Title: The Woman in Me
Author: Britney Spears
Read In: 2023
Purchase: Bookshop.org (affiliate link)
As a little girl I walked for hours alone in the silent woods behind my house in Louisiana, singing songs. Being outside gave me a sense of aliveness and danger. When I was growing up, my mother and father fought constantly. He was an alcoholic. I was usually scared in my home. Outside wasn’t necessarily heaven, either, but it was my world. Call it heaven or hell, it was mine.
Before going home, I would follow a path to our neighbors house, through a landscaped yard and past a swimming pool. They had a rock garden full of small, soft pebbles that would trap the heat and stay warm in a way that felt so good against my skin. I would lie down on those rocks and look up at the sky, feeling the warmth from below and above, thinking: I can make my own way in life. I can make my dreams come true.
Lying quietly on those rocks, I felt God.
In the Bible it says your tongue is your sword
My tongue and my sword were me singing.
My whole childhood, I sang. I sang along with the car radio on the way to dance class. I sang when I was sad. To me, singing was spiritual.
Singing is magic When I sing, I own who I am. I can communicate purely. When you sing you stop using the language of “Hi, how are you…” You’re able to say things that are much more profound. Singing takes me to a mystical place where language doesn’t matter anymore, where anything is possible.
All I wanted was to be taken away from the everyday world and into that realm where I could express myself without thinking. When I was alone with my thoughts, my mind filled with worries and fears. Music stopped the noise, made me feel confident, and took me to a pure place of expressing myself exactly as I wanted to be seen and heard. Singing took me into the presence of the divine. As long as I was singing, I was half outside the world. I’d be playing in the backyard like any kid would, but my thoughts and feelings and hopes were somewhere else.
Artists make things and play characters because they want an escape into faraway worlds, and escape was exactly what needed. I wanted to live inside my dreams, my wonderful fictitious world, and never think about reality if I could help it. Singing bridged reality and fantasy, the world I was living in and the world that I desperately wanted to inhabit.
At that age, my favorite thing to do besides spending time with Lexie was hiding in cabinets. It became a family joke: “Where’s Britney now?” At my aunt’s house, I always disappeared. Everyone would mount a search for me. Just when they’d start to panic, they’d open a cabinet door and there I’d be.
I must have wanted them to look for me. For years that was my thing to hide.
Hiding was one way I got attention.
I wanted to hide, but I also wanted to be seen. Both things could be true. Crouched in the cool darkness of a cabinet, I felt so small I could disappear. But with everyone’s eyes on me, I became something else, someone who could command a room. In white tights, belting out a song, I felt like anything was possible.
I learned how to sing in a theater with small acoustics. The audience is right beside you—just two hundred people in the room. Honestly, it’s strange, but in that space, the feeling of singing is more electric. The closeness that you feel with the people in the audience is something special. Their energy made me stronger.
Most people will say that LA dancers are better. No disrespect to them, but my spirit has always liked New York dancers best—they have more heart.
I was unknown, and I had nothing to lose if I messed up. There is so much freedom in being anonymous. I could look out at a crowd who’d never seen me before and think, You don’t know who I am yet. It was kind of liberating that I didn’t really have to care if I made mistakes.
I had a hard time being as carefree as he seemed. I couldn’t help but notice that the questions he got asked by talk show hosts were different from the ones they asked me. Everyone kept making strange comments about my breasts, wanting to know whether or not I’d had plastic surgery.
Life in Louisiana had passed me by. I felt like I had no one to talk to. Going through that breakup, going home and seeing how much I didn’t fit in anywhere anymore, I realized that I was technically growing up, becoming a woman. And yet, honestly, it was almost like I went backward at the same time and became younger in my mind. Have you seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? That’s how I felt. Somehow that year, in becoming more vulnerable I started to feel like a child again.
I’ve always been almost disturbingly empathic. What people are feeling in Nebraska, I can subconsciously feel even though Im thousands of miles away. Sometimes women’s periods sync up; I feel like my emotions are always syncing up with those around me. I don’t know what hippie word you want to use for it—cosmic consciousness, intuition, psychic connection. All I know is that, 100 percent, can feel the energy of other people. I can’t help but take it in.
