‘Framing Britney Spears’: Exploring the Blurred Lines Between Sexism and Celebrity Life

Photo Credit/ Screengrab via Hulu

Angelisse Alvarez

Contributing Writer

The New York Times presents a documentary, “Framing Britney Spears” which thoughtfully timelines how the world fell in love with Britney Spears.

It also expands on the misogynistic scrutiny she endured, including the ablest reporting of her mental health.

Spears was preyed on since she was just a girl. A disturbing clip from 1992 shows a ten-year old Spears singing on Star Search,” where the host, Ed McMahon, remarks that Spears has “the most adorable, pretty eyes” before asking if she has a boyfriend.

When Spears says that boys are mean, McMahon says, “I’m not mean. How about me?”

In another heinous interaction, Dutch tv presenter Ivo Niehe tells a then 17-year-old Spears to discuss her breasts.

The documentary illustrates the relentless targeting of Spears by predators in the media, whose narratives about her were salaciously spun for years.

She was accused of cheating on Justin Timberlake by journalists, and Timberlake himself had direct part in concocting this sexist, malicious narrative.

Spears was criticized by parents who expected her to bear responsibilities she shouldn’t have to in the first place.

This already sexist critique of Spears and her clothing turned into violent hatred.

“Really, if I had the opportunity to shoot Britney Spears, I think I would,” said Kendel Ehrlich, the then governor of Maryland’s wife.

My stomach churned when Diane Sawyer quoted this to Spears’ face in a horrifying interview from 2003.

Somehow, she even defended Ehrlich saying, “Because of the example for kids and how hard it is to be a parent,” she said to a clearly devastated Spears.

“Well, that’s really sad that she said that,” Spears said. “I’m not here to, you know, babysit her kids.”

Berating even came down to Spears being labeled a bad mother for being human.

This all lead to her public battle with mental health in 2007, which the media was complicit in and responded to terribly.

The surveillance Spears faced during this time further stigmatized mental illness, because the media was waiting for her next “meltdown” to ridicule.

One heartbreaking instance of this is a clip from Family Feud. Former host John O’Hurley asks contestants to name something Britney Spears recently lost.

On the answer board, “her husband/marriage,” “her hair” and “her mind” appeared.

How alienated Spears must have felt during this time. Her illness was a punchline.

As someone who battles with mental illness, I feel deeply for her.

There is cognitive dissonance in the interviews of Brittain Stone, director of photography at US weekly, and Daniel Ramos, Celebrity Videographer, in “Framing Britney Spears.”

They minimize their role in exploiting her. Stone describes intentions at US weekly, which published stories ridiculing Spears, as celebratory of her.

I’m shocked he even thought that sounded reputable.

Ramos claimed Spears never indicated wanting to be left alone by paparazzi.

In multiple clips, Spears is heard, very clearly, asking to be left alone.

The documentary dissects Spears’ conservatorship, of which her father, Jamie Spears, is the conservator.

It thoroughly explains what this means for viewers unaware, including how unusual and unjust it is for Spears’ life to be governed by her father and handlers.

The exploitation of Spears’ mental illness prompted the onset of this conservatorship.

It is notable that her father had little involvement in her life until he became her conservator.

I like that Spears’ social media was analyzed in the documentary, because it’s one of few platforms she has most control over.

It shows an attempt to hear her somehow, despite being unable to directly because of the conservatorship.

If only she was able to say what she wants outside of it.

Along with posts showing parts of Spears’ life she is genuinely excited to show, she seemingly references wanting liberation from her conservatorship through posts varying from subtle to more overt.

In one Instagram post, a caption reads, “There’s always a way out!!! This looks like paradise.”

The photo accompanying it is of a hole cut in a wall, which a beach is visible through.

“I’m a Sagittarius,” she says in another, this time a video.

“I’m very keen on freedom. I love freedom, I love independence.”

The documentary ignited new, widespread pressure for an end to the conservatorship.

It’s also another demonstration of how teenage girls are exploited and preyed upon, how often narratives are pushed in favor of misogyny, and the power of these narratives.

It also made me think about how new it is for mental health to be discussed more openly today.

The subject is still stigmatized, and doors are yet to be fully open.

And while 2007 was 14 years ago, it is not a while ago when we think about how mental illness was being treated by the media.

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