By Samantha Milowitz || Op-Eds Editor
I’ve always loved Britney Spears. Some people will say this simply after watching the latest documentary Framing Britney Spears, but I swear – I’ve always loved her. As a theatrical child, I idolized Britney for her voice, iconic dance moves, and appearances in movies and TV. Her music videos were concerts within themselves, and I would dance in my room with a rolling chair and try and mimic her. And her clothing was even more iconic; one could argue she created the trend of crop-tops and whenever I tie the bottom of my shirt into a knot, I imagine I am Britney Spears.
Many people do not feel the same way, and that has been clear in the media since Britney came on the scene. Men and women alike targeted her for her scandalous outfits and her sexy dance moves. When she shaved her head, people accused her of being insane, losing her marbles, and turned away from her music altogether. The most common thing I used to hear people complain about was the fact that she lip syncs at her concerts and would therefore accuse her of not being a “real” artist.
But Britney Spears is absolutely a real artist. Her talent comes naturally and with hard work. According to The Sun, Britney was only 12 years old when she was discovered and chosen to join a popular show at the time, “The Mickey Mouse Club.” Not only could the girl sing at such a young age, but she could dance and act, too. At sixteen she had a hit single that is known throughout the world today as “Baby One More Time.” Once a girl from the small town of McComb, Mississippi, she became a phenomenon almost immediately and a pop icon. She was sweet and charming in interviews and reminded people of the great “all-American girl.”
What she gave to us was more than music, though. Adults and talk show hosts scolded her for her sexy, provocative outfits, calling her a “contradiction” in and of itself – how could it be that a woman could be virtuous and sexy at the same time? But Britney gave women permission to express their sexuality in ways they hadn’t been able to before. For the first time, there was a female role model that was saying, “I can dress sexy for me. Not for anyone else.”
Spears paid a price for standing up for what she wanted to wear and what she believed in. Framing Britney Spears shows us excerpts of interviews where Britney is asked inappropriate, degrading, and disrespectful questions, such as the status of her virginity and why she insists on wearing “underwear” on stage. Her most popular and problematic interview came in 2003 with broadcaster Diane Sawyers. Sawyer accused Britney of being unfaithful to her boyfriend at the time, Justin Timberlake, as well as tried to rationalize how a mother would want to murder Britney for showing her boobs on stage. The interview is deeply triggering, with uncalled for hostility, and many have since agreed that Diane Sawyer owes Britney an apology for the way she treated her during the interview. But despite the backlash Britney Spears always faced, she never backed down from who she was. She never tried to dress more modestly to please others.
By being in the public eye, Spears lost agency over her entire life. The new documentary shows endless video clips of the young star’s car being hounded by paparazzi daily. And she wasn’t just hounded by a couple of nosy photographers, but upwards of fifty. One clip shows Britney in a restaurant trying to eat as paparazzi’s flashes shine in her eyes and face. Many parts of the documentary depict Spears breaking down, overwhelmed to the point of tears. Watching these parts of the film made me so sad; it is clear that we, the media, society, the world, took a girl who just wanted to sing and made her life a living hell.
At the center of the documentary, however, is a battle of conservatorship between Britney and her father, Jamie Spears. After a custody dispute in 2008, Britney was ushered to the hospital for what is understood to be reasons related to mental illness. After that, her father and others in her circle believed Britney to be unable to handle her own affairs, and her father became her conservator. What that means is that basically for the past thirteen years of Britney’s life, her finances, estate, and health decisions have been dictated and controlled by her father. It also means that for the past thirteen years, Britney has not been in the driver’s seat in her own life. The documentary calls on audiences around the world to join a movement called, “Free Britney,” which aims to free Britney from the confines of her conservatorship, which has imprisoned her for ages.
Britney Spears has suffered from things we all can understand: depression, anxiety, and mental illness more generally. And instead of standing by her side, people—including her own father—deemed her “crazy” and took away her ability to live her own life. Britney Spears is not only a pop icon, but she is someone who remains a relatable figure. For years, she has been someone who has fought to be seen for who she is: a woman that wants to feel beautiful and sexy and also be taken seriously for her triumphs. If there’s one thing I have taken away from Framing Britney Spears, it’s that it is extremely hard to be a woman in the music industry. If you make it, you’re hounded. If you don’t, you feel ashamed. If you dress provocatively, you’re slut-shamed, and if you dress modestly, you’re ignored. Britney Spears sacrificed a lot in her life so that she could be a role model and an inspiration to her fans. Her love of performing transcends all aspects of her life, literally.
I love Britney Spears. And you should too.
Senior Samantha Milowitz is the Op-Eds editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.