Almost two years after the end of her conservatorship, Britney Spears is telling her story in her own words with the release of her memoir The Woman In Me.
Billed as a “brave and astonishingly moving” story about freedom, fame, motherhood, survival, faith and hope, the much-anticipated book gives an insight into her stage career, her relationship with Justin Timberlake, friendships with stars including Madonna and Paris Hilton, and her breakdown in 2007.
It also features details of the controversial 13-year conservatorship, which eventually ended after Spears, now 41, spoke out in court in a plea to be released.
She dedicates the book to her sons Sean and Jayden Federline, who are now aged 18 and 17 respectively: “For my boys, who are the loves of my life.”
Here are the key revelations from The Woman In Me.
Early life: ‘I was usually scared’
Spears describes an often difficult home life growing up in Kentwood, Louisiana, saying her mother Lynne and father Jamie “fought constantly”. She talks about his struggles with alcohol, which were also described during later conservatorship hearings. “I was usually scared in my home,” she says, and “nothing was ever good enough” for him.
“The saddest part to me was that what I always wanted was a dad who would love me as I was – somebody who would say ‘I just love you. You could do anything right now. I’d still love you with unconditional love.'”
Aged nine, after failing to get into the Mickey Mouse Club on her first audition because she was too young, she says she went back to Louisiana and worked in a seafood restaurant, “cleaning shellfish and serving plates of food while doing my prissy dancing in my cute little outfits”. By the age of 13, the star says she was drinking and smoking, and that she started driving at that age, too.
Relationship with Justin Timberlake: Cry Me A River to termination of pregnancy
After getting into the Mickey Mouse Club on her second attempt – a “boot camp for the entertainment industry” – Spears got to know fellow future stars including Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling and Justin Timberlake.
She had her first kiss with him during a game of Truth Or Dare and that they later started dating as their careers launched, hers as a solo star and his with NSYNC. She says she was “so in love with him it was pathetic”.
Details of Spears having an abortion during their relationship were revealed prior to the book’s release, with Spears saying of the pregnancy: “For me, it wasn’t a tragedy. 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.”
The star admits cheating on Timberlake once but claims this came as she knew he had cheated on her several times. She talks about how it affected her when her cheating seemed to be referenced following their split in his Cry Me A River video. “In the news media, I was described as a harlot who’d broken the heart of America’s golden boy. The truth: I was comatose in Louisiana, and he was happily running around Hollywood.”
Spears goes on to say there has “always been more leeway in Hollywood for men than for women … but I was shattered”. The video “shamed me”, she adds, and she felt there was “no way” to tell her side of the story.
However, when addressing how Timberlake once told an interviewer they had been in a sexual relationship, Spears defends her ex.
“Given that I had so many teenage fans, my managers and my press people had long tried to portray me as an eternal virgin – never mind that Justin and I had been living together, and I’d been having sex since I was 14.
“Was I mad at being ‘outed’ by him as sexually active? No. To be honest with you, I liked that Justin said that. Why did my managers work so hard to claim I was some kind of young-girl virgin even into my 20s. Whose business was it if I’d had sex or not?”
The questions about her body and sex life
It is hard to imagine some of the questions Spears faced as a teenager and young woman at the start of her career being asked of stars today. In her book, she says she found it difficult to feel as “carefree” as Timberlake as “everyone kept making strange comments about my breasts, wanting to know whether or not I’d had plastic surgery”.
She goes on to write about the backlash to her appearance and dancing “that would last years”, saying: “I was never quite sure what all these critics thought I was supposed to be doing – a Bob Dylan impression? I was a teenage girl from the South. I signed my name with a heart. I liked looking cute. Why did everyone treat me, even when I was a teenager, like I was dangerous?”
She describes seeing “more and more older men” in the audiences for her shows, “and sometimes it would freak me out to see them leering at me like I was some kind of Lolita fantasy for them, especially when no one could seem to think of me as both sexy and capable, or talented and hot. If I was sexy, they seemed to think I must be stupid. If I was hot, I couldn’t possibly be talented”.
The star says she turned to religion – and prescription drugs. “Trying to find ways to protect my heart from criticism and to keep the focus on what was important, I started reading religious books… I also started taking Prozac.”
Fling with Colin Farrell and Madonna’s mentorship and kiss
Spears was very publicly pictured with actor Colin Farrell in 2003 following her break-up with Timberlake. She says she thought he was handsome, found out he was shooting his film S.W.A.T, and drove to the set to introduce herself.
The star details attending the premiere of one of his other films, The Recruit, with Farrell, saying she accidentally wore a pyjama top which she thought was a shirt, and describes their brief two-week fling as like a “brawl”.
Spears says she was not over Timberlake at the time but “for a brief moment … I did think there could be something there” with Farrell.
The star says that she started to suffer from increasing anxiety as her fame grew and “it became clear to me that whatever I did – and even plenty I didn’t do – became front-page news”. During a difficult period, she says Madonna visited her and “probably had some intuitive sense of what I was going through”.
Madonna “did a red-string ceremony with me to initiate me into Kabbalah”, Spears says, and she went on to have a Hebrew word tattooed at the base of her neck.
“In many ways, Madonna did have a good effect on me,” she writes. “She told me I should be sure to take time out for my soul… She modelled a type of strength that I needed to see.”
Spears goes on to say Madonna was right to call out sexism and ageism in the industry in recent years, and then details how the pair, along with Christina Aguilera, ended up performing together at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2003 – where they famously kissed on stage. Spears says she had wanted to create “a moment”.
55-hour marriage to Jason Alexander
Spears recalls getting drunk with her childhood friend in Las Vegas in January 2004 but says she doesn’t remember much about the night itself. They watched films together, Mona Lisa Smile and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, before heading to A Little White Chapel. “When we got there, another couple was getting married, so we had to wait,” she says. “Yes – we waited in line to get married.”
