a photographer's car with an umbrella. 

"How does she look?" we'd ask, knowing we'd be picking the frames where she looked most unhinged, but still sort of palatably pretty, and preferably, a bit bigger, a bit "sloppy", a bit "out of control".

Did we consider, at the time, that on the night she shaved her head, the second baby she'd had in in a year was only five months old? Not really. We’d never seen a woman – a famous, rich, lauded woman – fall apart in real time before. We wondered, naively, why she wouldn't just stay home. We wondered, naively, why no-one seemed to be helping her. 

We wondered, brutally, why she’d go out looking "like that".

Paparazzi-era Britney was on every gossip magazine cover for literally years. And then, her story became too sad, too dark, too "grim" to be fun fodder for the kind of gossip magazine I worked for, and at the morning conferences we'd flick through the "Britney pics" more for sport than content choices, knowing we probably wouldn't use any. A woman whose children had been taken away wasn't really any use for glamour or LOLs.


But her body? It was only seven months after the head-shaving that Britney danced on the VMAs in a sparkly black bikini to 'Gimme More'.

Her body was deemed unacceptable. 

It's difficult, now, in a far from perfect time that is also light years ahead of 2007, what was "wrong" with it. The performance was nervous and shaky, the dancing wasn't stellar.

But by then, Britney's body was no longer flesh and blood. It was a vehicle for judging everything about her. 

It's so "sad" that she's "not skinny anymore", TV hosts said. She looked like a "bad stripper", was "no longer a performer", wrote others.

And thousands of miles away, we pored over the pictures, and we chose our angles, and we wrote our own story. About Britney Spears' body, and how her "new found curves" were on "full display" in the "controversial" performance. 

And thousands of miles in the other direction, a young mother who was being driven mad heard another click in the lock of the prison that had been built for her in the name of fame and fortune. 

We were concerned, we said. We still are, we say.

And now she's telling us her story, we're still looking at the body that she shows us, almost daily on her newly freed feed. And talking about that instead.

Feature Image: Instagram/britneyspears.