The sky overhead was full of stars while we drove fast through the desert, in a convertible with the top down, the wind blowing in our hair no music playing, just the sound of the night whipping past us.
As we looked out at the road stretched before us, an eerie feeling settled over me. I had been moving so fast for so long, it was like I couldn’t even catch my breath. Now, in this moment, something filled me: a profound beauty, otherworldly and humbling. I looked over at my friend, wondering if I should say something. But what could I say? “Do you believe in aliens?” So I stayed quiet and sat there with the feeling for a long moment.
Then I heard her voice over the wind.
“Do you feel that?” she said. She looked at me. “What is that?”
Whatever it was, she felt it, too.
I reached for her hand and held it tight.
The poet Rumi says the wound is the place where the light enters you. I have always believed that. The thing we felt that night in Arizona—we felt it at that moment because we needed it. We were so spiritually open and so raw. It showed us there was more than just what we could see—call it God, call it a higher power, or call it a paranormal experience. Whatever it was, it was real enough that we could experience it together. While it was first happening, I didn’t want to bring it up to my friend because I was embarrassed. I was scared she would think that I’d lost my mind.
There have been so many times when I was scared to speak up because I was afraid somebody would think I was crazy. But I’ve learned that lesson now, the hard way. You have to speak the thing that you’re feeling, even if it scares you. You have to tell your story. You have to raise your voice.
There was a lot I still had left to discover that night, when I was lost and felt God in the desert. But I knew that I wouldn’t let the darkness consume me. Even in the darkest night, you can still find so much light.
During our shoot together, I was in awe of the ways Madonna would not compromise her vision. She kept the focus on her.
Going along with Madonna’s ideas and being on her time for days was what it meant to collaborate with her. It was an important lesson for me, one that would take a long time for me to absorb: she demanded power, and so she got power. She was the center of attention because she made that the condition of her showing up anywhere. She made that life for herself. I hoped I could find ways to do that while preserving the parts of my nice-girl identity that I wanted to keep.
Some celebrities handle fame well. They have perspective. They have fun being admired but not too much fun. They know whose opinion to listen to and whose opinion to ignore. Getting awards and trophies is cool, and in the beginning—those first two years when you become a celebrity—well, it’s a feeling you can’t explain. I think some people are great at fame.
I’m not. My first two or three years I was good at it, and it was fine, but my real self? In school I was a basketball player. I didn’t cheerlead, I didn’t wanna be out there. I played ball. That’s what I loved.
But fame? That world isn’t real, my friends. It’s. Not. Real. You go along with it because of course it’s going to pay the family’s bills and everything. But for me, there was an essence of real life missing from it. I think that’s why I had my babies.
So getting awards and all that fame stuff? I liked it a lot. But there’s nothing lasting in it for me. What I love is sweat on the floor during rehearsals, or just playing ball and making a shot. I like the work. I like the practicing. That has more authenticity and value than anything else.
My most special moments in life were taking naps with my children. That’s the closest I’ve ever felt to God—taking naps with my precious babies, smelling their hair, holding their tiny hands.
As parents we’re always telling our children, “Stay safe. Don’t do this; don’t do that.” But even though safety is the most important thing, I also think it’s important to have awakenings and challenge ourselves to feel liberated, to be fearless and experience everything the world has to offer.
I had always felt music in my bones and my blood; they stole that from me.
I loved the dry heat of Las Vegas. I loved the way everyone believed in luck and the dream.
A strict diet you’ve put yourself on is bad enough. But when someone is depriving you of food you want, that makes it worse. I felt like my body wasn’t mine anymore. I would go to the gym and feel so out of my mind with this trainer telling me to do things with my body, I felt cold inside. I felt scared. I’ll be honest, I was fucking miserable.
