In “The Woman in Me,” the pop star mines her extraordinary story for generic lessons. But the details speak for themselves.
By Lauren Michele Jackson
Our era runs on biography. Stories—in film adaptations, novels, and pop songs alike—are received as the clarion calls of so many “voices.” The myth of an unencumbered, authentic voice persists. Even if it’s never quite found, we find value in the searching. It was foreseeable, then, that readers would make much of a new memoir from the pop star Britney Spears, whose prevailing story for much of her adult life has been one of silencing.
We know the story by now. In 2008, after a series of messy public episodes, zealously documented by the tabloid press, Spears was hospitalized in a psychiatric facility and her father successfully petitioned a California court for a conservatorship, deeming Spears unfit to make personal and financial decisions on her own behalf. But Spears did not disappear from public life. What happened instead was somehow eerier. She continued to release mega-selling albums. She graced the small screen, covered magazines, and performed onstage many, many, many, many, many times, including during a four-year residency in Las Vegas. But her fans sensed something sinister at work beneath her industriousness, and they took up a rallying cry: “Free Britney.” By 2021, a swell in media coverage, including original reporting by this magazine, created a broad awareness that Spears had been severely stripped of her personal autonomy and forced to work against her will. But reporting is not direct testimony. Neither is music, even if it’s often mined for hidden messages. With Spears keeping mum about her situation, onlookers instead became scholars of her Instagram account, interpreting every dance video and emoji-laden caption as evidence of her stifled condition.
“There was so much guessing about what I must have thought or felt,” Spears recalls of that time in “The Woman in Me.” She finally spoke on an afternoon in June, 2021, during a hearing at a Los Angeles probate court that was made public at her request. “My voice. It was everywhere, all over the world—on the radio, on television, on the internet—but there were so many parts of me that had been suppressed,” Spears writes in the book. “The Woman in Me” is Spears’s most substantial address to the public outside of social media since she was released from the conservatorship, in 2021. Physically, it is a slight object—two hundred and eighty-eight pages, with plenty of white space therein—and as I read I wondered how it could possibly withstand the enormity of expectations. The memoir arrives at a time when patience for Spears’s behavior is waning once again. With varying measures of good faith, fans and other gawkers have been wringing their hands over, for instance, a video that Spears recently posted online showing her dancing with a pair of chef’s knives. (The Los Angeles Times reported that after seeing the video someone close to Spears called the police for a “wellness check.”) In an unsettling echo of the two-thousands, pop-culture prognosticators are back to reading the tea leaves—the cup is Instagram—and asking, Is Britney O.K.?
That is to say, there is the sense that this memoir must answer to, if not for, quite a lot. Meanwhile, before the book had even hit shelves, it was being combed for salacious sound bites, which circulated on blogs naked of context, intensifying the sense that a major revelation was afoot. Readers taken in by the frenzy may find themselves disappointed. “The Woman in Me” (written with the assistance of the journalist Sam Lansky) is not the last word. It is not even a tell-all. Spears, too, is still searching.
Britney Jean Spears was raised up in the country town of Kentwood, Louisiana. Her life was, for a time, quintessentially Southern, flanked by the twin pillars of family and faith. A child did not speak unless spoken to, and whatever traumas haunted the Spears familial line were crystallized into a familial truism: “It was said that the Spears men tended to be bad news,” she writes. Her paternal grandfather, one of Baton Rouge’s boys in blue, was, as Spears puts it plainly, “abusive.” His wife, Jean, died, by suicide, when Spears’s father, Jamie, was thirteen, leaving a middle name to the granddaughter she never got to meet. Jamie channelled the hell of his childhood into the little family that he eventually made. During Britney’s childhood, he was “reckless, cold, and mean,” and a nasty drunkard. He and Spears’s mother, Lynne, fought for hours into the night, well after, as far as Spears could tell, her father was coherent enough to participate, a routine that, she admits, embittered her toward her mother. “Isn’t that awful?” she writes. “He was the one who was drunk.” (Representatives for Jamie Spears did not respond to a request for comment.)
