Who is the real Britney Spears? An all-American girl? The Princess of Pop? A ditzy blonde? A hot mess? A hardworking woman used by self-serving men? A survivor?

IMPACT x Nightline: It’s Britney touches on these images. Within 37 minutes, the ABC special uses narration by Juju Chang, insider interviews, news footage, music video clips, and excerpts from the 41-year-old’s memoir “The Woman in Me” (2023) to succinctly show the reality behind Spears’s public persona.

Available on Hulu, the documentary gleans Britney’s brief marriages to Sam Asghari (m. 2022) and Kevin Federline (m. 2004-2007), with whom she has two sons, and examines her three-year affair with fellow singer/dancer Justin Timberlake. As many know, the two met when they were cast in the revival of The Mickey Mouse Club (1993-1996) along with rising stars Christina Aguilera, Keri Russell, and Ryan Gosling. 

Once Spears started dating Timberlake in 1999, she noticed a sexist double standard in their business. For starters, he was asked about his music in interviews while she was asked about her virginity. At this time, their relationship was highly publicized as wholesome and sex-free even though the couple privately lived together, slept together, had a secret abortion, and eventually began cheating on one another.

After they split in 2002, Timberlake’s infidelity was excused by the masses yet Spears was harshly criticized. She actually received boos when she went out in public. As Britney explains, “I knew no one would take my side once Justin had convinced the world of his version. I don’t think Justin realized the power he had in shaming me.”

Through the years, the media also played a part in undermining Spears, who says, “No one could seem to think of me as both sexy and capable, or talented and hot. If I was sexy, they seemed to think I must be stupid. If I was hot, I couldn’t possibly be talented.”

“You want me to be pretty for you? F*ck you. You want me to be good for you? F*ck you. You want me to be your dream girl? F*ck you.”

Britney spears

According to the blonde sex symbol, “Shaving my head was a way of saying to the world: f*ck you. You want me to be pretty for you? F*ck you. You want me to be good for you? F*ck you. You want me to be your dream girl? F*ck you.”

While suffering from fatigue and postpartum depression, Spears continued to rebel, even attacking the paparazzi with an umbrella. Her seemingly outrageous behavior fueled “The economy of Brit,” which generated profits for negative press. This toxicity contributed to Britney’s downward spiral. Her alleged use of controlled substances and alcohol caused her to lose custody of her toddler sons in 2007.

By 2008, the 26-year-old was involuntarily placed under a conservatorship that gave her father Jamie Spears control over his daughter’s $60 million estate, business ventures and medical care. But instead of affording her rest, the new arrangement tasked Britney with a demanding schedule that included the successful Circus Tour and a prosperous four-year residency in Las Vegas. Ironically, the woman deemed “too sick to make decisions” was well enough to “perform like a windup doll” and her father became a multi-millionaire.

What was meant to be a temporary fix went on for nearly 14 years. The pop star’s ordeal seemed to go under the radar until her fans began a “Free Brittney” campaign that was endorsed by Cher, Miley Cyrus, Paris Hilton, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Such high-profile coverage led to a hearing where Judge Brenda Penny terminated the conservatorship in 2021.

As a result, “The man who had scared me as a child and ruled over me as an adult, who had done more than anyone to undermine my self-confidence was no longer in control of my life,” Spears states in her book.

Currently, the superstar uses social media to control her image — good or bad, she owns it.

Ms. Arvia is a Rebellious columnist and movie critic; entertainment ghostwriter; award-winning artist; and grant-winning filmmaker.