And it didn’t even work. The diet had the opposite effect of what my father wanted. I gained weight. Even though I wasn’t eating as much, he made me feel so ugly and like I wasn’t good enough. Maybe that’s because of the power of your thoughts: whatever you think you are, you become. I was so beaten down by all of it that I just surrendered. My mom seemed to go along with my dad’s plan for me.
One hairdresser caught a glimpse of my schedule and she said, “Oh, honey, what are you doing?” She had two little girls and was very maternal. I liked her a lot.
“You think it’s too much?” I asked her.
“It’s more than too much,” she said. “That’s insane.”
She leaned in like she had a secret to tell me. “Listen,” she said. “In order to be creative, you have to have room for play in your schedule. It helps ground you to have that time to yourself. Hell, to just stare at the wall if you want. People need that.”
As an artist, I didn’t feel able to reach the sense of freedom that I’d had before. And that’s what we have as artists—that freedom is who we are and what we do. I wasn’t free under the conservatorship. I wanted to be a woman in the world. Under the conservatorship, I wasn’t able to be a woman at all.
I have trouble explaining to people who haven’t been onstage what it’s like to sense that current between your physical body and the bodies of other human beings in a space. The only metaphor that really works is electricity. You feel electric. The energy runs out of you and into the crowd and then back into you in a loop. For such a long time, I’d had to be on autopilot: the only current I could access was whatever was inside of me that kept me moving.
Slowly, I began to believe in my capabilities again. For a while I didn’t tell anyone. I kept it a secret. Just as I escaped into my dreams to get away from the chaos of my parents when I was a little girl, in Las Vegas, now as an adult but with less freedom than I’d had as a child, I began to escape into a new dream—freedom from my family and a return to being the artist I knew I had in me.
The hardest part was that I believed that, in front of the doctors or visitors, I had to pretend the whole time I was okay. If I became flustered, it was taken as evidence that I wasn’t improving. If I got upset and asserted myself, I was out of control and crazy.
It reminded me of what I’d always heard about the way they’d test to see if someone was a witch in the olden days. They’d throw the woman into a pond. If she floated, she was a witch and would be killed. If she sank, she was innocent, and, oh well. She was dead either way, but I guess they figured it was still good to know what kind of woman she’d been.
If I was strong enough to survive everything I’d survived, I could take a chance and ask for just a little bit more from God I was going to ask, with every bit of my motherfucking blood and skin, for the end of the conservatorship.
Because I didn’t want those people running my life anymore. I didn’t even want them in my goddamn kitchen. I didn’t want them to have the power to keep me from my children or from my house or from my dogs or from my car ever, ever again.
If I can manifest anything, I thought, let me manifest an end to this.
It was during this period of time with my family that I learned that while I’d been in the mental health facility, they’d thrown away a lot of what I’d had stored at my mother’s house. The Madame Alexander dolls I’d collected as a girl were all gone. So were three years’ worth of my writing. I had a binder full of poetry that had real meaning for me. All gone.
When I saw the empty shelves, I felt an overwhelming sadness. I thought of the pages I’d written through tears. I never wanted to publish them or anything like that, but they were important to me. And my family had thrown them in the trash, just like they’d thrown me away.
Then I pulled myself together and I thought: I can get a new notebook, and I can start over. I’ve been through a lot. The reason why I’m alive today is because I know joy.
It was time to find God again.
Of all the things they did, I will say that the worst was to make me question my faith. I never had strict ideas about religion. I just knew there was something bigger than me. Under their control, I stopped believing in God for a while. But then, when it came time to end the conservatorship, I realized one thing: You can’t fuck with a woman who knows how to pray. Really pray. All I did was pray.
That’s the kind of thing I’m doing now—trying to have fun and trying to be kind to myself, to take things at my own pace. And, for the first time in a long time, allowing myself to trust again.
Every day, I put music on. When I walk around my house singing, I feel completely free, completely at ease, completely happy. Whether I sound perfect or not, I don’t even care. Singing makes me feel confident and strong the same way exercise does, or prayer. (Remember: your tongue is your sword.) Anything that gets your heart rate up is good. Music is that, plus a connection to God. That’s where my heart is.