Still, Spears depicts her home town with golden fondness. Their home was a “zoo,” but it was also, “for lack of a better word, the cool house,” a gathering place for friends and gossipy moms. Spears charts the beginnings of a normal adolescence—a first cigarette, illicit Daiquiris, cutting class, sex with a high-school senior who also happened to be the best friend of her older brother. Even as show biz began to intervene, the gravity of home remained potent. “For a minute, I had to let normalcy win,” Spears writes.
One imagines that Spears might have lived her best and died in Kentwood if not for gospel music. The Spearses were “very poor,” but, before the drink took hold, Jamie had a couple of businesses that did well enough that the family could hire help from time to time. One day, Spears overheard their housekeeper singing gospel, and it was, she recalls, “an awakening to a whole new world,” a place where Spears could “communicate purely.” She writes, “When I sing, I own who I am.” Spears, who came to be seen as a lip-synching foil to Christina Aguilera’s big voice, is rarely classed as a vocalist, but she and her onetime rival—who is treated gently in the memoir in spite of their rumored bad blood—are more alike than not in the origins of their craft. Like Aguilera and their generation of stars, Spears was enchanted by Whitney Houston, by Mariah Carey, by, as Spears calls it in a 1999 documentary, “soulful” music. She also loved to dance—and shoot hoops—but singing was the thing. Singing beckoned God. It also beckoned fame.
Time moves swiftly in “The Woman in Me.” In one chapter, Spears is four years old, singing “What Child Is This?” in white tights for the Christmas program at her mother’s workplace. Not ten pages later, she is eight, auditioning for the All New Mickey Mouse Club alongside “a beautiful girl from California” named Keri Russell and “a girl from Pennsylvania,” Aguilera. Soon thereafter, Spears is competing on “Star Search,” losing to “a bolo-tie-wearing boy with a lot of hair spray,” and then understudying for an Off Broadway musical beside “a talented young actress named Natalie Portman.” The producer Max Martin, whose collaborations with Britney helped clinch his status as the No. 1 go-to for pop girls, strolls into the story at fifty pages on the dot.
One interpretation of the narrative’s breakneck pace might be that life is frenetic for anyone who becomes as famous as Spears did before her eighteenth birthday. Spears sketches, briefly but tellingly, the story of “ . . . Baby One More Time,” her smash-hit first single. She’d purposefully stayed awake late the night before recording in order to effect the “fried,” “gravelly” timbre that became her vocal signature. More important, “Max listened to me,” she writes. “When I said I wanted more R&B in my voice, less straight pop, he knew what I meant and he made it happen.” She similarly recounts her experience working with Nigel Dick, who directed the song’s music video. The school setting, the uniforms, cueing the start of choreography with the ringing of the school bell: these were all her ideas. She recalls that time as “probably the moment in my life when I had the most passion for music.” But what happened next she sums up dispassionately. “On January 12, 1999, the album came out and sold over ten million copies very quickly. I debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart in the US,” Spears writes, adding, “I didn’t have to perform in malls anymore.”
An interesting discrepancy develops in the text. It becomes clear that Spears has limited interest in some of what we onlookers might consider the touchstones of her career. Max Martin, with whom she has collaborated on four albums, is never mentioned in the book again. Spears devotes a small shrug of a paragraph to the notorious Rolling Stone cover shot by David LaChapelle, showing Spears styled as what might be described as a sexy baby: “My mother seemed concerned, but I knew that I wanted to work with David LaChapelle again.” By contrast, Spears lingers over her chance meetings with the singer-songwriters Paula Cole and Mariah Carey—“And no, I can’t say just her first name. To me she is always going to be Mariah Carey.” Of her own star power at that time, she writes, mechanically, “Meanwhile, I was breaking records, becoming one of the best-selling female artists of all time. People kept calling me the Princess of Pop.” If memoir serves as a living postmortem of sorts, in “The Woman in Me,” Spears sees no need to probe the innards of her stardom.
