“It’s been a while since I felt truly present in my own life, in my own power, in my womanhood. But I’m here now.” This is how Britney Spears concludes her memoir, The Woman in Me, out today. In the powerful tell-all, the superstar candidly reflects on her route to the pop stratosphere, living life in the public eye (through the good and the bad), grappling with her mental health, and enduring a 13-year conservatorship that denied her a cell phone and the freedom to drive a car.
Here, Vogue rounds up the 16 biggest revelations from the poignant new book.
Her childhood was less than idyllic
The book, which goes through Spears’s life in chronological order, opens with her childhood in the South. (She was born in McComb, Mississippi, and later lived in Kentwood, Louisiana.) Early on, the star describes the rocky dynamics within her family that would persist into her adult life. She claims that her parents fought constantly when she was growing up, and that her father – Jamie Spears – was an alcoholic. “When my father drank, he was extremely mean,” Spears writes. “He drank until he couldn’t think anymore. He’d disappear for days at a time.”
Performance emerged as a form of escapism
Spears recalls that her desire to perform and break into the music industry was fuelled by wanting to escape her rocky home life and small-town roots. “When I was alone with my thoughts, my mind was filled with worries and fears,” writes Spears. “Music stopped the noise, made me feel confident, and took me to a pure place of expressing myself exactly as I wanted to be seen and heard… Singing bridged reality and fantasy, the world I was living in and the world that I desperately wanted to inhabit.”
Her looks were a focus early in her career
Once Spears began dominating the pop charts with tracks like “…Baby One More Time” and “Oops! I Did It Again”, the star describes how the industry – and press – objectified her. “MTV sat me down in front of a monitor and made me watch strangers in Times Square give their opinions of my performance… They said that I was dressing ‘too sexy’, and thereby setting a bad example for kids,” writes Spears. “I started to notice more and more older men in the audience… It would freak me out to see them leering at me like I was some kind of Lolita fantasy for them… If I was sexy, they seemed to think I must be stupid. If I was hot, I couldn’t possibly be talented.”
After becoming pregnant with Justin Timberlake’s baby, she had an abortion
Over the course of a few chapters, Spears reflects on her high-profile relationship with Justin Timberlake during the early 2000s. The singer claims that he was not faithful to her. “There were a couple of times during our relationship when I knew Justin had cheated on me,” she writes, admitting that she herself also cheated once, by making out with dancer Wade Robson. The breaking point of Spears and Timberlake’s relationship, however, was when she became pregnant. “It was a surprise, but for me it wasn’t a tragedy,” Spears writes. “Justin definitely wasn’t happy about the pregnancy. He said we weren’t ready to have a baby in our lives, that we were way too young… I agreed not to have the baby. Abortion was something I never could have imagined choosing for myself, but given the circumstances, that is what we did… If it had been left up to me alone, I never would have done it.” Not long after that, Spears also writes that Timberlake ended the relationship while she was on set for the “Overprotected (Darkchild Remix)” video.
She found a mentor in Madonna
Spears remembers feeling lost and depressed after the Timberlake break-up. “When he left me, I was devastated,” she writes. Seeking support, Spears befriended Madonna. “Madonna’s supreme confidence helped me see a lot about my situation with fresh eyes,” she writes. “I needed a little guidance at that time. I was confused about my life. At one point, she did a red-string ceremony with me to initiate me into Kabbalah, and she gave me a trunk full of Zohar books to pray with. She told me I should be sure to take time out for my soul, and I tried to do that. She modeled a type of strength that I needed to see.” Not long after, the duo collaborated on “Me Against the Music”.
Her 55-hour Las Vegas marriage to Jason Alexander was “innocent fun”
In 2004, Spears famously married her childhood friend Jason Alexander during an impromptu trip to Las Vegas. (They wed at the famous Little White Chapel.) Their marriage lasted only 55 hours before being annulled – and making international headlines. “People have asked me if I loved him,” reflects Spears. “To be clear: he and I were not in love. I was just honestly very drunk – and probably, in a general sense at that time in my life, very bored.” She also recalls how her parents reacted, taking the situation too seriously. “They made way too big of a deal out of innocent fun,” she writes. “My family came and acted like I’d started World War III.”
Her marriage to Kevin Federline ended because he was “ruined” by fame
Spears claims that Federline, to whom she was married from 2004 to 2007, became obsessed with his music career, eventually refusing to see her at all while recording his solo album. “Maybe this is the way married couples are, I thought as Kevin and I grew more and more estranged,” writes Spears. “He wouldn’t see me. It seemed like he wanted to pretend I didn’t exist… I’ve seen fame and money ruin people. And I saw it happen with Kevin in slow motion.” Spears also writes about how she was often left at home with their children. “I’d had his babies inside of me for a very long time, and I’d sacrificed a lot,” she writes. “I had done everything to make our life possible.”
