This Hat Blogs: Backing Britney

Author: Clemmie Carson

Centre of the limelight from the young age of eight, Britney Spears has been a topic of conversation for decades. In light of the recent #FreeBritney social media movement, Britney’s well-documented shaving of her hair takes on far more serious connotations. Thankfully, the conversation surrounding mental health has been greatly encouraged in recent years which has produced a newfound sympathy for the star. An exploration of the factors contributing to this defiant, rebellious, and almost charming statement to shave her head gives a whole new perspective on the “Princess of Pop” and her struggles with the media. 

The Movement

The #FreeBritney campaign was pioneered by dedicated fans righteously challenging the conservatorship of Britney’s estate by her father, Jamie Spears. A conservatorship is a legal concept in the United States, wherein an agent, the conservator, is appointed to oversee the affairs of the conservatee, and is typically a last resort when all alternative remedies are exhausted. Since Britney’s public mental health struggles in 2008, she has been under a conservatorship.  

Fans have grouped together to “save” Britney, flagging the rarity of the length of this conservatorship and expressing concern over Britney’s lack of freedom to make her own business decisions and control her finances for over 10 years. Britney’s recent refusal to work until she has a new conservator not only implies friction with her father, but functions as a subtle nod to the conservatorship working as a “business” model, with some claiming they are making Britney into their product.

Media Representations

The contributing factors to Britney’s mental health struggles are often overlooked. These causes subsequently led to this legal position, which she is continuously challenging to this day. One fascinating perspective involves the media’s role in her personal struggles.

In particular, the song “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” powerfully resonates. The title evokes a chilling commentary on the media’s excessive scrutiny of her decision-making, invasion of her privacy and patriarchal over-sexualisation. Indeed, one who seeks fame has to expect the inevitable challenges of being in the public eye. But the liminality implied in the title expresses her own identity struggle as she navigates the sexual image associated with her music as a “woman”, alongside living as a real “girl”. The liberty afforded to most when making mistakes as a teen or young adult was compromised.

Numerous interviews display sexist attitudes towards Britney, with one interviewer asking Britney about the topic “everyone has been asking about: your breasts!” Female sexuality has always been challenging in the eyes of society, stimulating shame and stereotyping. Sex has often been used by record labels to sell music, but it is the artists who face the personal backlash, with the media weaponizing Britney’s sexuality in a derogatory fashion.

The recent #FreeBritney documentary evidences the doubled attitudes of the media towards men and women, which is highlighted through its exploration of the difference in treatment of Justin Timberlake and Britney throughout their relationship. Britney’s tragic downfall functions as a symbol of years of discrimination by the press towards expressive, interesting characters that eventually cracked.

Paparazzi

One of the greatest puzzles of modern society involves the battle between the freedom of expression, specifically through the press, and one’s right to a private life. Britney’s peak was in a time where the press completely controlled her global perception, as the advantages of social media had not been realised then. Her expressive dancing on Instagram can be seen as her reclaiming her image on her own terms.

Images of Britney experiencing mental health difficulties only further generated demand for her looking sad, dishevelled or fed-up. ‘Mental health’ was not the discourse, but rather ‘madness’. One photo in particular encapsulates Britney’s frustration with the paparazzi stalking her every move like hunters, as she grabs an umbrella and attacks one of the paparazzo’s car in fit of frustration against them. Ironically, this only perpetuated the demand to see her plight.

Ultimately, the aim of this article is to shed light on the multifaceted nature of Britney, her own mental health struggles and how the discourse has drastically changed. For me, the #FreeBritney movement is symbolic of a shift towards kindness, community and understanding towards mental health in general.