When Do We Let Britney Spears Simply Exist?

By Anne T. Donahue

14 months after their wedding, TMZ broke the news that Britney Spears and Sam Asghari have split up, which leads us to the biggest question: at what point do we just let Britney be?

I understand any and all concerns. Britney Spears is a beloved cultural icon, and we all know her trajectory has been frustrating, heartbreaking, confusing, and many other adjectives we’ve used to describe what we’ve gleaned from her life over the last 20-plus years. I also understand that since her conservatorship has ended, there’s been debate as to whether she’s actually free (with some fans going so far as to call the police when they believed she was in danger). All of this exists in a rare realm of celebrity culture where instead of using the personal life of a public figure as gossip fodder, most questions exist under the umbrella of genuine concern: is Britney okay? Is she surrounded by people who actually care about her? Should we trust her supposed allies? Is she happy?

Obviously, none of us know Britney Spears personally, nor do we even know her outside of the sliver of reality she (maybe) lets us see. But while we’re not entirely aware of Britney’s private life or intentions behind her behaviour, we’re all very attuned to our own: in the past, we (as consumers of popular culture) have been guilty of dissecting and scrutinizing the lives of famous women in a way that’s ended up harming them. We’ve seen the effects of chastising people who are clearly struggling, and felt the guilt that accompanies the realization that we were witnessing an actual crisis and made it our own entertainment. This is never the intention, so we’ve overcorrected; now we care maybe too much, and now we’re so concerned that we’re making everything worse.

Maybe I’m just speaking for myself. When I saw the news about Sam and Britney, I immediately fed into my own running narrative that she’s always deserved better, that Sam seems suspect, and maybe now we’ll be reacquainted with the Ms. Spears we all knew and loved. But on the flip side, we never really knew that person, either: Britney Spears has always been someone out of reach – she’s somebody we aspired to be or be near while we projected our own expectations onto her, and then we lost our shit when she didn’t behave in the way we wanted. Britney Spears, as an actual human being, has never been somebody we actually knew, and we certainly don’t know her now. Maybe Sam’s the worst. Maybe the end of this marriage has broken both their hearts. Maybe the wedding never happened, or maybe it did and neither of them ever saw this coming. Who knows! But something I do know is that maybe instead of remaining on our path of overcorrection-dressed-as-concern, we stop and just . . . let the woman live.

I don’t think that’s too big an ask, even if we’re all tuned into her social media posts and ins and outs of her day-to-day and trying to decipher what they all mean. Frankly, we’ll never know what anything means – at least not in real time – because she’s not only a stranger, but because social media doesn’t tend to give away a full picture, anyway. When our own lives implode (or are amazing – either/or), most of us don’t tend to start a livestream and let everyone in on what’s going on. Why would we? We don’t owe anybody an explanation, and Britney Spears is no exception to that. We aren’t entitled to knowing anything outside of the small nuggets she leaves for us, and even then, reading into them makes as much sense as reading into the nineties screencaps I keep posting. (Sure, you may assume XYZ, but I may have also just watched 10 Things I Hate About You and can’t stop thinking about how perfect the dialogue is.) Britney is using Instagram for purposes that are clear to her, and that’s all that really matters. It’s not our job to act as her shrinks or guardians.

I might be sensitive to this because I’m tired, but aren’t we all? Since the mid-1990s, we’ve investigated the specifics of Britney Spears’ entire existence, and it’s done nothing outside of making her feel like she can’t even eat at restaurants anymore. So maybe this is our cue to do what we’d ask of our own friends: take a step back and let her live. Let her figure it out. Let her exist without us appointing ourselves an army of helicopter parents. As fans, the least we can do is the opposite of what the media is about to. And as people who’ve all gone through it (whatever “it” may be), the least we can do is keep our eyes on our own papers while she maps out her own.

Need a little more Anne? Read more from Anne T. Donahue right here!

Tags: Anne T. Donahue, Britney Spears, top story, topstory

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