Please, leave Britney be

// 18 October 2007

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If you were not familiar with Britney Spears’ music, you will almost certainly be familiar with her press persona. Her face is more often than not splashed across the pages of every women’s glossy magazine on news stands, and she’s been known to make the headlines on more than one occasion as an alcoholic, a bad mother, and an underwear-less slut. Oh, let’s not forget her decision to shave her head. Or her fluctuating weight. If she’s not reported as more-or-less being on the cusp of morbid obesity, then she’s being criticised for shedding those supposedly excess pounds too quickly. When she tried to make a come back at the MTV Video Music Awards she was branded as talentless. Critics said she had let herself go, that what she once had was lost. But what can Spears possibly do to stop the press dogging her every move, waiting to pounce on any opportunity to get a story from what appears to be her increasingly troubled and lonely life?

I picked up a copy of heat magazine today, and not surprisingly there’s a reference to Spears on the front cover, along with the headline (written with overwhelming relish), “Britney Weird Lolly Diet! (What is she doing now?).” Inside the story is as unsubstantiated as was expected. There are two photos of Spears, one of her sucking a lollipop and another of her using an asthma inhaler. The main premise of the article is that she is following a strict diet, suppressing her appetite by eating Hoodia lollipops and using the chemical inhaler:

“…in a desperate bid to shape up in time for the release of Blackout, her comeback album, on 29 October.”

Britney Spears is not quoted in this article, and there is nothing there to substantiate these claims. There are no quotes from family or friends saying how worried they are about Spears, or, most importantly of all, any statements that would authenticate this speculation. In order to validate their report, heat has included a vague quote from an LA based doctor. Although I think her medical status is supposed to invest Dr Halle Mir with some authority on the matter, apart from providing a brief overview of what this diet can do, she can make no definite reference to Spears. Why? Because she, like heat magazine, does not know what the truth is. When I saw the photographs (both which appear to have been taken on different occasions, despite being juxtaposed together to imply continuity) I imagined Boyd Hilton, sat on his throne in heat towers, virtually creaming himself at the prospect of the number of sales another Spears story was likely to generate.

(Heat, as it happens, are also running an article on their website today about why Spears chooses to go without underwear. What a hectic news week it must be.)

We all enjoy a bit of celebrity gossip now and again, but can’t the press see that Spears can take no more? We shouldn’t forget that despite the ways in which the media dissects the most intimate minutiae of her life, she is still only 25. She achieved international fame as a teenager, and surely that forced her to mature more rapidly than the average sixteen-year-old. When I was sixteen I was more concerned about my physics GCSE than worldwide pop domination armed with nothing more than a pair of blonde pig-tails and a mini-skirt, and I think that many people underestimate the affect this had on Spears. She married Kevin Federline, a man who (although I didn’t want to believe it) saw Britney as nothing more than a free meal ticket, riding on the back of her fame to make a name for himself. Without her, where would Federline be now? Probably hanging out behind supermarkets, freestyle-rapping like a man who desperately wants talent, while selling his CDs out of the back of his friend’s car.

What shouldn’t be forgotten is that Spears has two very young children, Sean Preston, 2, and Jayden, 1, and that amidst this media furore they cannot but be affected. Recently Spears lost custody of her children to Federline, and today she lost visitation rights, according to a report by CNN. This was owing to failure to comply with court orders. OK, maybe Spears does need help, but why does the media have to mercilessly berate her for every mistake that she makes, rather than offering some form of sympathy, or indeed help? As the old adage goes, nobody’s perfect, so why is she expected to be? Surely, the continued reporting of the events of her life (as they unfold) does nothing but perpetuate her misery, and who could drag themselves back from depression and upset (which is probably what has led to her alleged drug and alcohol abuse) when everyday you are faced with an international press that revels and feasts on your misery at every juncture? Personally, as a woman who has carried and given birth to two children I thought her figure at the MTV Video Music Awards was enviable to say the least. There are not many women who could prance around on stage in front of an international audience in nothing more than a pair of scanties after having two children. I couldn’t do it now. I’ve not had children, but I don’t have a figure like Spears, even though she is supposedly flabby and out of shape. And the media wonders why young girls are continuing to starve themselves?

There are those who would argue that Spears did court the media, that it has in many ways been her friend, making her an international icon at a time when she was still relatively unknown. Maybe this is true, but what is also true is that the media is a very fickle friend, and when it turns, it won’t stop chomping at your flesh until there is nothing left. Whatever Britney does the media expects her to fail. More than that, the press actively wants this to happen, and I cannot help but think that this negative attitude feeds into her unhappiness as well as feeding from it. I just hope that soon they recede and give her time to come to terms with the issues in her life that she needs to address, although sadly that doesn’t look likely in the immediate future.

Photo by debaird, shared under a Creative Commons License.

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