Instead, Spears’s most reflective passages, peppered with clusters of queries for a sympathetic reader, are reserved for her most wounding personal relationships, and the way that, rather than buffer the onslaught of the world, those closest to her accelerated the rate and severity of her overexposure. Take, for instance, that charlatan Justin Timberlake. (Already I’m betraying more ire toward him than she does.) After connecting as fellow-Mouseketeers and charting their respective paths to radio ubiquity—he as a member of the boy band ’N Sync—they bonded over their parallel experiences of pop stardom. Spears fell “so in love with him it was pathetic,” she confesses. She is gushy about their romance and only a tad chagrined by the strength of her former feeling. Spears’s account of what took place during that relationship has already provided grist for a million headlines in recent days. She depicts Timberlake’s wigger antics in dialogue (“Oh yeah, fo shiz fo shiz . . . what’s up homie?”) that turns hilariously farcical on “The Woman in Me” ’s audiobook, which is narrated by Michelle Williams (the white one). Spears writes that she got pregnant and felt pressured by Timberlake to get an abortion, and, in one almost surreal passage, how the pain from the pills left her sobbing in pain on the bathroom floor as Timberlake tries to soothe her by strumming his guitar. For some readers, the book will add to a distaste for Timberlake that has ballooned in recent years as the public reëvaluates his early career triumphs and the women, such as Spears and Janet Jackson, who served as collateral. Even at a time when skuzzy men seem poised to make a comeback, he has been unable to escape the whiff of calculated misogyny. (Representatives for Timberlake did not respond to a request for comment.)
But these are the public’s grievances. Spears didn’t mind, the way we might mind, when Timberlake disclosed details of their sex life to the press. (“Why did my managers work so hard to claim I was some kind of young-girl virgin even into my twenties?”) Spears writes that Timberlake cheated, he bragged, he lied; he broke up with her via text message while she was at work. Yet his greatest offense, in Spears’s portrayal, was misrepresenting the inner sanctum of their relationship in his music. His solo album “Justified,” released months after their breakup, was anchored by the single “Cry Me a River,” the well-produced whine of a betrayed lover. The music video featured a Spears lookalike on the prowl while Timberlake “wanders around sad in the rain,” as Spears puts it. His aestheticized spin on things was permitted to become the accepted truth.
Everyone, it seemed, including Diane Sawyer, expected the twenty-one-year-old to atone for breaking a dear boy’s heart. “I see how men are encouraged to talk trash about women in order to become famous and powerful,” Spears writes. “But I was shattered.” The “but” is conspicuous, as though Spears were apologizing for being undone by a conventional form of sexism that had been bearable when she still had him. Spears writes that the breakup and the ensuing circus caused her to feel as though her public pillorying were somehow karmic, deserved. She felt isolated and drifted unnoticed back home in Kentwood like a “ghost child,” or disappeared for interminable stretches into her four-story apartment—Cher’s old place—in NoHo. After an interview with Sawyer, sprung by her team without notice, Spears “felt something dark come over my body.” That mood becomes the book’s new atmosphere.
What follows are the exploits of a twentysomething on the rebound: the Vegas nights with Paris Hilton, the Vegas wedding to a childhood friend. They can be encapsulated in two words: “Hello, alcohol!” The dumbassery is so benign—or, at the very least, so ordinary—that it barely qualifies as rebellion. But the more Spears was treated like a child, the more she felt like one, and she diminished herself in kind, even as her family members—her father, mother, brother, sister, and, soon, her new husband, Kevin Federline—benefitted from her largesse. On a rare reprieve from work, owing to another knee injury, she and Federline, a backup dancer at the time, met in the back of a Hollywood club. They ended up in a swimming pool, where Federline held Spears—“and I mean held me”—for hours. In Spears’s telling, Federline represented no more or less than the promise of any romance, the hope that another person might carry you. “I’m sorry, I know it sounds regressive,” Spears apologizes. But the desire to submit to someone is also, Spears ventures, “a human impulse.” It’s a shame that she, “like a lot of women,” would be punished for it.
