Britney and Me

September 12, 2007

I have long believed that, when it comes to discourse on celebrity and celebrities, no holds are barred. High-minded proclamations of the sort that insist that they’re people too, they deserve respect, privacy, etc, etc are, to my mind, entirely unconvincing: celebrities are not just like you and me, and they do not have an automatic right to privacy and respect. They’re celebrities: it’s their business to strut and fret their foibles upon the public stage. And if they embarass themselves – well, all the better for the rest of us, who do well to remember that celebrities are human-all-too-human, and flawed – sometimes very seriously so – and so not deserving of knee-jerk adulation simply because they’re there. I respect that some people take the position that all celebrities should be treated nicely as a matter of course – it’s a very nice position – but I don’t really have any patience for it. If a celebrity’s being a tard, then we should feel free to say so. And laugh about it. (Mockery of quote-unquote “masters” is as old as comedy itself for good reason: it’s socially healthy for those with less power to laugh at those with more. Keeps differentials of power in proper perspective.)

All of this is a very long-winded way of defending the fact that I have taken my fair share of shots at Britney Spears. It’s hard not to: the girl wanders around without pants, crashing cars and lamenting her lost career and prattling on and on about a comeback. The great Greek comic dramatist Aristophanes – and later, Plautus, and certainly Machiavelli and probably Shakespeare, too – would have had a field day with Britney: the comely girl turned goddess-of-sorts who falls from grace into a slatternly state of confusion (a kind of female Bottom, perhaps, minus the dalliance with fairies. Or a Poptart Gloriosus, of the sort that Plautus would have adored and pilloried). One almost wishes that she would stop being so ridiculous, so that she wouldn’t be such an obvious target.

I have wished that, actually – that she’d stop being so ridiculous. She’s a mom. I know from being a mom. Even if she has sixteen nannies – and I’m guessing that she has at least six – she’s still under tremendous psychological pressure. A few years of pop superstardom can’t prepare one for the mindf*ck that is new parenthood, let alone new new-parenthood-cum-single-parenthood. In the public eye – in the harsh, harsh glare of the public eye. But still: there’s a baseline of dignity that one has to hang onto, however tenuously, once one becomes a parent. For our own sanity, and for the sake of the kids: parents need to keep it together, in some minimal way, at the very least. Staying groomed and upright, for starters. Not doing anything that’s going to cause Child Services to pay you a visit. Not stuffing your post-partum, pre-Pilates body into a few scraps of satin and fishnet and tramping dully across a televised stage. That kind of thing.

I wish that Britney had stopped being so ridiculous before she got up in front of the VMA cameras, before she’d turned Puck on herself and stumbled and fumbled her way across that stage and made herself more of a laughingstock. But she didn’t, and we are, most of us, laughing. And even though one might say that she asked for it, even though one might say that that’s what she signed up for, way back when she was a Mouseketeer and aspiring pop tart and wanted celebrity so bad that she could taste it… even though one might say these things – even though I might say these things – the laughing and finger-pointing at Britney’s VMA performance is making me a little sick to my stomach.

It’s making me a little sick to my stomach because so much of it is directed at her unstageworthy physique, at her failure to regain her taut, poptart figure after having two children, at her insistence upon squeezing those dimply thighs into fishnet stockings. And it’s not simply because I, personally, draw the line, in mocking celebrities, especially female celebrities, well short of the point of mocking or criticizing bodies (at least, the bodies that God gave them. The bodies that they buy are fair game. Oh, and David Caruso’s body; that’s fair game, too, for no good reason that I can think of. I’ve made fun of his legs.) It’s partly that, of course – laughing at Britney for being a dimply size ten (eight? six?) after bearing two children is an insult to all women, everywhere, and to anyone who was borne of woman. It demeans all of us. But it’s not that, in itself, that sickens me in the deepest part of my gut. It’s mostly this: I look at those images of Britney stumbling self-consciously across the stage in that ridiculously skanky outfit and I see myself. And I cringe.

No, I don’t see myself wearing that outfit, or grabbing some poor back-up dancer’s crotch. I don’t see myself desperately grasping for fame and adulation while shimmying awkwardly in fishnet stockings. But I do see – I have seen – myself, sometimes, desperately grasping for the girl that I used to be, the girl that I was before I became a mother. Mostly, it’s an imagined grasping, but it’s grasping nonetheless – it’s me berating my reflection in the mirror for not having lost my pregnancy weight, it’s me trying on clothes that would have suited me three years ago but are now too small and too hip and too not-me-at-all, it’s me telling myself that thirty is the new twenty and forty the new thirty which makes me, like, twenty-something and not at all old and hey, I’m still up on the cool music and the cool clothes and see? Motherhood hasn’t changed me at all!

There’s a figurative satin-and-fishnet skank outfit in my psychic closet, and I have certainly pulled it out and tried to squeeze myself into it more than once. That I have not had to confront that image in all of its sordid glory – never mind parade it publicly – is my very good fortune, but still. It’s there. It is there. It is.

