‘I Had Been Exploited:’ Takeaways From Britney Spears’s Memoir

There came a point during the 13 years that a conservatorship strictly governed Britney Spears’s life and career that she gave up fighting it, the singer recalls in her memoir, “The Woman in Me,” which is being released on Tuesday.

Her father, James P. Spears, had been put in charge of her affairs in 2008 after she was twice hospitalized for involuntary psychological assessments. At times over the years that followed, she pushed back privately, but ultimately her exhaustion and fear of losing access to her two young sons won out, she recalls in the book.

“After being held down on a gurney,” the memoir reads, “I knew they could restrain my body any time they wanted to. And so I went along with it.” Spears adds, “My freedom in exchange for naps with my children — it was a trade I was willing to make.”

In the much-awaited 275-page memoir, which The New York Times obtained from a retail store in advance of its authorized release, Spears writes about her career as a teen idol, her struggles that became tabloid fodder, her time under the conservatorship and her eventual push for its termination in 2021, when she regained the right to make her own decisions.

Throughout, she describes the feeling of being too much in the public eye, too scrutinized, whether by her parents or the paparazzi, or even by the doctors who she says “took me away from my kids and my dogs and my house.” But the story is, by nature, incomplete, referring cheerily to Spears’s post-conservatorship marriage to Hesam Asghari, known as Sam, who filed for divorce in August after a little more than a year.

Below are other notable moments from the book.

Rise to fame

From performing her first solo — the Christmas carol “What Child Is This?” — at her mother’s local day care to auditioning with Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” in rooms full of record executives, Spears tracks her rapid ascent to fame as a child and teenager.

  • When she was 10 years old, she recalls, she was on the show “Star Search,” where the host, Ed McMahon, asked her if she had a boyfriend. After she replied that she didn’t, because they were “mean,” McMahon responded, “I’m not mean! How about me?” She “kept it together” until she left the stage, Spears writes, “But then I burst into tears.”

  • After appearing on “The Mickey Mouse Club,” Spears writes, she decided that she wanted to live a “normal life” back in Kentwood, La., until Larry Rudolph, a lawyer whom her mother met on the audition circuit, suggested that she record a demo. She won a record deal at 15, and Rudolph became her longtime manager.

Spears performing in 1999 during her … Baby One More Time Tour.Credit…Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

Mounting fame, and attention

Spears quickly rose from a teenager performing at malls to a 16-year-old pop princess with a hit single: “ … Baby One More Time.” She went on tour with the boy band ’N Sync, and had a high-profile romance with Justin Timberlake.

  • She writes that she “couldn’t help but notice” that talk show hosts asked Timberlake different kinds of questions from the ones that she was asked: “Everyone kept making strange comments about my breasts,” the book says, “wanting to know whether or not I’d had plastic surgery.” The pressure only grew as she became a fixture on MTV, and the public criticism ultimately led her to start taking Prozac, she recalls.

Spears describes a loving relationship with Justin Timberlake but says she was pained by what she describes as his unwillingness to have a child together when she became pregnant. She had an abortion, she writes.Credit…Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Breaking up with Timberlake

Spears recounts her connection with Timberlake as magnetic and describes their breakup — which she said he initiated over text message — as leaving her “devastated” and fantasizing about quitting show business.

  • She recalls her reaction to the release of Timberlake’s music video “Cry Me a River,” in which, as she describes it, “a woman who looks like me cheats on him and he wanders around sad in the rain.” She viewed the media as portraying her as a “harlot who’d broken the heart of America’s golden boy,” she writes, when in reality: “I was comatose in Louisiana, and he was happily running around Hollywood.”

  • As first revealed in excerpts released by People magazine earlier this week, Spears recounts in detail the decision to get an abortion after she became pregnant while in the relationship with Timberlake. She said she didn’t view the pregnancy as “a tragedy,” but that he thought they were too young, leading her to agree “not to have the baby.”

  • After the breakup, Spears says, she felt forced by her father and her management team to participate in an interview with Diane Sawyer, during which Sawyer pressed her on what she did to Timberlake that caused him “so much pain.” (In the book, Spears confirms a longtime rumor when she says she kissed the choreographer Wade Robson during her relationship with Timberlake, but she suggests that her behavior was related to rumors of Timberlake’s unfaithfulness.) Spears recalls that interview as a “breaking point” for her. “I felt like I had been exploited,” she writes, “set up in front of the whole world.”

Relationship to drugs and alcohol

Tackling the peak years of her notorious stint as a paparazzi and tabloid fixture, Spears writes about her early adulthood forays into partying and nightlife with a sense of disbelief about how they were portrayed in the media.

  • Of her time being photographed alongside celebrity peers like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, Spears writes, “It was never as wild as the press made it out to be,” saying that she had no interest in hard drugs and “never had a drinking problem.” Instead, Spears describes her “drug of choice” as the ADHD medication Adderall, which “made me high, yes, but what I found far more appealing was that it gave me a few hours of feeling less depressed.”

  • Spears writes that during some of her most widely known public episodes — shaving her head and attacking a paparazzo’s car — she was “out of my mind with grief” following the death of her aunt and a custody fight with her ex-husband, Kevin Federline. “With my head shaved, everyone was scared of me, even my mom,” she writes. “Flailing those weeks without my children, I lost it, over and over again. I didn’t even really know how to take care of myself.”

