Breaking down Britney Spears’ confining conservatorship case

How the pop star had her fundamental rights taken away

The pop princess has been struggling under a conservatorship for 13 years.

Britney Spears hasn’t held control over her own life since 2008. 

Though once a sort of conspiracy theory from fans, the #FreeBritney movement has recently imploded, revealing Britney Spears’ complex struggle for autonomy behind a performative curtain of touring and social media.

The early days of Spears’ conservatorship

We’ve all seen the pictures of Spears shaving her head and attacking a paparazzi’s car with an umbrella in 2007. From the outside, her behaviour seemed erratic and overwhelming, but the New Yorker made the important note that both events “were precipitated by her […] being refused access to her kids.”

Looking back now, media coverage of Spears was incredibly cruel—the woman was struggling with her mental health, substance abuse, and facing the emotional pain of being separated from her young children.

After a year, Spears was put under a 5150 hold in 2008 and placed in a psychiatric hospital for evaluation.

The people closest to Spears began consulting lawyers about establishing a conservatorship for her shortly after the 5150 hold. Conservatorship is defined as “a court case where a judge appoints a responsible person or organization (called the ‘conservator’) to care for another adult (called the ‘conservatee’) who cannot care for himself or herself or manage his or her own finances” by the Judicial Branch of California.

Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, was granted emergency temporary conservatorship over his daughter, and consequently had the legal right to make decisions regarding her health, business deals, finances, and personal life.

From the beginning, Spears struggled with the constraints of conservatorship which essentially took over every facet of her life. 

Maintaining the Britney brand

Britney Spears has always been perceived as the princess of pop, existing in a trifecta of being beautiful, talented, and sexualized from a young age. The individuals controlling her conservatorship made sure to maintain this image on her social media until fans caught on to the eerie, cryptic tone behind her Instagram posts.

Spears’ Instagram account from 2017-20 can only be described as bizarre. Her captions were filled with multiple exclamation marks, emojis, and she often posted almost-identical pictures of herself back-to-back.

This is where the #FreeBritney movement really began to gain traction. Fans were convinced Britney was unwell, and her publicists were attempting to mask the reality of her life with bubblegum branding.

‘I just want my life back’

Last month, Britney Spears addressed a Los Angeles court in her attempt to end her conservatorship and revealed nightmarish details of the controlling arrangement that finally validated the #FreeBritney movement.

Spears compared her conservatorship to “sex trafficking,” and detailed how she had no independence or control over her finances. She also noted that her management threatened to sue her if she did not perform, describing the situation as “very threatening and scary.”

Perhaps one of the most terrifying aspects of her conservatorship was how it influenced her body—specifically her chances of having a baby. Though she would like to have another child, she was not allowed to have her IUD removed.  

The irony of Spears’ conservatorship case cuts deep. The case is haunting because it’s an issue of human rights and autonomy, but even more unsettling when considering Britney’s fame and publicity.

She’s ridiculously famous but has no voice. She was sexualized from the beginning of her career but can’t have another child. She’s been forced to work against her will with the fear of being institutionalized for 13 years.

The FREE Act

On July 21st, a new bipartisan proposal was put forth in the US House of Representatives, titled The Freedom and Right to Emancipate from Exploitation (FREE) Act.

If passed, a person under conservatorship could “petition to replace their court-appointed private conservator with a public conservator, family member or private agent without having to prove abuse.”

The FREE Act, evidently inspired by the #FreeBritney case and movement, provides some hope for individuals struggling under the weight of abusive conservatorship cases. However, Spears’ case is a shocking reminder that systems of power and abuse are still in place—regardless of the rose-tinted façade presented to us online.

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