I Used To Hate Britney Spears — Now, At 41, I Know My Hatred Was Pointing In The Wrong Direction

by Kristen Mae
Originally Published: 
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High pig-tail braids with feathery pink pom-pom puffs securing the root, and tiny hot pink bow-tie ribbons fastening the ends. Little wisps of hair springing free — like baby hair. A Catholic schoolgirl outfit, altered to accentuate the barely post-pubescent secondary sex characteristics of a girl still two years away from being a legal adult. White shirt unbuttoned to reveal her bra, and tied up so the viewer can see her taut, tan tummy. Knee-high socks.

Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” music video presents a high school girl dressing like a sexy child. I was a sophomore in college when it came out, and was enraged the moment I saw it. Those layers of different implied ages … a high school girl trying to look older than she is (unbuttoning the shirt, tying it up) while also simultaneously playing up her childlike features (the pigtail braids, the pink pom-pom hair ties, the knee-highs)… all of it enraged me.

“My loneliness is killing me,” 16-year-old Britney sings in the video as she stares doe-eyed and pouty-lipped up at the camera. The frame closes in on her face as she rasps the words, so you can really see the longing in her big brown eyes. With the camera angled that way, pointing down at her, the viewer has the sense that they are taller than Britney. She’s small, innocent, young … and lonely. The loneliness is literally killing her. Won’t you do something to ease her suffering?

Everything about Britney Spears’ image at the time of her rise to stardom screamed Lolita. Pedophilia. She did a photoshoot with a little girl’s pink bike, her back turned toward the camera, tiny white booty shorts with the word “baby” spelled out in rhinestones across the right butt cheek. She’s peeking over her shoulder with a “come hither” look as she bends forward slightly to grasp the bike’s pink handlebars. On the front of those handlebars hangs one of those little baskets characteristic of little girls’ bikes of the time, in a playful pink-and-white weave.

On the April 1999 Rolling Stone cover, Spears is shown hugging a Teletubby under one arm and a phone receiver in her other hand. She’s wearing a push-up bra and pink polka-dotted underwear with a tiny satin bow on the front, and she’s staring seductively into the camera. She has a button-up shirt on too, but it’s fully open, giving the viewer the impression she was feeling saucy and just simply had to tear her shirt open. She’s seventeen in this shot. I’m not suggesting that 17-year-olds can’t be sexual or have sexual feelings. They can, and they do. It’s the other stuff in the image that’s intended to make Spears appear even more child-like — the Teletubby, the little bow on her underwear — even as everything else about the image screams seduction. On the cover of a magazine with a majority male, all-adult audience.

I hated Britney Spears for all of this.


I’m a sexual assault survivor. The first instance, when I was seven, was by an older male relative. When I was 15, I got involved with a man I believed was 19 but later learned was actually 29. I lost count of how many times grown men ogled me and remarked on my body, my face, my eyes. I still remember a friend of my father raking his eyes up and down my 13-year-old body and telling my father, “…mannn, if she wasn’t 13…” My father didn’t correct him. He was familiar with those thoughts.

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I had Britney’s same big brown doe eyes. My face wasn’t as naturally pretty as hers, but with my makeup done just so, I could produce a rough facsimile — enough that I was often told I looked like her. I understood the power my youth had over men, but not the danger inherent in attempting to wield it.

I liked the attention I got for resembling Spears. But I hated her. I hated her for singing that song, for making that video, for taking those pictures. I was also envious of her. And attracted to her. Even as I hated her. I hated her for drawing so much attention with that disgusting video and all those Lolita-esque images and for so many of the songs and videos and images that followed. “I’m a Slave 4 U”? First she put out that disgusting pigtail-braid video and now she wanted to be someone’s slave? What in the actual fuck?

And yet she was a virgin. This made me hate her even more. She got to play the Lolita, make a fortune off of it even, but she got to escape the sexual abuse and shame and humiliation that came along with it.


It’s been over twenty years. Like the rest of the world, I’ve watched the details of Britney Spears’ forced conservatorship unfold on various news and social media outlets. I’ve watched her Instagram videos where she spins in circles in cute peasant blouses, her trademark black eyeliner smudged in a way that makes me worry for her. She still talks in the baby voice sometimes.

I heard her testify in court. She spoke for herself — in defense of herself. I heard the shake in her voice, but I also heard the strength. Gone was the nasally baby voice. In its place was a full-voiced alto. “Ma’am,” she said to Judge Brenda Penny. “I’m not here to be anyone’s slave.”

Britney spoke of how she had been forced to submit to her father’s whims for 13 years, and how her family did nothing to stand up for her. She relayed how at a time when she was supposedly too mentally ill to care for herself, she was working full-time. “I shouldn’t be in a conservatorship if I can work and provide money and work for myself and pay other people,” she told the judge. She talked about the IUD she was forced to keep inside her, preventing her from having more children, something she said she wants.

Weeks later, I watched her adorably freak out on Instagram over buying her first iPad.


At 41, it still enrages me to watch the “…Baby One More Time” video, but for totally different reasons. Now I see a young girl who was treated like no more than a commodity and who had very little say in the trajectory of her life. When you read interviews from the people who made decisions about Britney’s career at that time, it’s obvious that to them, she was just one big flashing dollar sign.

Entertainment weekly reported in 2018 that NaNa Hedin, a singer who did backup vocals for the “…Baby One More Time” track said of the making of the song, “The magic is the attitude. Deep underneath the pop sound it has a sexy rock rebel attitude, from a young schoolgirl and her voice.”

Sexy rock rebel — from a young schoolgirl.

They knew what they were doing. They all knew. They all understood that they were presenting a virginal high schooler who had very grownup desires but was also alluring the viewer with pre-adolescent innocence. Pigtail braids. Little pink bows. Knee-high socks. A fucking little girl’s bicycle. At the time of the Rolling Stone cover with the Teletubby, the world was literally counting down the days to Britney’s 18th birthday so they could finally sexually objectify her without feeling like pedophiles.

Over twenty years after her rise to fame, all I want to do is give Britney Spears a hug. I want to drop-kick her father and everyone who exploited her without considering the damage they were causing her. The executives, the producers, the photographers, the media. All of them. Fuck every last one of them. I want to tell her I am so, so sorry. I didn’t understand. I had not yet processed my own trauma, and so much of my perception of the world, and of Britney, was informed by that trauma. I couldn’t grasp that she was just as much a victim as I was. More of a victim, because at least I got to escape and heal. Britney Spears is still trapped. She deserves to be set free.

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