So it is than when I click through on those videos playing and replaying and replaying again the footage of poor Britney wandering, sad and self-conscious and disoriented, through her VMA performance, I feel sad. Sad that she wasn’t able to let go of some old dream of herself, some old, pathetic notion that she is and always will be girl. Sad that – from the looks of it – she woke up from that dream mid-stage, as the lights hit her and the music started and the elastic in her tiny satin panties cut into the ample flesh of her thighs and the giggles from the audience burned in her ears and she all of sudden knew. Not a girl, fully a woman – but a woman grasping desperately for the girl, and just not reaching her, not even close.

It makes me sad, because I’ve reached for the girl in me, the girl that I was - not so much to be her again, but to feel her, maybe. Understand her. Make her more a part of the woman that I am, whatever that means. And I’ve imagined, sometimes, that I’ve grazed her, with very tips of my fingers; that I’ve almost reached her; that I’ve come close to grasping that girl and integrating her with the woman that I’ve become and am becoming. That I’ve maybe, just maybe, preserved the girl inside the woman, and that maybe, just maybe, that girl will get the woman to fit into a smaller pair of skinny jeans.

And then I see Britney, and all I can think is: how ridiculous. How ridiculous, her. How ridiculous, me. How ridiculous, all of us who refuse to go gently into the good night of age and gravity and seriousness and dignity. How ridiculous, all of us who would fight the loss, mourn the loss, of the silly, beautiful girls and boys that we once were.

And how sad that we laugh at that, as if we none of us have fought that fight on the stages of our psyches, and lost, and mourned.

How very, very sad.

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    Veronica Mitchell September 12, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    You put it so well.

    I find myself feeling pity for her (or for the me in her), and simultaneously wanting to shake her by her shoulders and shout “You have kids! Straighten the #$% up!”

    Mrs. Chicky September 12, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    I’ve felt like Britney more times than I care to remember. Every time I’ve left the house in an outfit that seemed like a good idea when I put it on but clearly wasn’t when I caught sight of myself in a store mirror.

    Lisa b September 12, 2007 at 9:57 pm

    I’ve decided that the girl I think I was is a cooler version of the girl I actually was. On this revelation I have decided only to go forward as the girl that I now am.
    Besides if I look back that flabby ass gets in the way.

    Girl con Queso September 12, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    This is why I love you.

    Alpha DogMa September 13, 2007 at 12:42 am

    Mental illness. That’s my line. I draw my line of snark and mockery when it becomes apparent that a celebrity is mentality ill. Being merely dumb, addicted or generally redunkulous is no excuse for kid gloves.

    This woman (aged 25 with 2 kids and 2 ex-husbands means she is no longer a ‘girl’) is ill. She needs serious help. She doesn’t need to be exploited by her handlers and MTV for this bit of public humiliation.

    When she gets a grip and gets help – I’ll start the mockery again.

    GIRL'S GONE CHILD September 13, 2007 at 1:48 am

    This was beautiful. I posted about Brit today, too, but more on celebrity culture as a whole and how hard false idols can fall.

    Anonymous September 13, 2007 at 8:54 am

    From a woman who’s still navigating that transition to wearing grownup clothes and being Serious (just graduated college), thanks for the reminder that one day I’ll want to cherish the Girl. Right now she just embarasses me.

    Don Mills Diva September 13, 2007 at 10:14 am

    I could not love this post more. Thanks.

    dorothy September 13, 2007 at 11:28 am

    this is the best discussion I’ve seen on this topic – well said!

    Hannah September 13, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    You’ve put into words the disquiet that’s been swirling in my brain since this whole debacle hit. Who among us hasn’t reached for the pre-mom gal inside? This is my first visit but it won’t be my last. Thanks for a great post.

    Beck September 13, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    Beautifully put. I can’t even bear to watch the posted-everywhere clips of her bumbling around the stage.

    m September 13, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    I’ve never liked Britney and I didn’t see the clip, but her whole situation makes me so sad. This is a girl who has only known fame and the spotlight. She knows no ‘normal’ life. She has no real friends because of it, no one to pull her aside, give her a cup of tea, and let her cry her heart out.

    She is constantly being set up by the media and she allows herself to be because she doesn’t know any different, any other way.

    What I really think is going on is she’s suffering from some major post-partum depression. She needs to be taken away and taken care of, not only for her own sake, but for that of her boys.

    Heather B. September 13, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    Damn it, Catherine. Stop being so smart and eloquent!

    You’re making me “Is that a dance move or a random twitch” comment so much more lame than it already was.

    As always superb points and full of things that make you go ‘hmm’.

    Mardougrrl September 13, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    Brilliant. brilliant post…I’ve been deeply uncomfortable with the gleeful Britney bashing, but didn’t make this connection. I have definitely caught myself straining to reconnect to some earlier, younger version of myself, and it’s so painful when you just see…that person is gone.

    Motherhood Uncensored September 13, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    I’ve never actually bashed her — mainly because she gets her fair share and I’d much rather make fun of people who wear crocs.

    I say, run naked for God sakes, but just don’t wear those shoes.

    In all honesty, we’ve got to remember that she is someone’s mother. I just wish other folks out there would remember that to.