She suffered from both perinatal and postpartum depression
Spears had two children with Federline – Jayden James and Sean Preston – and the star is open about how difficult both pregnancies were for her, especially as her marriage deteriorated and media attention around her was relentless. “Becoming a mother while under so much pressure at home and out in the world was also much, much harder than I expected it would be,” Spears writes. “I was suffering, I now know, from severe postpartum depression. I’ll admit it, I felt that I couldn’t live if things didn’t get better.” She continues, “I’d had these two kids back-to-back. My hormones were all over the place. I was meaner than hell and so bossy… Unfortunately, there wasn’t the same conversation about mental health back then that there is now. I hope any new mothers reading this who are having a hard time will get help early… I now know that I was displaying just about every symptom of perinatal depression: sadness, anxiety, fatigue.”
Her 2007 “breakdown” was fuelled by her custody battle with Federline
After Spears’s marriage to Federline ended, the two were engaged in a tumultuous custody battle. “As part of his bid for full custody, Kevin tried to convince everyone that I was completely out of control,” Spears writes. “He started to say I shouldn’t have my kids anymore – at all… He not only wouldn’t bring them back to me, he wouldn’t let me see them for weeks on end.” Such was the case on 16 February 2007, the night Spears famously shaved her head. “After not getting to see the boys for weeks and weeks, Kevin wouldn’t let me in. The paparazzi watched it all happen… so that night I gave them some material. I went into a hair salon, and I took the clippers, and I shaved off all my hair. Everyone thought it was hilarious. Look how crazy she is!… But nobody seemed to understand that I was simply out of my mind with grief. My children had been taken away from me.”
Spears also looks back on the moment when she made headlines for hitting a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella. “I was, once again, denied entry to Kevin’s. Turned away, trying to see my own children… I snapped,” Spears writes. “I grabbed the only thing within reach, a green umbrella, and jumped out the car… I hit the next closest thing, which was [a paparazzo’s] car. It was a desperate move by a desperate person.”
She gets real about her best – and worst – musical moments
Amid Spears’s personal turmoil in the late 2000s, there was much discussion around her work – both the good (her masterful pop album Blackout) and the bad (her 2007 VMAs performance of “Gimme More”). Spears gets candid about it all. Of recording Blackout, Spears writes that it’s “the thing I’m most proud of in my whole career… Blackout was one of the easiest and most satisfying albums I ever made”, she writes. “Even though it was a very hard time in just about every other way, artistically it was great. Something about where I was in my head made me a better artist… The album was a kind of battle cry. After years of being meticulous, trying to please my mom and dad, it was my time to say ‘Fuck you.’”
Spears also looks back on her hit single from the album, “Gimme More”, admitting that she now dislikes both the music video and her VMAs performance for it. “‘Gimme More’ is by far the worst video I’ve ever shot in my life,” Spears writes. “I don’t like it at all – it’s so tacky.” Of the VMAs performance, she continues, “I hadn’t rehearsed enough. I hated the way I looked. I knew it was going to be bad. It was less than a year since I’d had my second baby in two years but everyone was acting like my not having six-pack abs was offensive.”
Her father established the conservatorship as a tool to control her
After a series of psychiatric holds and patterns of erratic behavior, Spears was involuntarily placed under a court-ordered conservatorship in February 2008. Spears’s father and his friend Louise “Lou” Taylor – the founder of Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group and, at one point, Britney’s business manager – were instrumental in its implementation. Spears writes about how she sensed that there was a financial motivation for it. “Conservatorships, also called guardianships, are usually reserved for people with no mental capacity, people who can’t do anything for themselves. But I was highly functional,” Spears writes. “I was making a lot of people a lot of money, especially my father, who I found out took a bigger salary than he paid me. He paid himself more than $6 million while paying others close to him tens of millions more.”
Spears also writes about how Jamie began to use the conservatorship as a form of personal control. “My father was able to set up two forms of conservatorship: what’s called ‘conservatorship of the person’ and ‘conservatorship of the estate’,” Spears writes. “The conservator of the person is designated to control details of the conservatee’s life, like where they live, what they eat, whether they can drive a car, and what they do day-to-day. I am convinced that it was all planned and that my dad and my mom and Lou Taylor were all involved… It felt like my father and Lou’s employee, Robin Greenhill, ruled my life and monitored every move I made… They treated me like I was a criminal or predator.” She also recalls the moment her father told her, “‘I’m Britney Spears now. I call the shots. You sit right there in that chair and I’ll tell you what goes on.’”
