By Catherine Harry
Warning: this article contains spoilers and mentions of abuse
If you grew up in the late 1990s or early 2000s, chances are, you’d have known who Britney Spears was. You don’t have to live in the US to feel the effect of her stardom or to hear the catchy tune of “…Baby One More Time.” You could have been in a small city in Cambodia watching the music video over and over again until you had all the words memorized and stuck in your head. With the release of her memoir, The Woman in Me, we get a more in-depth look at the pop star, especially as she struggled with bodily autonomy throughout her life and her career.
Britney Spears is one of the biggest pop stars alive. And from the outside, it seemed like she had it all – fame and fortune and a horde of adoring fans who would do anything to get a piece of her. Then we witnessed her downfall and multiple mental breakdowns, wondering what went wrong. That was until she released her tell-all memoir on October 24, this year, telling her story in her own words: the story of a woman losing her bodily autonomy in every sense of the word.
Oops, they did it again: Britney and her struggle with bodily autonomy – in the spotlight
Britney Spears might’ve been one of the biggest stars in the world, but she went through what many women around the world have gone through and are going through today: losing her power to decide what she wanted to do with her body. From what she wore and what she did, to her reproductive choices and the conservatorship – she lost all rights to control her own life.
The Woman in Me is a heart-wrenching memoir, not simply because of what she went through, but because of its relatability. As early as Page 3, she talks about her childhood and losing her voice, saying, “No matter how bad it got, there was an understanding to stay mute, and if I didn’t, there were consequences.” This was a recollection she had when she was merely a child.
As she rose to stardom, she realized how differently people in the media treated her compared to how they treated her then-boyfriend, Justin Timberlake. She recounted how interviewers kept making strange comments about her breasts and virginity, as though her body now belonged to the public. Whatever she wore, people made comments on it—lewd, sexualized, and slut-shaming comments. She was barely into adulthood when it happened, and it would continue throughout her entire life.
Bodily autonomy extends to far more than the ability to decide on your reproductive choices; it extends to your basic autonomy over your body. If the public can dictate what you wear or don’t wear by making you so uncomfortable in your skin that you no longer feel free to do so, they’re essentially taking away your bodily autonomy, too.
What the world didn’t know: Britney’s abortion
Next, she details the section of the memoir that went viral before it even came out: her abortion. She was pregnant by Justin Timberlake and because he wasn’t ready, she was pressured into having an abortion. She says, “Abortion was something I never could have imagined choosing for myself, but given the circumstances, that is what we did.” One key takeaway from this passage is that she talks about how it wasn’t something she would choose for herself, but she doesn’t shame other people who choose to have abortions. In the end, she did it for a multitude of reasons.
This is a reality for some people who get abortions – it isn’t the right time. When people are allowed to make their own informed decisions without societal pressure and shame, it’s found that 95 percent of people don’t regret their abortion (1).
This is what being pro-choice means. You don’t have to be someone who would choose to have an abortion yourself to be pro-choice. The important part is that you don’t shame other people for that choice because you know everyone is different, every circumstance is different. It’s about allowing other people to make their own decisions because you know their body is their own.
Because of the stigmatization of abortion and her religious upbringing, Britney didn’t tell anyone about it, opting instead to have a medical abortion, unsupervised, at home. It ended up being a terrible experience for her because she wasn’t aware of what to do and what to expect. This only further emphasizes the need for conversations surrounding abortion to be open and transparent because not knowing what to expect and do makes the experience far scarier, and sometimes more dangerous, than it needs to be. Had she been informed, she would’ve known better, and she could’ve gotten the support she needed. When done correctly, with proper guidance and protocols, abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, and it’s 95–99 percent effective, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). (2) If you’re going through the same experience, please know that safe2choose counselors are here for you. You can also find out how to use abortion pills here.
You have to speak the thing that you’re feeling, even if it scares you. You have to tell your story. You have to raise your voice.
How the conservatorship took away her “womanhood”
Halfway through the memoir, she discusses her conservatorship. That was when all her autonomy was stripped away from her. She could no longer decide what to do, what to eat, whether she could gain weight, who she could meet, where she could go, or even what money she could spend, despite earning it all through her hard work. She was given an allowance of a measly 2,000 USD a month. She says her parents took her “womanhood” away from her. The most chilling part is when her father says to her, “I’m Britney Spears now.”
Her reproductive choices were taken away from her, too. She was using an IUD, and when she wanted it removed because she wanted to have another baby, she was told “no,” despite her begging and pleading. When she dated anyone, they would tell the man her medical and sexual history without her consent. Because of all the pressure and stress, she compares herself to Benjamin Button and says she regresses into a childlike state to protect her psyche from the trauma.
Whether it was strangers in the media or within my own family, people seemed to experience my body as public property: something they could police, control, criticize, or use as a weapon.
Towards the end of the memoir, after she breaks free from the conservatorship and is given back her freedom, she says, “Freedom to do what I want to do has given me back my womanhood.”
Her freedom was through her own courage and determination, but it was also partly thanks to her fans around the world who started the “Free Britney” movement. It showed the collective power of what we can do when we bind together as a community to help give a woman the freedom to decide what she wants to do with her own body and her life—to give back her bodily autonomy. This echoes what many people are doing today to advocate for reproductive choices for all.
Britney Spears’ story is one of many similar stories happening to people around the world. Through the raw and fierce emotions presented in her memoir, hopefully, it will remind those who resonate with her that they, too, deserve the freedom to govern their own bodies.
- Kurtzman, Laura. “Five Years After Abortion, Nearly All Women Say it Was the Right Decision, Study Finds.” UCSF, www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/01/416421/five-years-after-abortion-nearly-all-women-say-it-was-right-decision-study. Accessed October 2023.
- “Abortion.” WHO, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/abortion. Accessed October 2023.
- Spears, Britney. The Woman in Me. Gallery Books, 2023.