The second half of the memoir charts Spears’s life from the lead-up of the thirteen-year conservatorship to its aftermath. Here the intricate work of being a pop star recedes even further as she recounts the work of being a person—though it’s worth noting the volume of her labor as a performer during this time. In 2007, she released “Blackout,” an experiment in electronic genres and vocal play (and arguably her best album), which she calls “one of the easiest and most satisfying albums I ever made.” The studio was a reprieve, but only barely. “Blackout,” Spears explains, was made in thirty-minute stints, while the paparazzi accumulated outside the door. She and Federline had two sons, Sean and Jayden, but Spears felt that Federline, another white man in homeboy’s clothing, was not much interested in fatherhood. What he wanted was fame, and proximity to Spears was enough to attract it. “When most people—especially men—get that type of attention, it’s all over,” she warns. (Representatives for Federline did not respond to a request for comment.) As Spears tells it, parenting Sean and Jayden was left to her, and she struggled even as she loved mothering. “I think I knew then that I’d become weird,” Spears admits, recalling the two months when she refused to let her mother hold Jayden. Only later, and perhaps only recently, did Spears realize that her psychological difficulties postpartum might be clinical problems worthy of a diagnosis.
As it does with other women who strain against patriarchy in public, the instinct to generalize exerts a strong pull on Spears. How many women lose their personal and economic independence precisely when children enter the story? Spears converts her memories into broad messages. She implores mothers in distress to “get help early.” Reflecting on the Timberlake saga, she muses that “there’s always been more leeway in Hollywood for men than for women.” Her writing can also veer into the sort of hammy foreshadowing one might find in a middle grade novel:
Things are going to change around here! I thought excitedly.
And then they did.
But there is still value in the specifics that this memoir collects. As chilling as the previous reporting has been, Spears’s interior account of the conservatorship is a visceral view of the methodical means by which her family endeavored to eclipse her. Her physical self had never been entirely hers—“Whether it was strangers in the media or within my own family, people seemed to experience my body as public property,” Spears recalls—but the conservatorship gave her father license to formalize his ownership, down to controlling his daughter’s diet, Spears writes. Nor was Spears’s art hers any longer. During her Vegas show, she was barred from giving input, and any ideas that might have revitalized her old work were dismissed, as though a bland show was worth it to undermine her artistic standing.
Spears writes that when, during one rehearsal, she declined to do a difficult dance move, her father mobilized the medical establishment to have his daughter committed yet again. “Three months into my confinement, I started to believe that my little heart, whatever made me Britney, was no longer inside my body anymore,” Spears writes. Her mother said, “I don’t know, I don’t know . . . ,” she remembers. She recalls that her younger sister, Jamie Lynn, sent a text: “There’s nothing you can do about it, so stop fighting it.” Her father told her, “I can’t help you at all.” (Spears writes that, later, she learned that he could have initiated her release at any time.) Spears wonders, with apologies to the reader for sounding paranoid, whether her family was actually trying to end her life. A reader can’t help but imagine, with sickening clarity, what kind of narrative might have been fed to the public if her life had ended there.
Even if Spears wants “The Woman in Me” to offer lessons for her readers, the truth is that she was not an everywoman. She is an artist who has experienced a level of success that only a handful of people in the history of the world can claim. At the same time, Spears was not “O.K.,” and she may never be O.K. in a prescriptive sense of the word. But proper comportment should not be a prerequisite for human dignity. (Nothing should be.) Toward the end of the memoir, on the other side of her conservatorship—and in the midst of another short-lived marriage, to the personal trainer Sam Asghari—she likens her newfound freedom to a rebirth. Writing a book is often an exercise in putting down what needs to be said in order to liberate oneself to do something else. In Spears’s case, it is also an attempt to become someone else. “It’s time to actually find myself,” she writes. On Instagram, per usual, she is more effusive. “I have moved on and it’s a beautiful clean slate from here !!!” she wrote, even as she teased a volume two. I see no harm in taking her at her word. ♦
We can't stand by and let people attack Britney over the Justin Timberlake parts of the book that have come out. See previous post... but we can take a stand and show our support for her by saying... let her have her moment to let out what has not been her choice to do this whole time... she's not aiming to go after anyone... but to release this and move on.
We ask the media to please take this on and support her.
stop defining the ones again just using this as an example Justin and say she's crazy... etc they broke up years ago... clearly given not less than 2 months ago he yet again took shad towards her... let's let her get it out... and not attack her for it. He's a big boy... he could leave it be and follow his teams advice and stop performing the song...
