Were you to go to Britney Spears’ Instagram page, you’d find video after video of the early-aughts star wearing bizarre outfits and appearing to do some kind of interpretive dance. It has been a long journey for Spears to get to a point where she can freely express herself as an artist. In fact, Spears would probably smile knowing that people don’t understand her posts and the plethora of emojis that she uses in the captions.
In the pages of her memoir, “The Woman in Me,” Britney Spears gives readers an understanding of why she did the things that fueled tabloid headlines for years and the very real effects fame and gossip had on her as a vulnerable young woman. From her childhood home in Louisiana to the 13-year conservatorship that was the subject of the #FreeBritney movement, readers journey with Spears through decades of traumatic experiences and behind-the-scenes details that give a fuller picture of the star, who is now in her early 40s.
One story from the memoir has recently made headlines: Spears writes of having an abortion at the encouragement of her then-partner Justin Timberlake. Calling the abortion “one of the most agonizing things I have ever experienced in my life,” Spears expresses remorse for having given up her child to appease Timberlake, especially upon coming to realize that he did not have her best interests in mind when he encouraged the decision.
Scripture says, “God understands every human deed” (Sir 15:19). Throughout the book, it is clear that Britney Spears was motivated from a very young age by a desire to please the people around her. Whether it was trying to avoid conflict with her alcoholic father, wearing explicit outfits that stylists picked out for her, overlooking a boyfriend’s infidelity, or shaving her head in an attempt to outwardly express the grief she felt after losing a close relative to cancer, Spears was always looking for acceptance and validation.
God carries her through
God, however, saw Britney Spears, understands her every deed, and desires to give her the love and affirmation she craves. And as she testifies to in story after story, she realizes that God is the one who carried her through years of pain and the many regrets that she has even today. Like someone who has truly experienced the Cross, Spears says she has no other explanation for how she made it through so many trials.
For Catholics especially, reading “The Woman in Me” provides a valuable opportunity to look at “the other side” and there find compassion for someone whose lifestyle seems to go against everything that we believe. Spears is vulnerable in her new book, providing insight into why she was willing to be sexualized in her public appearances, her masquerading as a hardcore partier, and the experience of having her capabilities as a mother constantly questioned publicly.
It would be a mistake — perhaps even a tragedy — to read Spears’ memoir simply as tabloid fodder. What Britney Spears has provided us with in this book is a catalyst for conversion — for readers to move beyond what they see or hear about individuals and to better understand them, to see them as God sees them.
Some readers may be put off by some of the book’s content; there are mentions of suicidal ideation, alcohol abuse, sexual encounters and some occasional explicit language, but these details are not salacious in any way. They all serve to paint the picture of the life of a woman who grew up in the public eye and has reflected on her experiences.
Growth is always difficult; done within the public eye and amid the judgements of strangers the process must become distorted and drawn out. Spears’ journey is unimaginable to most of us, but we can wish her well, praying that her trek eventually leads her further away from her indiscretions as she moves into a life of maturity, freedom and (hopefully) a deeper acquaintance with faith.
“The Woman in Me“
Britney Spears, Gallery Books (2023)
288 pages, $32.99