    Major Bedhead September 14, 2007 at 8:12 am

    I never thought I’d say this, but I felt sorry for Britney at those awards. I’ve never enjoyed seeing someone be publicly embarrassed and that was public embarrassment on a grand scale. She just looks so lost all the time.

    I have a hard time accepting that I’m never going to look like I did when I was 21. I’d imagine for someone like Britney, it’s exponentially more difficult. She’s, what? 25? 26? She’s had two kids and a trainwreck of a life over the last couple of years and is probably wondering what the hell happened. For someone who is only ever fawned over and never given the straight dope about anything, her coping skills must be minimal.

    I did find myself thinking “Damn, she looks good, she looks real, not like an airbrushed pop princess.” It’s just too bad she can’t embrace her new, softer, curvier body because she could look fantastic. Not, however, when she’s squashed into a too-tight bra and panties set and fishnet stockings.

    Sarcastica September 14, 2007 at 9:05 am

    I felt sorry for Britney too at those awards. You are completely right, she does need to let go of the girl she was and become the woman she is. You know, I think she’d be a lot less crazy if she didn’t hold on to that so tightly. Maybe if she matured her style a little…changed the way people thought of her music…then she would be a lot more successful in a comeback.

    TB September 14, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    There may be another comment to this effect, and if so I apologize for the redundancy.

    I’m not a fan of Britney, or really any of the ultra poppy trainwreck stars. I could really care less what she does or doesn’t do or wear.
    But I take offense at the fact that everyone is up in arms about her being “fat” or “dumpy” or whatever you want to call it.
    She’s not. She looks better than 99% of the women in our society. At five months post partum, I’d love to look like Britney. And the fact that everyone agrees that she’s “fat or what have you, just perpetuates the ideas about body image that women like you and I hate. The ideas that you are going to work so hard to not put into your own daughter’s head.
    As for the rest of your post, I totally agree and feel what you are saying. It’s an adjustment of motherhood that I never saw coming.

    Leah September 14, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    Jeezopete, Catherine. You’ve said it all.

    SoundHunter September 15, 2007 at 12:31 am

    So wonderfully written. Had me wincing while knowing exactly what you mean. Did you hear Tori Amo’s live song about Britney? Also wonderfully written, I think you’d appreciate it.

    creative-type dad September 15, 2007 at 1:27 am

    Very interesting.

    In a way, I do feel sorry for her. These people don’t know how to let go and always try to hold onto an image no matter how silly they may look. It’s sad

    Mom101 September 15, 2007 at 10:07 am

    You have just done what no one else could – finally made me hit You Tube to seek out the performance in question. And it is indeed sad.

    This may also be the first time Britney was mentioned along with Aristophanes and Plautus.

    coffee queen September 15, 2007 at 11:51 am

    Powerful post. I’m so glad that people are beginning to see Britney for what she represents about our culture, not just as a laughing stock.

    Karen MEG September 16, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    An extremely insightful post as usual. It made me think… at first I was so quick to judge her, but then I realized that she is part of a machine, a lot of people are relying on her the “Britney company” and she may not have the keenest advisors, at least not any that are unbiased, and who really care about her as a person. Where are her frickin’ parents and family in her mess of a life? I hope things get better for her, as she’s got two young ones to consider now too. Money can’t buy everything.

    Fairly Odd Mother September 16, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    I’ve read so many reviews of Britney as of late, but none of them made the lightbulb go off in my head like this one. Very interesting way to look at her situation.

    God, I wish she would scoop up those beautiful boys of hers and run away from the stage, the photographers, the press. . .

    Sara September 17, 2007 at 10:29 pm

    I feel so, so sorry for her. Maybe I shouldn’t, she’s had her time in the light, all the money in the world, a mess of terrible decisions, decisions that have stripped her of her carreer, her husband, her family, perhaps soon her children.

    When I watched her, up there, on stage, I couldn’t help but think of my own two beautiful boys. I hope they have passion, like she did, for whatever lives they choose. But I hope that I have enough strength, to hold them, to help them find themselves, before they search for themselves somewhere else.

    Does Britney even know who she is?…words from her own song, that keep pulling at me…

    “And they say she’s so lucky, she’s a star but she cries cries cries in the lonely dark thinkin, if theres nothin, missin in my life then why do these tears come at night.”

    I hope, pray, she finds herself. Away from the lights and the fame and the torture us curious have put her through. She needs too, before she kills herself.

    Jen M. September 19, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    You managed to write the best post ever about Britney. How ridiculous, indeed (I say this hypocritically, since I do mourn the loss of my girlish self, but I hate that I do). And you are so right – celebrities are different – for the very reasons you gave.

    Such a great post! Meaty!

    House Frau September 20, 2007 at 10:12 am

    Well said, I have been thinking some of the same things this past week. I don’t care for Britney but I totally relate to her as a mom, and I think she looks great. Most moms I know would be elated to have her body and the press is acting like she is a pig. It is so sad how the press expects all women to be twigs…

    tiffany September 25, 2007 at 12:19 am

    this is the most beautiful thing i’ve read in a long time.
    thank you.

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