Again let her release the book and live her life... please 🙏
From Britney Army members at mybritneyinsider.com
Following the latest revelations in Britney Spears' upcoming memoir, a resurfaced video of J.T. revealed that he performed 'Cry Me a River' despite people telling him not to.
Nearly two months ahead of the release of Britney Spears‘ memoir, The Woman in Me, her ex-beau, Justin Timberlake, performed his hit breakup song “Cry Me a River.” The video (taken at Dave Chappelle‘s 50th birthday party on August 24) has resurfaced on social media amid the latest claims about Brit and J.T’s breakup in the shocking memoir. In the clip, the now 42-year-old admitted that he was told to “not” perform the 2002 song.
“They told me not to do this song no more,” Justin said while on stage in August. “F*** that!” Moments later, Justin began to perform the track following Dave’s show. After the clip landed on social media, many Britney fans took to the comments to react, as many know that the song was about their famous split. “What goes around come [sic] back around, Justin,” one follower quipped, while another added, “Looks like someone is still hung up on his ex!”
Britney Spears Opens Up: 'Finally Free' to Share Her Story in Bombshell Memoir & New Interview — 'No More Lies' (Exclusive)
The pop icon will release her bombshell memoir, 'The Woman in Me,' on Oct. 24, and PEOPLE has an exclusive excerpt
By Elizabeth Leonard
Britney Spears PEOPLE exclusive
Britney Spears on the cover of PEOPLE. PHOTO: BRITNEY BRANDS
It’s a sun-kissed afternoon in late September, and Britney Spears pirouettes in powdery white sands on a beach in Tahiti. Tousled blond hair falls over her shoulders as she goes barefoot at the surf’s edge. The 41-year-old pop icon, capturing photos for the cover of PEOPLE while on a tropical getaway, smooths her Anthropologie sundress, fixes her bangs and moves into the shallows in search of a good shot. Working the camera as only she can, Spears looks up and smiles.
Yet, until Nov. 12, 2021 — the day a Los Angeles County judge terminated the conservatorship that had governed Spears’ life for nearly 14 years — she had few respites like this. The legal victory, following fervent testimony in which Spears accused her father Jamie, 71, and others of exploitation and abuse, set the stage for a second act that is both exhilarating and tricky. “Learning this new freedom, I’ll admit, is challenging at times,” she tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview, done via email.
There have been setbacks as she’s navigated her new normal, including her split from model-actor Sam Asghari, 29, in August after just 14 months of marriage. She also has a complicated relationship with her family, including her dad, mom Lynne, 68, and sister Jamie Lynn, 32. But there have also been high notes: Her collaboration with Elton John, “Hold Me Closer,” for one, marked her first Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 11 years. Mostly, though, Spears says she finds joy in everyday moments, whether “I’m playing with my dogs ...
[or] watching episodes of Friends and belly laughing. I love, love to travel and explore,” she says. “I am a simple girl.”
When Spears looks back on the best times of her life, she recalls her earliest days of performing, “trips with my dancers [and] acting silly with my girlfriends.” But she’s proudest of becoming a mother to sons Sean Preston, now 18, and Jayden James, 17, with her ex-husband Kevin Federline. “Starting a family was my dream come true,” she tells PEOPLE of raising her boys, who now live with their dad in Hawaii, but are in contact with Spears. “Being a mom was my dream come true.”
Another dream has been to reclaim her voice. “Over the past 15 years or even at the start of my career, I sat back while people spoke about me and told my story for me,” she says. “After getting out of my conservatorship, I was finally free to tell my story without consequences from the people in charge of my life.”
The result is a revealing new memoir, The Woman in Me, excerpted below. Sharing often-brutal truths, Spears details her incredible journey from teen superstar to one of the bestselling female artists of all time, her “soul-crushing” conservatorship experience and her past relationships. “It's hard to speak about,” Spears says of recounting her life’s darker moments, including “not getting a moment of peace, the judgments from strangers who don't even know me, having my freedom stripped away from me by my family and the government [and] losing my passion for the things I love.”
Now it’s Spears’ time to wrestle back the narrative.
“It is finally time for me to raise my voice and speak out, and my fans deserve to hear it directly from me,” she says. “No more conspiracy, no more lies — just me owning my past, present and future.”
