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Book review: Britney Spears grieves, rages and rises in best-selling memoir The Woman In Me

The Woman In Me

Britney Spears
Memoir/Simon & Schuster/E-book/287 pages/$24.60/Amazon SG (a.co/d/75sUoDB)
4 stars

Celebrity memoirs are not uncommon, but perhaps none has been as hotly anticipated as American pop star Britney Spears’ The Woman In Me – and not without good reason.

The 42-year-old singer of iconic hits such as …Baby One More Time (1998) and Toxic (2003) was silenced for 13 years under a conservatorship controlled by her father that stripped her of the right to decide what to do with her career, finances and life. She was freed from the arrangement only in 2021 after reporting her father for conservatorship abuse.

Now, finally able to tell her story, Spears – who reportedly worked with ghostwriters – does not adorn her memoir with fancy words.

The language is simple and the tone is matter-of-fact, but she puts forth a harrowing tale about how fame, misogyny and abuse decimated her life.

The book – which has sold 1.8 million copies in the United States since its release in October – recounts Spears’ rise to fame from a child star and teenage pop idol all the way till the end of the conservatorship.

But if one were just getting glimpses of the book via headlines, it would be easy to think Spears spent the bulk of it ranting about former beau, American singer-actor Justin Timberlake, whom she dated from 1999 to 2002.

Spears’ revelation that Timberlake pushed her to have an excruciating at-home medical abortion after an unexpected pregnancy certainly made for splashy tabloid news, and the Internet had fun mocking her account of Timberlake adopting a cringe-worthy black accent to speak to R&B artiste Ginuwine.

But it would be unfair to say Spears is bitter towards any of her former lovers, be it Timberlake or ex-husband Kevin Federline, with whom she shares two sons.

Instead, her anger is directed towards the culture of misogyny in the media, which ogled her body yet condemned her for her sexuality, was obsessed with her weight and gleefully tore her down as a bad mother even as she struggled with post-partum depression.

Timberlake and Federline simply knew how to “play the game”, as she says, to leverage the misogyny levelled at her to their advantage.

While the first half of the book will sate pop culture lovers with mentions of her encounters with celebrities such as singers Mariah Carey and Madonna, reality TV star Paris Hilton, actor Colin Farrell and, of course, Banana (the python that she performed I’m A Slave 4 U with at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards), it is the second half that is most memorable.

It details how her family conspired against, planned and lured her into an involuntary entry into a conservatorship of her person and estate.

In 2008, she was ambushed by her parents as the police descended on her and forcefully took her to a psychiatric ward.

Despite being well enough to record new albums and pull off a demanding four-year Las Vegas concert residency between 2013 and 2017, she was deemed legally unable to make personal or financial decisions for herself.

Her experience is a horror story – she was institutionalised without consent; forced to take medication she did not want; arbitrarily prevented from seeing her children; and, for years, barred from alcohol, coffee, fries and dessert. It is heartbreaking and terrifying to read.

Spears may not be a literary maven, but The Woman In Me is heartfelt and powerful. She grieves for the afraid, insecure teenage girl she was; she rages at her family who exploited and used her; but, thankfully, she also rises above her ordeals, finding enough strength within herself to break out of the conservatorship and discover life as a free woman.

If you like this, read: I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy (Simon & Schuster, 2022, $17, Amazon SG, go to amzn.asia/d/0rrr3N7). This memoir by iCarly (2007 to 2012) star Jennette McCurdy is about her struggles as a former child actress, including her ordeals with eating disorders, addiction and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother.



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