The abuse she endured under the conservatorship was even worse than we knew
Spears vividly details the degrading conditions that she was forced to withstand during her conservatorship. “They decided where I went and with who. They put parental controls on my iPhone. Everything was scrutinized and controlled,” writes Spears. “I would get to sleep early. And then I would wake up and do what they told me again. And again. And again. It was like Groundhog Day. I did that for 13 years.” Her dating life wasn’t private. “On the rare occasion that I went out… the security team would sweep through the house before I arrived to make sure there was no alcohol or any drugs, even Tylenol, there,” writes Spears. “Before a date, Robin [Greenhill] would tell the man my medical and sexual history. To be clear: this was before the first date. The whole thing was humiliating.” She was also given a strict allowance, and recalls a night when she wasn’t able to pay for dinner for her back-up dancers. “I tried to pick up the check for our whole party. The check was a thousand dollars,” she writes. “My purchase was declined. I didn’t have enough money in my ‘allowance’ account to cover it.”
The conditions of her conservatorship worsened in 2017, while Spears was rehearing for a new Las Vegas residency titled Domination. Spears pushed back against some of the new choreography in the show, and to reprimand her, Spears says that her father forced her into a rehab treatment centre. “They locked me up against my will for months,” writes Spears. “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.” It was there where she was also put on lithium, “a dangerous drug that I did not want or need and that makes you extremely slow and lethargic”, writes Spears. “On lithium, I didn’t know where I was or even who I was sometimes.”
Jamie, Taylor and Greenhill have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing during the conservatorship.
She felt betrayed and abandoned by her family
Once Spears entered the conservatorship, her freedom was stripped away. Though she claims her family thought the arrangement was in her best interest, Spears felt betrayed – and abandoned – by those closest to her. “I felt betrayed by my father and, sadly, by the rest of my family, too,” Spears writes. “I thought they were going to try to kill me.” The pop star adds that both her mother, Lynne Spears, and sister, Jamie Lynn, wrote tell-all books about her at her lowest points. “As I was fighting the conservatorship and receiving a lot of press attention, [my sister] was writing a book capitalising on it,” writes Spears. “As everything was falling apart for me, my mother was writing a memoir… She would share my every mistake on television, promoting her book. The book was huge for her, and all at my expense.”
The conservatorship ruined her love of performing
During the conservatorship, the singer writes about how her love of music – and performing – began to fade, especially when she was forced to perform against her will. “I became a robot… I become more of an entity than a person onstage,” writes Spears. “I had always felt music in my bones and my blood; they stole that from me. My heart wasn’t in recording music anymore. I had no more fire to bring. I was so over it.” The singer says that, on some occasions, she even sabotaged her own performances as a form of rebellion. “I’d dance in a way where I wouldn’t move a hair on my head,” she writes. “Everyone who was making money off me wanted me to move my hair, and I knew it – and so I did everything but that. By holding back onstage, I was trying to rebel in some way.”
Spears credits her fans for freeing her
Spears recalls she first learned about #FreeBritney, a fan-led movement that drew attention to the abuse she was facing under the conservatorship, while at a rehab treatment centre in 2018. “One of the nurses, the only one who was real as hell, called me over to her computer,” writes Spears. “It was women on a talk show talking about me and the conservatorship. My connection to my fans helped them subconsciously know that I was in danger. Seeing them marching in the streets, chanting ‘Free Britney!’ – that was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in my life.”
She’s now focusing on herself – and music isn’t a priority
Spears concludes the memoir by giving fans a glimpse into her post-conservatorship life. She says she’s been enjoying “trying to have fun and trying to be kind for myself, to take things at my own pace”. One way in which she’s been having fun, Spears writes, is through her much-discussed Instagram content. “The first step towards securing my freedom was for people to begin to understand that I was a real person. I started trying on new clothes and modeling them on Instagram. I found it incredibly fun. I know that a lot of people don’t understand why I love taking pictures of myself. But I think if they’d been photographed by other people thousands of times, prodded and posed for other people’s approval, they’d understand that I get a lot of joy from posing the way I feel sexy and taking my own picture, doing whatever I want with it.”
Spears also writes that she’s not putting pressure on herself to release new music any time soon (though she has recently released two singles: “Hold Me Closer” and “Mind Your Business”). “Pushing forward in my music career is not my focus at the moment,” Spears writes. “Right now it’s time for me to try to get my spiritual life in order, to pay attention to the little things, to slow down. It’s time for me not to become someone who other people want; it’s time to actually find myself.”
The Woman in Me by Britney Spears is out now.
Originally published on Vogue.co.uk