In turn, Spears would love to empower others to do the same, telling PEOPLE she hopes the overall takeaway is to “speak up. Be loud. Know your worth. Inspire people and most of all, just be kind.”
A precocious kid from Kentwood, La., Spears was cast on The Mickey Mouse Club at age 11.
Being in the show was boot camp for the entertainment industry: extensive dance rehearsals, singing lessons, acting classes, time in the recording studio, and school in between. The Mouseketeers quickly split into our own cliques, divided by the dressing rooms that we shared: Christina Aguilera and I were the younger kids, and we shared a dressing room. We looked up to the older kids — Keri Russell, Ryan Gosling, and Tony Lucca, who I thought was so handsome. And I quickly connected with a boy named Justin Timberlake.
It was honestly a kid’s dream — unbelievably fun, particularly for a kid like me. But it was also exceptionally hard work: we would run choreography thirty times in a day, trying to get every step perfect.
[Once] at a sleepover, we played Truth or Dare, and someone dared Justin to kiss me. A Janet Jackson song was playing in the background as he leaned in and kissed me.
When the show ended a year and a half later … I decided to go back to Kentwood. Already within me was a push-pull: part of me wanted to keep building toward the dream; the other part wanted me to live a normal life in Louisiana. For a minute, I had to let normalcy win.
Back at home, I returned to [high school], settling into normal teenage life — or the closest thing to “normal” that was possible in my family.
For fun, starting when I was in eighth grade, my mom and I would make the two-hour drive from Kentwood to Biloxi, Mississippi, and while we were there, we would drink daiquiris. We called our cocktails “toddies.” I loved that I was able to drink with my mom every now and then. The way we drank was nothing like how my father did it. When he drank, he grew more depressed and shut down. We became happier, more alive and adventurous.
There was something so beautifully normal about that period of my life: going to homecoming and prom, driving around our little town, going to the movies.
But, the truth was, I missed performing. My mom had been in touch with a lawyer she’d met on my audition circuit, a man named Larry Rudolph, who she would call sometimes for business advice. He suggested I record a demo. He had a song that Toni Braxton had recorded for her second album that had ended up on the cutting room floor. This would become the demo that I would use to get in the door at record labels.
Larry took me around [New York City], and I went into rooms full of executives and sang Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” Gazing out at the rooms full of men in suits looking me up and down in my small dress and high heels, I sang loud.
I ended up getting a record deal with Jive Records at the age of fifteen.
The label wanted me in a studio immediately.
I worked for hours straight. My work ethic was strong. If you knew me then, you wouldn’t hear from me for days. I would stay in the studio as long as I could. If anyone wanted to leave, I’d say, “I wasn’t perfect.”
When all the songs were done, someone said, “What else can you do? Do you want to dance now?”
I said, “Hell yeah, I do!”
Following the success of her first two record-smashing albums …Baby One More Time (1999) and Oops!...I Did It Again (2000), Spears hit the stage at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards to promote her third album, Britney.
The plan was for me to sing “I’m a Slave 4 U,” and we decided I would use a snake as a prop. It’s become an iconic moment in VMAs history, but it was even more terrifying than it appeared.
All I knew was to look down, because I felt if I looked up and caught its eye, it would kill me.
In my head I was saying, Just perform, just use your legs and perform. But what nobody knows is that as I was singing, the snake brought its head right around to my face, right up to me, and started hissing.
I was thinking, Are you f---ing serious right now? The f---ing goddamn snake’s tongue is flicking out at me. Right. Now. Finally, I got to the part where I handed it back, thank God.
While recording her album Britney in 2001, Spears also filmed her first movie, 2002’s Crossroads, a coming-of-age tale about teens on a road trip, with Zoe Saldaña and Taryn Manning.
The experience wasn’t easy for me. My problem wasn’t with anyone involved in the production but with what acting did to my mind. I think I started Method acting—only I didn’t know how to break out of my character. I really became this other person. Some people do Method acting, but they’re usually aware of the fact that they’re doing it. But I didn’t have any separation at all.
I ended up walking differently, carrying myself differently, talking differently. I was someone else for months while I filmed Crossroads. Still to this day, I bet the girls I shot that movie with think, She’s a little…quirky. If they thought that, they were right.