  • Spears adds: “I am willing to admit that in the throes of severe postpartum depression, abandonment by my husband, the torture of being separated from my two babies, the death of my adored aunt Sandra, and the constant drumbeat of pressure from paparazzi, I’d begin to think in some ways like a child.”

Spears with her parents. She says in her book that her father, Jamie (right), became so controlling of her career while running her conservatorship that at one point he declared, “I’m Britney Spears now.”Credit…Denise Truscello/WireImage, via Getty Images

The conservatorship

In early 2008, amid her public struggles, the singer’s father, known as Jamie, was appointed conservator of her finances and personal life by the state of California, an arrangement that lasted in various forms until 2021. Even as she returned to work as an entertainer, Spears writes that her every action was monitored, including who she could date or spend time with.

  • “I know I had been acting wild, but there was nothing I’d done that justified their treating me like I was a bank robber,” Spears writes in her memoir. “Nothing that justified upending my entire life.” She describes the decision as being made by her father along with support from her mother and a business manager, Louise Taylor, known as Lou, who has denied being an architect of the conservatorship. (Jamie Spears has long defended his involvement as an effort to protect his daughter from financial exploitation.)

  • “Too sick to choose my own boyfriend and yet somehow healthy enough to appear on sitcoms and morning shows, and to perform for thousands of people in a different part of the world every week,” Spears writes, adding of her father: “From that point on, I began to think that he saw me as put on the earth for no other reason than to help their cash flow.” Elsewhere, Spears recalls her father saying, “I’m Britney Spears now.”

  • “I went from partying a lot to being a total monk,” Spears writes. “Security guards handed me prepackaged envelopes of meds and watched me take them. They put parental controls on my iPhone. Everything was scrutinized and controlled. Everything.”

  • Any pushback by Spears was frowned upon, ignored or minimized, she writes: “I even mentioned the conservatorship on a talk show in 2016, but somehow that part of the interview didn’t make it to the air. Huh. How interesting.”

Fans in the #FreeBritney movement often showed up outside court proceedings where they urged that she be released from the conservatorship. Spears writes of how much that lifted her spirits. Credit…Chloe Pang for The New York Times

Fighting back and #FreeBritney

While Spears had intermittently pushed back against the conservatorship behind closed doors to no avail, she traces the beginning of the end of the arrangement to disputes with her father near the end of 2018, when she was made to undergo further mental health evaluations and then spend more than three months in rehab.

  • “My father said that if I didn’t go, then I’d have to go to court, and I’d be embarrassed,” Spears writes, adding that he threatened to make her look like an “idiot.”

  • In addition to being prescribed lithium at the facility, Spears says, she was allowed only an hour of television before a 9 p.m. bedtime. “They kept me locked up against my will for months,” she writes. “I couldn’t go outside. I couldn’t drive a car. I had to give blood weekly. I couldn’t take a bath in private. I couldn’t shut the door to my room.”

  • It was there, in a $60,000-per-month Beverly Hills rehab, that Spears says a nurse showed her clips of fans representing the viral #FreeBritney movement that was questioning the need for the singer’s conservatorship. “That was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in my life,” Spears writes. “I don’t think people knew how much the #FreeBritney movement meant to me, especially in the beginning.”

  • She writes that “it felt like every day there was another documentary about me on yet another streaming service” (including one, “Framing Britney Spears,” by The New York Times). “Seeing the documentaries about me was rough,” she writes. “I understand that everyone’s heart was in the right place, but I was hurt that some old friend spoke to filmmakers without consulting me first.” She adds, “There was so much guessing about what I must have thought or felt.”

  • When her father was removed as her conservator, not long before the arrangement was ended entirely, “I felt relief sweep over me,” Spears writes. “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.” When she received the call from her new lawyer, Mathew S. Rosengart, that the conservatorship was officially over, Spears writes, she was at a resort in Tahiti.

  • But Spears remains raw about the aftermath of the conservatorship, writing of her continued estrangement from much of her family. “Migraines are just one part of the physical and emotional damage I have now that I’m out of the conservatorship,” she writes. “I don’t think my family understands the real damage that they did.”

The memoir is scheduled to be released on Tuesday.Credit…Gallery Books, via Associated Press

A return to music?

While some say the conservatorship saved Spears’s life, she writes, “No, not really. My music was my life, and the conservatorship was deadly for that; it crushed my soul.”

  • Throughout her time performing a revue in Las Vegas, Spears writes, she was not allowed to update the show. “When I wanted to perform my favorite songs, like ‘Change Your Mind’ or ‘Get Naked,’ they wouldn’t let me,” she writes. “It felt like they wanted to embarrass me rather than let me give my fans the best possible performance.”

  • Now that she has the opportunity to create freely again, the singer writes, she does not feel motivated to do so, although she mentions a one-off collaboration with one of her musical heroes, Elton John, released last year. “Pushing forward in my music career is not my focus at the moment,” Spears says. “It’s time for me not to be someone who other people want; it’s time to actually find myself.”

Chris Kuo contributed reporting.

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