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  • Writer's pictureaxisaberdeen

The Women in Me: A Book Review on Britney Spears' Memoir

Who should read it: Fans of Britney and late nineties and early noughties pop culture and anyone curious to learn more about Britney’s story as told on her own terms.

Why you should read it: Although warm and at times humorous in tone, this book covers some important topics and serves as a cautionary tale on the challenges of navigating fame; it doesn’t shy away from highlighting the double standards and exploitation that were (and continue to be) evident within the entertainment industry.

How reliable a narrator is Britney Spears? Autobiography as a genre is notorious for being self-indulgent, withholding information or misdirecting the reader albeit intentionally or otherwise. Then there’s Britney’s questionable social media presence since coming out of her thirteen yearlong conservatorship. Her Instagram grid regularly features videos of her in various states of undress twirling with knives in front of the camera at home, rambling incoherent captions full of emojis and reposts of inspirational quotes like 'guard your heart', loaded with unspoken subtext. This is a woman who clearly has a lot to say after years of being silenced and now wants to be heard.

Putting the broader context aside and focussing on the book itself, The Woman In Me is a fascinating insight into how Britney views her story. Beginning with her childhood in Kentwood, Louisiana, she explains how singing became her coping mechanism for dealing with an abusive, alcoholic father and she describes how intergenerational trauma shaped the family dynamic. One of the more shocking revelations involves her grandmother, crazed with grief and committed to an asylum by her husband following the tragic death of their three-day old son, she was put on lithium, the exact same drug Britney was later put on herself whilst held in a mental health facility against her will forty years later under the conservatorship. As Britney says 'tragedy runs in my family' and her grandmother died by suicide eight years after her son’s death.

Much of the book follows the two most significant romantic relationships in Britney’s youth; that of childhood sweetheart Justin Timberlake, and husband Kevin Federline, the father of her two sons. Britney talks at length about her love for Timberlake and reveals she had an abortion during their relationship at the age of nineteen. It’s clear that she took their ultimate break-up by text message very badly, and her subsequent portrayal as a scarlet woman, 'slut-shamed' for cheating on him (when he had also cheated on her) is a perfect an example of the double standards that exist for men and women. Following their split, Timberlake was also quick to 'out' Britney as being sexually active, shattering the carefully constructed narrative of her as America’s favourite virgin.

Interestingly, she doesn’t hold this against him stating it was something of a relief given she’d lost her virginity to a friend of her brother’s aged fourteen. Notwithstanding this, it’s fair to say that Timberlake does not come off well in this book, leading to his long-standing collaborator and music producer Timbaland publicly advising him to 'put a muzzle on that girl.' He has since apologised.

The subsequent sections of the book go on to discuss Britney’s relationship with Federline and the post-natal depression and custody battle that appear to be the triggers of her well documented head-shaving incident and very public breakdown. Britney describes being 'out of her mind with grief' following the separation from her sons and the loss of her aunt to ovarian cancer. This segues into the conservatorship and Britney spends the latter part of the book questioning how she could have been deemed well enough to work (her infamous Las Vegas residency ran between 2013-2017) yet incapable of having even the most basic agency over her life. This highlights the hypocrisy of those systems of power seeking to exploit her and the danger many women feel they face where a proportional display of emotion or attempt to assert themselves can easily earn them the term 'crazy' from anyone with a reason to disempower them.

On face value, there does appear to be a happy ending following the termination of the conservatorship in 2021, however it feels like this is precarious. Britney’s second marriage to Sam Asghari has since ended and she’s done very little work to promote the release of the book. Britney does touch on her social media presence in the book, saying this is her way of taking ownership of her body and image after years of being controlled by others. She saved the best laugh for last, 'if you follow me on Instagram, you thought this book was going to be written in emojis, didn’t you?' showing unexpected self-awareness in the acknowledgements.

Being the exact same age as Britney and knowing how instrumental my thirties were to shaping my life, I struggle to comprehend how someone can come through a total loss of control for thirteen years and try to find their identity again in their forties. Regardless of whether you love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Britney shaped the cultural zeitgeist of the late nineties and early noughties, and whether she’s a reliable narrator or not, it would take a hard heart not to be touched by her story.



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