Britney Spears - Behind the Circus

 Britney has always provoked strong feelings.  Her childlike innocence and her adult sexuality have created the perfect controversial mix.

Since first shooting to fame over a decade ago, Britney Spears has led a life more theatrical than her elaborate stage shows. A rollercoaster journey that has taken this Grammy award winner super star from a chart topping idol, through rehab, divorce, public meltdown and back again.

Britney’s public breakdowns have been well publicised, making millions for the media machine that has al- ways surrounded her.  We here at UNCOVERED, take a look behind those attention grabbing headlines and ask our expert psychologist: ‘What really turned virgin pop princess Britney, into the girl who partied knickerless, shaved her head and found herself sectioned under the mental health act?’  More importantly, we find out what steps she can take to ensure a full recovery, what lessons can be learned about living a life of excess and the real cost of celebrity.

If we look at the story of Britney Spears we can see that she is from a background where fame was encouraged. She first appears on TV as a contestant on ‘The Star Search’ programme, before joining the cast of the all new Mickey Mouse Club at just 11 years-old.


What psychological implications can fame have on one so young?

There are lots of examples of people who were famous at a young age going off the rails, but there are also examples of those who seem to do well. A difference might be in the way that the child is both encouraged and managed at this time. Children will do better psychologically where they have clear boundaries and feel supported, whether they are famous or not. Those who ‘rebel’ when they get older could be reacting to feeling that they were being controlled during their early years. They could simply be exerting their freedom, albeit in an ultimately destructive way.


From the picture of Britney we see in our timeline in 1999, holding her doll and professing her virginity, Britney rapidly contradicted this impression with her risqué performances, costumes and routines. Her utterly controversial presence received much criticism at a time that she was growing and finding herself.

Britney’s sex life and sensuality was under constant media scrutiny.

What effect can this have on a teenage girl’s psycho-sexuality; self-esteem and view of herself in general?

It is difficult to say how serious Britney was in stating in 1999 that she wanted to be a virgin until her wedding night. After she split from Timberlake, she admitted to losing her virginity with him. At this time, People magazine quotes her as saying that she never wanted to hide who she was and that she was trying to fit an image and trying to be someone she wasn’t. 2002 is regarded as the point where she became more risqué. Most of us are happiest when we feel inside that we fit what we show other people and/or how we see ourselves. The further we are from this external image then the more likely this is to lead to emotional distress. If we get criticised for our fictional external character, then no real problem as it’s not us. If we start being ourselves and get criticised, then the emotional impact could be quite severe.


What effect do you think this glamorised sexuality has on Britney’s audience of young adolescent girls?

Adolescence is a time of change and, for some, experimentation. Boundaries are likely to be explored and there will be a searching for an identity.  Girls of this age will be well aware of changes in their bodies and of others reactions to them and will gradually explore their sexuality as part of a natural curiosity.  Adolescents seek role models however and a powerful and successful female role model like Britney is likely to give the message that sexuality is desirable.

In 2002 we see Britney go through many difficulties, her parents divorce, and Britney herself deals with the break up of her long term relationship to fellow teen star Justin Timberlake. Stardom comes with huge pressures and the success of her career seems to have left much of her personal life in tatters.


Could these events be a possible catalyst for future destructive behaviour?

Some months after the break-up of her four year relationship with Timberlake, Britney seems to have started changing her public and professional image.  As discussed in our previous question, her songs and videos became more risqué, she started smoking in public and admitted that she had lost her virginity.  This was also at a time when her parents divorced. It could be that, with the things that kept her grounded (parents, relationship) removed, she began to lose her way and rather than comfort herself with baths and candles, as she did when younger, she now did this in a far more destructive way.

In 2004 Britney marries childhood friend Jason Alexander, for 55 hours! Also in 2004, she starts her brief encounter with Kabbalah (religion) and announces engagement to Kevin Federline just three months after meeting. To me it seems that Britney is searching for something, some- thing that her fame and fortune alone can not fulfil.

In late 2004 Britney and Kevin Federline marry. One year later baby Sean Preston is born, just one year after, the couple have second child Jayden James. During this period the media constantly surround the family. Pictures of a frantic Britney driving away from paparazzi with baby on her lap appear in the press, to huge public disapproval.


What effect can this sort of attention have on a star, especially when you are a new mother?

What we know in Britney’s case is that, five months after Jayden was born, she divorced and a few months after that, she checked into a rehab clinic. She was said to have post-natal depression. Many mothers struggle with their ability to parent and feel concerned and guilty when this doesn’t happen naturally. Having your ‘mistakes’ discussed in public would likely heap more pressure on you.

