From the beginning of her career, the public has felt a certain sense of entitlement to Britney Spears. As she cemented her place in the broader narrative of pop music history, her life became a plentiful banquet for the tabloids. Everyone wanted to know everything there was to know about Britney — and in her memoir The Woman in Me, the singer finally gives them what they want.
But the book‘s most revelatory moments show just how little was actually known about the life Spears lived away from the cameras, what she gave to the world and what it took from her, and how the impact of those experiences still lives within her. Across 275 pages, Spears goes deep on her 13-year conservatorship, parenthood, complex relationships with previous partners, and how her connection to music has been permanently altered.
Here are the key takeaways from The Woman in Me, out Oct. 24.
“I became a robot. But not just a robot — a sort of child-robot,” Spears wrote in The Woman in Me, describing the internal change she underwent during the 13 years she spent in a conservatorship controlled by her father, Jamie Spears. “I had been so infantilized that I was losing pieces of what made me feel like myself.”
The singer likened the experience to the intense scrutiny she had been under from the press and the public as a child star forced to come of age with the entire world watching — but that same pressure coming from a parent was worse. “If I thought getting criticized about my body in the press was bad, it hurt even more from my own father,” she explained. “He repeatedly told me I looked fat and that I was going to have to do something about it.”
At multiple points, before the conservatorship was enacted, Spears tried to push back while the pressure around her intensified. It’s what pushed her to shave her head in 2007. But when the hammer came down, she said, “I was made to understand that those days were now over.”
“With my head shaved, everyone was scared of me, even my mom,” Spears wrote. “Flailing those weeks without my children, I lost it, over and over again. I didn’t even really know how to take care of myself.” She continued: “I am willing to admit that in the throes of severe postpartum depression, abandonment by my husband, the torture of being separated from my two babies, the death of my adored aunt Sandra, and the constant drumbeat of pressure from paparazzi, I’d begin to think in some ways like a child.”
She couldn’t even find escape through the music most of the time, and when she stepped on stage in front of thousands of fans, she felt it only further distanced her from a sense of personhood. “The conservatorship stripped me of my womanhood, made me into a child. I became more of an entity than a person onstage,” Spears wrote. “I had always felt music in my bones and my blood; they stole that from me.”
When Spears felt her parents were against her — her father controlling the conservatorship and her mother going along with it — she thought she could at least count on her sister younger sister Jamie Lynn to be in her corner. But that wasn’t the case. In 2018, ten years into the conservatorship, the singer contacted Jamie Lynn via text after being placed in a mental health facility against her will. Her plea for help, she wrote, was met with the following answer: “Stop fighting it… There’s nothing you can do about it, so stop fighting it.”
“This will sound crazy, but I’ll say it again because it’s the truth: I thought they were going to try to kill me. I didn’t understand how Jamie Lynn and our father had developed such a good relationship,” she wrote. “She knew I was reaching out to her for help and that she was dogging me. I felt like she should have taken my side.”
Instead, Spears continued, “As I was fighting the conservatorship and receiving a lot of press attention, she was writing a book capitalizing on it. She rushed out salacious stories about me, many of them hurtful and outrageous.”
Still, the singer said she is hoping to one day mend her relationship with Jamie Lynn as a part of her healing journey. “She will always be my sister, and I love her and her beautiful family. I’m working to feel more compassion than anger toward her, and everyone who I feel has wronged me,” Spears wrote, adding: “It’s not that easy.”
After she was let out of rehab, Spears writes that her parents and sister came to visit her like nothing had happened — and that every time she saw Jamie Lynn, she’d have. A new idea about a possible show.
“Get this—a sister talk show!” Jamie Lynn would say. “Every time she spoke, it was a new scheme. A sitcom! A rom-com!” Spears wrote. “She talked for what felt like hours at a time while I looked at the floor and listened.”
Britney Spears has always put her two kids — Jayden and Sean Preston — first. After divorcing from Kevin Federline, she lost custody of her two children. The following year, she was placed under the conservatorship, and she writes that she allowed it to happen in order to be with her kids.
“Because I played by the rules, I was reunited with my boys,” Spears writes.
Spears claims her conservator and father Jamie Spears took control of her personal life, including her diet and decisions surrounding her birth control. She was also not allowed to drink coffee.
“Even though I begged the court to appoint literally anyone else — and I mean, anyone off the street would have been better — my father was given the job,” she wrote.
Spears also reflected on what freedom from the conservatorship would mean for her. “Freedom means being goofy, silly, and having fun on social media. … Freedom means being able to make mistakes, and learning from them,” she wrote. “Freedom means I don’t have to perform for anyone — onstage or offstage. Freedom means that I get to be as beautifully imperfect as everyone else. And freedom means the ability, and the right, to search for joy, in my own way, on my own terms.”
Toward the end of 2018, Spears started to push back against the conservatorship, particularly her father’s role in it.
A doctor made her take psychological tests after she was found with energy supplements in her purse, and after she allegedly “bombed” the tests, her father — who she writes told her, “There’s something severely wrong with you” — sent her to a rehab program in Beverly Hills for months.