That was pretty much the beginning and end of my acting career, and I was relieved. The Notebook casting came down to me and Rachel McAdams, and even though it would have been fun to reconnect with Ryan Gosling after our time on the Mickey Mouse Club, I’m glad I didn’t do it. If I had, instead of working on my album In the Zone I’d have been acting like a 1940s heiress day and night.
I imagine there are people in the acting field who have dealt with something like that, where they had trouble separating themselves from a character.
I hope I never get close to that occupational hazard again. Living that way, being half yourself and half a fictional character, is messed up. After a while you don’t know what’s real anymore.
By 2008, Spears — who had welcomed two sons with her second husband, Kevin Federline — had become a constant paparazzi target and a tabloid fixture. After being placed under psychiatric holds that February, she was put in a court-ordered conservatorship, granting her father and a lawyer control over Spears’ financial and personal affairs for the next 13 years. In that time, she recorded and released four successful albums and headlined her Piece of Me Las Vegas residency that grossed $138 million during its four-year run. But behind the scenes, she says she was unhappy.
I’d been eyeballed so much growing up. I’d been looked up and down, had people telling me what they thought of my body, since I was a teenager. Shaving my head and acting out were my ways of pushing back. But under the conservatorship I was made to understand that those days were now over. I had to grow my hair out and get back into shape. I had to go to bed early and take whatever medication they told me to take.
If I thought getting criticized about my body in the press was bad, it hurt even more from my own father. He repeatedly told me I looked fat and that I was going to have to do something about it.
I would do little bits of creative stuff here and there, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore. As far as my passion for singing and dancing, it was almost a joke at that point.
Feeling like you’re never good enough is a soul-crushing state of being for a child. He’d drummed that message into me as a girl, and even after I’d accomplished so much, he was continuing to do that to me.
I became a robot. But not just a robot — a sort of child-robot. I had been so infantilized that I was losing pieces of what made me feel like myself.
The conservatorship stripped me of my womanhood, made me into a child. I became more of an entity than a person onstage. I had always felt music in my bones and my blood; they stole that from me.
If they’d let me live my life, I know I would’ve followed my heart and come out of this the right way and worked it out.
Thirteen years went by with me feeling like a shadow of myself. I think back now on my father and his associates having control over my body and my money for that long and it makes me feel sick.
Think of how many male artists gambled all their money away; how many had substance abuse or mental health issues. No one tried to take away their control over their bodies and money. I didn’t deserve what my family did to me.
The thing was: I accomplished a lot during that time when I was supposedly incapable of taking care of myself.
I sometimes thought that it was almost funny how I won those awards for the album I made while I was supposedly so incapacitated that I had to be controlled by my family.
The truth was, though, when I stopped to think about it for very long, it wasn’t funny at all.
This is what’s hard to explain, how quickly I could vacillate between being a little girl and being a teenager and being a woman, because of the way they had robbed me of my freedom. There was no way to behave like an adult, since they wouldn’t treat me like an adult, so I would regress and act like a little girl; but then my adult self would step back in — only my world didn’t allow me to be an adult.
The woman in me was pushed down for a long time. They wanted me to be wild onstage, the way they told me to be, and to be a robot the rest of the time. I felt like I was being deprived of those good secrets of life — those fundamental supposed sins of indulgence and adventure that make us human. They wanted to take away that specialness and keep everything as rote as possible. It was death to my creativity as an artist.
On June 23, 2021, Spears testified in open court, pleading with the judge to end the conservatorship. Her father was suspended as her conservator in September, and two months later, Spears’ conservatorship was terminated.
It took a long time and a lot of work for me to feel ready to tell my story. I hope it inspires people on some level and can touch hearts. Since I’ve been free, I’ve had to construct a whole different identity. I’ve had to say, Wait a second, this is who I was — someone passive and pleasing. A girl. And this is who I am now — someone strong and confident. A woman.
From The Woman in Me by Britney Spears. Copyright © 2023 by Britney Jean Spears. Reprinted by permission of Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster Inc.
The Woman in Me is available for pre-order ahead of its release on Oct. 24.
For more of the exclusive excerpt and interview with Britney Spears, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.