Just over a month after baby Jay den’s birth, Britney files for divorce. What a difficult time to make a life changing choice. Britney, whilst still going through a divorce, loses her close aunt to ovarian cancer and within a month she is seeking help in a drug rehabilitation clinic in Antigua, but left after just 24 hours. This sparked a long line of bizarre actions. She was seen the following day shaving her head, in what was possibly one of the most shocking and memorable public meltdowns of all times.



What could lead such a beautiful and successful young woman into such a tragic and dramatic action? Would this be a mental illness or could it just be a reaction to the terribly stressful events of her recent history?

As I said in my previous answer, Britney was said to have had post-natal depression. In addition to her aunt dying after a long battle with cancer, she had recently filed for divorce and had just had her ex-lover sell his story to the tabloids. When multiple stresses are placed on anyone of us, we can experience real problems keeping ourselves together. When these problems are played out in the public eye, we could imagine that the pressure is tenfold.

The next few months see more erratic behaviour. Although she completed a month in a Malibu treatment centre in Feb. 2007, her state of mind continued to be fragile and in October 2007 Britney lost physical custody of her children to Kevin. However, in the same month her 5th album Blackout was released.


What advice would you have given Britney at this time? Surely work should have been the last thing on her mind?

Sometimes when things are difficult for us, it is best to try to ground ourselves with what we know best. In Britney’s case, this was singing and recording. It could be that the distraction of the album was actually good for her mood, self-esteem and confidence, giving her something interesting to do and showing her that she was good at something, despite other things going wrong in her life.

Early 2008 herald an even bleaker dawn for Britney. After four days of no sleep, and refusing to give up her children she is visited by police. We see Britney being placed under 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold and placed under strict sanctions. Later the same month, we see a similar story with her second 5150. After this there was much speculation to whether Britney was suffering from Bi-polar disorder.


Would this sort of erratic behaviour indicate Bi-Polar Disorder or are there other possibilities?

Bi-polar disorder is categorised by periods of mania followed by periods of depression. It generally runs in families and is a long term serious mental illness. People with bi-polar would generally have periods of excessive energy, maybe working long hours without rest or partying hard constantly. They might have grandiose plans and feel somewhat indestructible. Eventually the energy runs out, reality hits home and depression cuts in. While Britney’s behaviour has some similarities, it is more likely that she was going through a period of crisis in her life that she found difficult to cope with.

All the while her personal tragedies played out on a very public stage. The media machine never ceasing and in 2009 Britney’s hotly anticipated come back album Circus rose to no1 in the top 40 radio chart, the tour was a great success and during this period her children were in her care over 50% of the time.


What lessons can be learned about gaining huge success in one’s professional life, and does it ultimately mean sacrifices in your personal life? Can a personal life be safeguarded with a balance of priorities?

Celebrity fame is a special consideration as, in the 21st century, celebrities’ public and private lives and those of their children are effectively lived in the public eye. For most of us, there is greater choice in how we control and balance our work and personal life. There are many examples of extremely successful people who manage both with reasonable success. People essentially don’t act randomly. The choices we make show where we place our priorities. To achieve balance in our lives there is likely to be compromise with regards to both work and personal life.

It seems that 2010 has been a better year for Britney. She has graced the covers of many magazines, launched a new perfume and clothing line and continued a romance with Jason Tragic.

It finally seems to be coming together for the now 28 year-old star.


What advice would you give Britney to help her stay on track and continue her recovery?

Continue to do the things she’s doing. It would seem to work well for her. Take advice from people she knows are not putting their own interests first and avoid the extreme behaviour that led to her crises. Seek professional help for emotional distress when she first recognises she is having problems.

In conclusion I would like to know what we can learn from Britney and her journey so far and what it says for fame itself. Vanessa Grigoriadis in her article for Rolling Stone magazine entitled ‘The tragedy of Britney Spears’, reports that ‘more than any other star today, Britney epitomises the crucible of fame for the famous: loving it, hating it and never quite being able to stop it from destroying you’.



So what can we learn from Britney Spears and other tales of celebrity meltdown and what should this tell the youth of today who crave the spotlight?

Many people don’t seek fame itself. They want to achieve the best they can and they achieve the fame that comes with it when that happens. For those that simply want to be famous, consider the reasons you want it and whether they outweigh living in a constant spotlight. You might enjoy the attention and the money for a while, but can you handle the comments from people you knew in the past, the stories about you that you cannot control. Can you trust the new people you meet? How much of yourself – your personality, your values - are you willing to give up in order to achieve it?

Whatever the future holds for Britney, we here at UNCOVERED wish her every success.

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