“I felt like it was a form of blackmail and I was being gaslit,” she writes. “I honestly felt they were trying to kill me. I had never stood up to my dad in all those years; I never said no to anyone. My no in that room that day really pissed my dad off.”
She later adds, “They kept me locked up against my will for months.”
Her efforts only caused him to push her into a $60,000-per-month rehabilitation facility in Beverly Hills. “My father said that if I didn’t go, then I’d have to go to court, and I’d be embarrassed,” Spears writes, adding that Jamie Spears threatened to make her look like an “idiot.”
While she was in rehab, she learned about the people who were fighting for her freedom, too, as part of the #FreeBritney movement. “That was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in my life,” Spears writes. “I don’t think people knew how much the #FreeBritney movement meant to me, especially in the beginning.”
While in rehab, the singer was prohibited from going outside, driving her car, shutting her door, or bathing in private. She was also required to give blood on a weekly basis and was limited to consuming one hour of TV each night and only before 9 p.m. The #FreeBritney movement, which was revealed to Spears by a nurse at the facility, was a peek into the outside world from which she was being kept away.
“What I think did the most damage to me was watching all those people coming and going while I was prevented from leaving,” she writes. “I felt abandoned in that place, and while everyone kept saying they were there to help me, I never could understand what my family wanted from me.”
In the hospital, she was taken off Prozac and put on lithium, which made her lethargic and disoriented. “I couldn’t move, which meant I began to wonder if I might actually already be half-dead,” she writes. “I felt ruined.”
Spears said she spent two months in the facility, and after the time there, she found that “I’m not scared of anything now. I’m probably the least fearful woman alive at this point, but it doesn’t make me feel strong; it makes me sad.”
The fans behind the #FreeBritney movement wanted to do anything they could to get Spears closer to her freedom. They analyzed her posts online for clues that she needed help, gathered in large protest groups, and petitioned for the end of the conservatorship. Their efforts were boosted by the release of multiple documentaries on major streaming platforms, including Netflix and Hulu. But Spears struggled to balance feeling supported and exposed by the releases, none of which were created with her involvement.
“Seeing the documentaries about me was rough. I understand that everyone’s heart was in the right place, but I was hurt that some old friend spoke to filmmakers without consulting me first… There was so much guessing about what I must have thought or felt,” she writes. “It felt like every day there was another documentary about me on yet another streaming service.”
Still, no one made Spears feel more exploited than her father, who at one point declared: “I’m Britney Spears now.” She had tried to get her story out before, mentioning the conservatorship during an interview on a talk show in 2016, but the segment didn’t air.
“Too sick to choose my own boyfriend and yet somehow healthy enough to appear on sitcoms and morning shows, and to perform for thousands of people in a different part of the world every week,” Spears writes, “from that point on, I began to think that [Jamie Spears] saw me as put on the Earth for no other reason than to help their cash flow.”
When Spears’ conservatorship came to an end in a Los Angeles courtroom in 2021, she was finally free to make decisions for herself without external interference. Toward the end of the legal battle, she celebrated being able to go out and buy an iPad on her own. These were the kind of simple victories Spears had been robbed of, but from the moment she was free, the public was already hungry for new music. But for Spears, that was something that had been taken from her that would be much harder to get back.
“No, not really,” Spears wrote in response to suggestions that the conservatorship actually saved her life. “My music was my life, and the conservatorship was deadly for that; it crushed my soul … Pushing forward in my music career is not my focus at the moment. It’s time for me not to be someone who other people want; it’s time to actually find myself.”
It’s not like Spears wasn’t allowed to create music throughout the conservatorship. In fact, she released four albums and performed a Las Vegas residency, which spanned 248 shows. But her own creative and artistic voice was silenced. “When I wanted to perform my favorite songs, like ‘Change Your Mind’ or ‘Get Naked,’ they wouldn’t let me,” she wrote, detailing her lack of control over the residency from 2013 through 2017. “It felt like they wanted to embarrass me rather than let me give my fans the best possible performance.”
In the book, Spears explains that while she was never interested in hard drugs or the excessive consumption of alcohol, her “drug of choice” during her party days was Adderall, the ADHD medication. “[It] made me high, yes, but what I found far more appealing was that it gave me a few hours of feeling less depressed,” she wrote, adding that her tabloid era “was never as wild as the press made it out to be.”
Still, while drugs and alcohol were not a major point of destruction for Spears, she acknowledged that she “had been acting wild” around the time the conservatorship began to take form in 2008. “But there was nothing I’d done that justified their treating me like I was a bank robber,” she added. “Nothing that justified upending my entire life.”
From there, she was cut off from everything she had known before. “I went from partying a lot to being a total monk,” Spears wrote. “Security guards handed me prepackaged envelopes of meds and watched me take them. They put parental controls on my iPhone. Everything was scrutinized and controlled. Everything.”
One of the biggest bombshells to come from The Woman in Me was the revelation that Spears became pregnant while dating then-boyfriend Justin Timberlake in 2000. The pair were both 19 years old at the time, and Spears says it was Timberlake who really pushed for her to end the pregnancy.
