What would you do if the people you trusted the most didn’t actually have your best interests in mind?
For much of Britney Spears’s life, this was the case. Despite having lived most of her life governed by others, Spears finally gets to write the narrative in her new memoir “The Woman in Me.”
The book begins the same way it ends: with family. Rather than starting the story of her life with her birth or childhood, she starts with her grandparents’ story, followed by that of her parents. This retelling is indispensable since so much of Spears’s adult life was shaped by her family’s decisions rather than her own. Spears recounts her family heavily overstepping throughout her life, from the mild incident of her parents’ quick and decisive involvement to end her drunken marriage in Vegas to the extreme of her father’s infamous 13-year conservatorship over her.
Britney Spears’s story is one of tensions and dualities. She’s relatable yet untouchable; she’s America’s sweetheart and the media’s “unfit mother.” Under the conservatorship, she was a trapped woman forcibly reverted to a childlike state.
Through it all, Spears’s tone is friendly and simple, allowing the readers to interpret her narrative as genuine. Readers might feel like they are being told a story by a friend.
There are moments when she seems to interject into her own writing, usually by weaving her thoughts and memories into the narrative. These insights are often humorous, like when she recounts her thoughts at her 2001 VMAs performance: “Are you fucking serious right now? The fucking goddamn snake’s tongue is flicking out at me.” Spears shows us what is behind that iconic, strength-radiating performance — fear and recognition of its insanity. By breaking the fourth wall throughout the memoir, Spears begins to break down the marketed public image we know from the media and build herself up as an ordinary, vulnerable person.
I would advise readers not to expect a literary masterpiece. This is not what the book is aiming to be. According to The New York Times, it took three ghostwriters to bring about Spears’ book. Arguably, though, it doesn’t matter whether it was actually written by Spears herself; what matters is that she approved of the way her story was told.
Spears’s book sold over 1 million copies in its first week in the US alone. It is not just Britney Spears superfans reading this book — and for good reason. “The Woman in Me” shares a long-overlooked story, gives readers an emotional whirlwind and, yes, details the whole “Justin Timberlake situation.” There are moments of heightened tensions and rising stakes, as well as devastating blows and heartbreaking injustice. (Here are a few of my actual annotations to give you a sense of my own journey through this emotional roller coaster: “Holy shit.” “Disgusting” (underlined). “Ok, I’m crying now.”)
“The Woman in Me” is not just titled as such — throughout the memoir, Spears provides valuable insight into her experience as a woman in the entertainment industry. She recounts her struggles with mental health, such as when the industry diverted focus away from her actual performances and onto her body image.
The public may have a sympathetic perception of Spears in 2023, thanks in part to recent attitude shifts toward mental health and illness, but this certainly was not the case in the past. In 2007, the media’s portrayal of Spears’ famous ‘meltdown’ framed her as a mentally spiraling mother. In “The Woman in Me,” Spears is finally able to reveal the real reasons why she shaved off all her hair: “Shaving my head was my way of saying to the world: Fuck you. You want me to be pretty for you? Fuck you,” Spears writes. “At the end of the day, I didn’t care. All I wanted to do was see my boys.”
The act was a reaction to being sexualized from a young age and valued principally for her looks, as well as the experience of having her children taken away. While Spears details her extreme issues with her manipulative parents and ungrateful siblings, she makes it clear just how much she cares about the family she’s built for herself: namely, her two sons. She describes being with her kids as “the closest I’ve ever felt to God.”
Seeing Britney Spears’s name on the cover of “The Woman in Me” might make readers eager for a peek into all the juicy Hollywood gossip they’ve been dying to know for years. Yet Spears gives us much more. She offers nuggets of wisdom, beautiful moments tinged with spirituality and insights into the complex dualities of life as a celebrity. Written in a voice that is loudly and shamelessly hers, this book shows us that perspective is everything, and untold perspectives, like Spears’s own, are invaluable.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.