Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
The recently released Framing Britney Spears documentary has provided a powerful insight into the life of the popstar, but also raises questions over how such a powerful woman came to be in such a situation.
For those who don’t know, Britney Spears has been stuck in a conservatorship since 2008 when her mental health took a very public breakdown. This conservatorship means that she does not have control of her finances or her career. Instead, her father Jamie Spears can control her money and her life, including access to her $60 million fortune. Attorney Andrew Wallet was a co-conservator until 2019, when he resigned his position. Many fans question the motivations of Wallet, as he tried to get a high fee from Spears’ estate, before stepping down after she cancelled her second Las Vegas residency. After a long court case, The Bessemer Trust – an independent association that manages funds and endowments, was named co-conservator. This was heavily objected to by Jamie Spears, but his objection was overruled by the courts.
The conservatorship that Britney Spears is under is usually reserved for the elderly who may not be of sound enough mind to conduct their own finances. Spears was placed under this conservatorship in 2008, when she was aged just 26.
So how did a young woman at the height of her career get placed under such a conservatorship?
To answer this question we must look back through Britney’s career. From the very beginning she faced incredible amounts of sexism and misogyny, with Framing Britney Spears showing a clip of her at 10 years old being asked if she had a boyfriend. When ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ came out, she was demonised for being too sexual for young children. In response she said it was not her responsibility to police what younger generations saw. She took control of her image and yet did not fit into the boxes assigned for female singers in the early 2000s. When she began to date Justin Timberlake, her virginity became a subject of national debate. Following their break up, Timberlake lived a male revenge fantasy, slighting her both in the press and his music in a way that is incredibly unsettling today. She was hounded by paparazzi; this only intensified after her marriage to Kevin Federline, birth of two children and messy divorce.
This is where the demonisation of mental health in the media comes into the fore. Britney’s mother said after-the-fact that she thought Britney had been experiencing post-partum depression. There was absolutely no mention or care in the media about the state of her mental health, instead choosing to paint her as a ‘mad party girl’ who was out of control. In the documentary, they chalk this down to there being far too much money to be made from her trauma. After she shaved her hair and was admitted for psychiatric assessment, her father filed for the conservatorship she is under still today. At the time Britney had one request – that it be someone independent. She wasn’t trying the fight the conservatorship, only the provision that would put her father in control.
For someone who was painted as too mentally ill to be in control of her finances, she was instantly back to to touring and creating music – as her father now had complete control of her career.
The conversation around mental health and celebrities has changed so much since 2008. It is now much more common for people to speak openly about their mental health issues. For example, Paris Hilton recently released a documentary detailing her experiences with physical and mental abuse, as well as the effects she still deals with now. However, there is still a long way to go as people are still hounded by paparazzi and wrongly portrayed in the media. Megan Markle, for instance, suffered so much at the hands of the British media that the couple resigned from their royal duties. The conversation around mental health in the public eye may be improving but it is far from being normalised. Britney’s court case to escape from the conservatorship is ongoing, so until then, #FreeBritney.