“It was a surprise, but for me, it wasn’t a tragedy. I loved Justin so much. I always expected us to have a family together one day. This would just be much earlier than I’d anticipated,” Spears wrote. “But Justin definitely wasn’t happy about the pregnancy. He said we weren’t ready to have a baby in our lives, that we were way too young.”
She continued: “I’m sure people will hate me for this, but I agreed not to have the baby. Abortion was something I never could have imagined choosing for myself, but given the circumstances, that is what we did.” Reflecting on the decision to terminate the pregnancy, she added: “I don’t know if that was the right decision. If it had been left up to me alone, I never would have done it. And yet Justin was so sure that he didn’t want to be a father.”
“To this day, it’s one of the most agonizing things I have ever experienced in my life,” Spears described, explaining: “I kept crying and sobbing until it was all over. It took hours, and I don’t remember how it ended, but I do, twenty years later, remember the pain of it, and the fear.”
Spears and Timberlake had been dating for a year when she found out she was pregnant. They would go on to stay together for another two years. Timberlake would eventually initiate their breakup via text message and portray her as “a harlot who’d broken the heart of America’s golden boy” in the “Cry Me a River” music video.
“He started being very standoffish with me. I think that was because he’d decided to use me as ammunition for his record, and so it made it awkward for him to be around me starting at him with all that affection and devotion,” she remembered.
“I felt like I had been exploited, set up in front of the whole world,” Spears wrote, stating that while she did kiss choreographer Wade Robson while dating Timberlake, it was only in response to rumors of his own infidelities. “There were a couple of times during our relationship when I knew Justin had cheated on me,” she explained. “Especially because I was so infatuated and so in love, I let it go, even though the tabloids seemed determined to rub my face in it.”
And while he was casting a lookalike in the video for his breakout solo hit and “happily running around Hollywood,” she wrote, she was “comatose in Louisiana.”
Over the course of the #FreeBritney movement, pop culture has had a major reckoning of the way interviewers spoke with Spears. She has been well aware of how inappropriate and unnecessarily cruel some of her most famous interviews have been and points them out as such throughout her memoir. As she had been getting more famous, she noticed that reporters asked gross questions about her body, in comparison to the way they spoke to Timberlake. After she and Timberlake broke up, a now-infamous interview with Diane Sawyer asked why she put him through “so much pain.” Spears wrote that she felt “exploited” by doing that interview.
Around 2006-2007, Spears was in crisis dealing with postpartum depression and a sense of overwhelming misery from being plagued by the paparazzi as husband Kevin Federline ran off to work on his music. People like Matt Lauer, who interviewed her for Dateline, zeroed in on the idea that Spears was a “bad mom” Later, when speaking with Ryan Seacrest about Blackout, he further interrogated her about about her ability to parent her young sons.
“It felt like that was the only thing people wanted to talk about: whether or not I was a fit mother,” she wrote. “Not about how I’d made such a strong album while holding two babies on my hip and being pursued by dozens of dangerous men all day every day.”
Spears dedicates a chapter of her book to the moment she spoke out about her conservatorship for the first time during a court hearing in June 2021. In the book, she writes that she worried people would call her crazy or think that she was lying.
“Through the fear, I remembered that there were still things I could hold on to: My desire for people to understand what I’d been through. My faith that all this could change,” she wrote. “My belief that I had a right to experience joy. My knowledge that I deserved my freedom.”
The singer reflected on the moment she spoke to the court and how Sam Asghari “squeezed my hand” during it. She said speaking out in court gave her a “sense of relief” after finally being heard for the first time.
“I was treated like a criminal. And they made me think I deserved that,” she wrote about her family. “They made me forget my self-worth and my value.”
At the end of Woman in Me, Spears gives a glimpse of what her life looks like today: she enjoys vacationing, jet-skiing, and is “trying to have fun and trying to be kind to myself.”
She wrote that she listens to music every day and still enjoys singing. (“Singing makes me feel confident and strong the same way exercise does, or prayer,” she writes.) She also likes her alone time, since her “passion to entertain in front of a live audience has lessened,” she writes.
Spears wrote that she “hadn’t been thinking about recording” music until Elton John reached out for “Hold Me Closer.”
“Sir Elton was kind and made me feel so comfortable. Once we’d worked out a date to record the song, I headed over to the producer’s home studio in Beverly Hills,” she writes, later adding, “I had recorded a duet with one of my favorite artists on one of my favorite songs. I was excited, anxious, and emotional in the weeks leading up to release.”
Spears writes that she’s “struggling with that question” of whether she’ll put on shows again. About her time alone, Spears says she still has “a lot of soul-searching to do,” and reflected on how much she loves “playing dress-up on Instagram.”
“I was born into this world naked, and I honestly feel like the weight of the world has been on my shoulders. I wanted to see myself lighter and free,” she writes about posing nude on her social media. “I really do feel reborn. Singing as I walk around at home just like I did as a little girl.”
This story was updated on Oct. 24 to include takeaways about her interviews, speaking out in court, and whether she’ll make music again.
From Rolling Stone US