by Ella Skelsey
After decades in the spotlight, Britney Spears isn’t putting up with the “Toxic” media. “I’ll say this. You know, I worked with all the boy bands, all of them, and not one of the boys was ever under any scrutiny,” Hayley Hill, former Teen People fashion director and Spears’ former stylist (1997-2001), told the New York Times in their documentary, “Framing Britney Spears.”
The media is sometimes thought of as the cause of celebrities’ success, but it can also be the cause of their downfall. When the media uses images and words to shape the way the public thinks of the rich-and-famous, and young celebrities themselves, it can change the course of their career.
Britney Spears grew to fame with her character in Disney’s, “The Mickey Mouse Club” when she was just 12-years-old. Three years after the shows ending, she began her career in the music industry by signing a record deal with Jive Records according to Billboard. Billboard also reported that her second album, “Oops! … I Did It Again” sold “1.3 million copies in its first week.”
Later in her career, she had multiple Las Vegas residencies, which she canceled in January 2019 “to put [her] full focus and energy on [her] family at this time,” Spears tweeted on Jan 4, 2019. All this combined, Spears had and has a fruitful career, but she was still under scrutiny by the media.
In 2008 she was placed under conservatorship after her “seemingly erratic behavior—such as shaving her head and attacking a paparazzi’s car with an umbrella,” according to Harpers Bazaar. It was initially supposed to support her as she struggled with mental illness, divorce and limited time with her children, on top of constant media and press attention. According to celebrity videographer Daniel Ramos, the press wasn’t always a negative thing for Spears.
“In the beginning, when paparazzi’s were following Britney, you could tell she enjoyed it … She would give it up, the shots, waving. She was very friendly, a sweetheart of a girl. It was like she needed us and we needed her. We both needed each other, and it was a great kind of relationship,” Ramos told the NYT. Ramos captured the infamous photo of a bald Spears attacking Ramos’s car with an umbrella, and said she never explicitly told paparazzi to leave her alone for good.
“The goal is not to sort of, with these kinds of imagery, be negative about people. It was to enjoy their lives in a somewhat aspirational/relatable way,” Brittain Stone, the photography director for US Weekly from 2001-11, told the NYT. The media might say that they support celebrities, but when they value sales over the person selling their magazines, they’re actually tearing them down for profit. Junior Mariela Silva-Lozano said she thinks that the pressure the media and press place on young stars leads to their demise.
“Like Lindsay Lohan, for example. Like she went off the rails basically. It also didn’t help that everyone’s staring at her. Notice how almost every Disney kid at some point after they get out of Disney, they go crazy…” Silva said, “She went crazy because they have these contracts that say that they have to act a certain way all the time, because they’re supposed to be examples for children. But it sucks because then you can’t even have time to be your age and do things that people your age are doing.”
Although this might be the case for major celebrities like Spears, the media still plays a part in everyone in the industry’s lives. West alum Isabella Emmack’s modeling career picked up in 2016 when she cut her hair. She began modeling in Fashion Weeks across the globe for Burberry, Moschino, Stella McCartney, Vera Wang, and was a favorite of Alexander Wang. Since then, she’s modeled in magazines such as Vogue, Vogue Italia, Vogue Paris, and Elle France.
Emmack said that her experience with the media has helped grow hers and other’s careers. “Personally my experience with the media I would say is positive. I’ve learned a lot and found many opportunities for myself through all types of media: social, music, videos, and news even. The access to information and to be able to share information through media has opened doors for many people, I would say is an overall positive thing,” Emmack said.
Still, Emmack said she has felt the pressures of the media bleed into her personal life. “Media has impacted others my age and I in many ways. For one being it sets the standard for beauty and for what’s popular even if those things are not what you personally find interesting. Due to that I feel media has made me insecure to what I like because it is not the majority.” This idea isn’t limited to millennials, as it has been seen throughout the years.
According to Silva, celebrities like Lohan, Bella Thorne, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, and Spears are all examples of how the media can manipulate and hurt young celebrities, especially women. As a result of her struggles, Spears’ conservatorship was put in place. Over ten years later, fans are calling for an end to it, using her work history as evidence that she’s no longer in need of the restrictions a conservatorship offers.
Silva voiced her support for the “#FreeBritney” movement and said, “I feel like if you can work and you can clearly produce things and you’re posting on social media, I think you’re competent enough to you know, control your own finances. You don’t have to have your parents literally controlling every aspect of your life.” Silva-Lozano also said that she thinks it’s okay for people to receive support and help when needed.
“Sure, they [conservators] can help them. And obviously, if someone’s going to try to indulge, obviously, they should be the person that says, hey, don’t do that. But I don’t think that anyone should ever have complete control over somebody else’s assets, because it’s not theirs in the first place,” Silva-Lozano said.
The point of “#FreeBritney” is that some fans believe Spears is competent enough to not need a conservatorship. Followers also question the intent behind her father, Jaime Spears’s role in it, as he didn’t play a major part in her formative years.
In “Framing Britney Spears,” the senior director of marketing for Jive Records from 1998-2004 Kim Kaiman said, “Her mother would do whatever it took personally, and for the family’s sake, for Britney to be a star. Lynne supported Britney. I wanna say Lynne because I never talked to her father. The only thing Jaime ever said to me was, ‘My daughter’s gonna be so rich she’s gonna buy me a boat.’ That’s all I’m gonna say about Jaime.”
While Jaime Spears is now only a part of her finances, Britney filed to have him removed from that half of the conservatorship in Nov. 2019 with no success. The battle continues with Spears’ supporting the court’s decision to limit her father’s power in the conservatorship in early February. Now, Spears is “In The Zone” and taking control of the narrative for the first time.