Let me begin by stating I was never drawn to Britney Spears. I loved Nsync and as a loyal infatuated 12 year old, I decided to hate her for dating Justin Timberlake. To be fair, I would have also hated her had she dated Lance Bass. If she would have been interested in the guy that now sells hot dogs (no judgement, we are proud owners of our own personal hot dog steamer in the Axe household) or that one dude that always had the dread locks, I maybe wouldn’t have cared. But when Justin and Lance sang “This I Promise You,” they were promising to smash their faces against my face, and only my face. So you see, as a classically trained female raised in an environment where other women are seen as threats that you need to safeguard yourself from, I took a stance. Not the one I take now, but one clearly curated by society. Britney Spears was vile. But not Christina Aguilera. Not Jennifer Lopez. Not Mariah Carey. Not Madonna. Not Beyonce.
And why was Britney Spears vile? She was cute, talented, confident, fun, happy. Those are attractive things to be. There’s nothing actually toxic here. And I can use those same character descriptors on Lady Gaga, can’t I? So why does society always move to tear down the vulnerable when they learn how to be resilient? Justin Timberlake dated Britney Spears and was constantly asked about their breakup. Justin Timberlake also exposed Janet Jackson’s bare breast to the nation. But, I still loved seeing him in Inside Llewyn Davis, and still rewatch my old PopOdyssey dvd with my husband, during drunk couch singing nights. And never asked myself, not once, about Justin’s culpability. I thought it was funny he had a Britney double in “Cry Me a River,” giving him credit for being clever. Jesus Christ. What is clever about a man that “launched his solo career by slut shaming Britney,” as the internet is beginning to showcase? And about that wardrobe malfunction…I can’t bring myself to Google this, but I am curious, were Justin’s numbers taking a dive when Janet’s boob accidentally fell out of her costume? Because, how many other times have her boobs accidentally fallen out of her costumes?
As a woman, with boobs, I can say, mine don’t tend to jump out of my clothing unless they are assisted to do so. And sometimes that assistance gets offered without my consent. You know how when your boobs start growing, and sometimes they grow fast? Like from an A cup to a C cup in like seven months, fast? Apparently that fascinated an entire middle school full of peers that thought it was okay to grab me while I was walking to class. I figured out how to stack textbooks, a trapper keeper, a pencil case, my personal reading book, and a stack of notebooks and folders in my arms in front of my chest as a barrier to protect myself from reaching hands. Because they were grabbing me and saying, “Just checking! Thought you stuffed!” or “If you didn’t want me to grab ‘em you shouldn’t have grown ‘em so big!” or one of personal favorites that followed me all throughout high school, “If you want me to believe they’re real, you’d show me.”
Girls too, mind you, please don’t picture this as only boys saying these things. The girls were worse because they were the ones given access to me in the locker rooms and bathrooms. I had a friend actually break my bra strap once. She thought it would be funny to snap my bra by grabbing it and pulling it as far back as she could. She leaned her whole frame backwards once she had a good hold. Then she let go and laughed, while a bunch of people watched, pointing out to the crowd the sound it made when my strap smacked against my skin. I was 14. It was my second class of the day. And my breasts were big enough to have needed that wire for support. So I asked another friend into the bathroom to tie my bra strap into a knot until I made it home, then I had to show my mom and explain what happened to it, since it was the only bra that fit me and now we needed to go buy a new one. I am 32 years old now and am still so scarred by what people thought they had permission to do to my body. And I’m not Britney Spears.
I’m not anywhere near as beautiful, as fit, as talented, as famous, or as desirable. And I was treated like everyone was allowed to want to touch me and I shouldn’t be upset by their curiosity. I was told to take it as a compliment. All of society wanted to touch Britney and all of society asked those that did or friends of those that did what it felt like. Even over a decade later. Don’t believe me? There’s a clip of Jimmy Fallon playing a game on not-his-show-but-still-some-late-night-comedy-show, where he’s playing a game evading/half answering questions about Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears because him and Justin are friends in real life and he went to a Super Bowl party they threw. The article I read with the clip was dated 2017, and I just didn’t want to know if that’s when that clip aired or when the article was written or both. But that is clocking in at 15 years after their break up.
It makes me think of the media frenzy that followed Princess Diana everywhere. In a way the two situations are parallel. Princess Diana was a virgin, the world over knew it and needed it to be confirmed before she was to wed the Prince because he was supposed to be the first to plow the field. She was young and beautiful and innocent. And everyone wanted to touch her. Britney Spears would be asked by male interviewers about her breasts, her virginity, her relationships. Not her body of work. Her body. Princess Diana was stalked to her death by paparazzi. Britney Spears was stalked to the limits of her mental health by paparazzi. Society and the lack of boundaries killed Princess Diana. That same society and that same lack of boundaries is killing Britney Spears, pieces at a time.
I watch these interviews that Britney Spears gave and I wonder, who was looking out for her? She is so young, early twenties maybe, when Diane Sawyer tells her that the wife of some politician was quoted for saying she’d like to shoot Britney Spears for making it difficult for her to raise her children. How is that even possible? If you want to murder someone that you see on TV because of the way your children react to her, change the fucking channel. And if you can’t parent your children because they are so easily influenced, because you are also, in turn, so easily influenced, I’m concerned they will become a risk to your husband’s political career. I mean that one lady from Full House had to go to jail for bribing institutions for her kids to have the education she wanted for them. Don’t tell me politicians don’t cover up tickets, or felonies, for their children. You’ve got to have some loose morals and a pretty aggressive world view to offer shooting someone as a solution to the problems you face trying to impart your children with morals and wisdom. I don’t know, I’m not a mom. Not yet. Not currently. But, from how hard I hear it can get at times from those that are honest about it, maybe if I was tired enough, maybe if I was miserable enough, maybe if I was unloved or unloving enough, I’d blame somebody else’s celebrity for my family’s lack of self-policing and logically come to the conclusion that human sacrifice does in fact grant miracles.
And while we are on the subject of interviews, let’s discuss that trash with Matt Lauer asking her about the baby sitting in her lap while she is driving away. She explains to him she was terrified of the swarm of people and flashing cameras coming at her, so she instinctively placed the baby in her lap as she drove away. Now my first thought when I saw this clip was, “Ew.” Then, when Matt Lauer, pushes Britney about how unsafe of a parent she is after she explains to him how afraid she was, I thought, “Oh my god is he trying to explain to her that she is unfit? He is! He’s mansplaining to her that she is a bad mom.” But she had already explained she was afraid. She had already explained she was not safe. She had already said she was scared, her baby was scared, and she was trying to flee. He had a moment, and a duty, to ask her why she was afraid. He had a responsibility to give her the opportunity to explain in detail, and to help her do this by asking probing questions, what does it feel like to be hunted by so many people that just want to touch you and feel you and take something from you because everyone looks to you to fix them? How crushing is it to carry the weight of so many people everyday? How does it feel to be the kind of person to give more than you can afford to give of yourself to everyone around you just to be told it’s not enough?
We all know now that nobody was asking the questions they should have been asking then. So what are we going to do about it? Start asking now? That would be a good start. Stop acting like it’s okay to strip a woman down to nothing but her body and what she does with it? That is a must have next step. Stop avoiding hard truths because the topics are uncomfortable? I cannot begin to tell you as an individual how ready I am for this shift. If you are going to live your life afraid of the truth, because it makes you sad to hear about someone else’s suffering, you are part of the problem. Blind eyes cannot see solutions.
It’s time for all of us to wake up. Open our eyes. And take a look around.