Spears describes her family’s reaction, saying they flew out to Las Vegas the following day. “They made way too big a deal out of innocent fun,” she says. “I didn’t take it that seriously. I thought a goof-around Vegas wedding was something people might do as a joke. Then my family came and acted like I’d started World War III.”
The star says that while she knew she did not want to be with Alexander forever, the way she was “interrogated” made her want to “rebel”.
Suffering depression after childbirth
Spears went on to marry dancer Kevin Federline later in September 2004, and had sons Sean and Jayden in 2005 and 2006. “From the moment I saw him, there was a connection between us – something that made me feel like I could escape everything that was hard in my life,” she says of Federline.
But the singer says she suffered depression after Jayden was born. “I got a little depressed once I was no longer keeping them safe inside my body. They seemed so vulnerable out in the world of jockeying paparazzi and tabloids.
“I began to suspect that I was a bit overprotective when I wouldn’t let my mom hold Jayden for the first two months… Honestly, as a new mother, it was as if some part of me became the baby.”
Spears says she hopes her story might help others suffering. “I hope any new mothers reading this who are having a hard time will get help early… I now know that I was displaying just about every symptom of perinatal depression: sadness, anxiety, fatigue.”
Federline was away a lot, she says, and “no one was around to see me spiral – except every paparazzo in America”. She describes the photographers as “like an army of zombies trying to get in every second”.
Friendship with Hilton and shaving her head: ‘I was out of my mind with grief’
Spears says Hilton was “one of the people who was kindest to me” when she needed it following her split from Federline. She admits that this was the start of her “party stage” as the heiress encouraged her to have fun, but says “it was never as wild” as it was portrayed in the press.
Spears says she did not go out often but any occasion she did would make headlines. She says her drinking was never out of control but that her “drug of choice” was Adderall, which is used to treat ADHD. “It gave me a few hours of feeling less depressed,” she says, and goes on to say she “never had any interest in hard drugs”.
Amid a custody battle and following the death of her aunt from cancer at the beginning of 2007, Spears infamously shaved her head and the photos created headlines around the world. In her memoir, she says this came after a period in which she had not been able to see her sons “for weeks” and that paparazzi followed her as she “begged” to see them. Shaving her head, she says, “gave them some material”.
“Everyone thought it was hilarious. Look how crazy she is! Even my parents acted embarrassed by me. But nobody seemed to understand that I was simply out of my mind with grief. My children had been taken away from me.”
Spears says that “everyone was scared” of her with her new look, but it was her way of “saying to the world: f*** you”. She was “tired” of being “the good girl”.
A few days later, Spears was pictured attacking a paparazzi photographer’s car with an umbrella. She describes how she “snapped” as he would not leave her along during “one of the worst moments of my whole life”.
She goes on to say that afterwards, she was embarrassed – and even sent the agency an apology note “mentioning that I’d been in the running for a dark film role, which was true, and that I wasn’t quite myself, which was also true”.
Conservatorship: ‘I was like a child robot’
A lot of the book tackles the subject of Spears’s conservatorship, which controlled her life for 13 years. Writing about the start of the legal arrangement, the star says she “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 says the court was told “that I was demented, and I wasn’t even allowed to pick my own lawyer”. She had been admitted to hospital “against my will”, she says, and soon after she was informed that the conservatorship had been filed.
After this, she describes how sometimes she would be “smuggled a private phone”, but says she was “always caught”. And “the sad, honest truth” was that “after everything I had been through, I didn’t have a lot of fight left in me”. Spears says she “didn’t see a way out” and “felt my spirit retreat, and I went on autopilot”. She says she “went along with it” for her children.
“It’s difficult for me to revisit this darkest chapter of my life and to think about what might have been different if I’d pushed back harder then,” she says. “I don’t at all like to think about that, not whatsoever. I can’t afford to, honestly. I’ve been through too much.”
As she detailed in court in 2021, Spears describes being given daily medication and having her every move watched.
“If I was so sick that I couldn’t make my own decisions, why did they think it was fine for me to be out there smiling and waving and singing and dancing in a million time zones a week?” she writes. “I’ll tell you one good reason. The Circus Tour grossed more than $130m.”
She says she exchanged her freedom for time with her children. “It was a trade I was willing to make.”
Security would run background checks and do blood tests on any men she wanted to date, she says.
Spears says she “became a robot. But not just a robot – a sort of child-robot. I had been so infantilised that I was losing pieces of what made me feel like myself… The conservatorship stripped me of my womanhood, made me into a child.”
Spears says she first started attempts to end the conservatorship in 2014, saying she went to court but the “case didn’t go anywhere”. She continues: “What followed was a cloak-and-dagger effort to get my own lawyer. I even mentioned the conservatorship on a talk show in 2016, but somehow, that part of the interview didn’t make it to the air. Huh. How interesting.”
On stage, she says she held back in an attempt to rebel. “I did the moves and I sang the notes, but I didn’t put the fire behind it that I had in the past. Toning down my energy onstage was my own version of a factory slowdown.”
At the end of her Las Vegas residency, Spears claims she was again hospitalised against her will, and that she was put on lithium. “I felt my concept of time morph, and I grew disoriented,” she says, adding that she felt like she was in “solitary confinement”. She says she came close to suicide during this period.
But she says it was during a stay in hospital that she first found out about the #FreeBritney movement. “The nurse showed me clips… fans saying they were trying to figure out if I was being held somewhere against my will, talking about how much my music meant to them and how they hated to think I was suffering now. They wanted to help. And just by doing that, they did help.”
Once she was home, she says she reported her father for alleged “conservatorship abuse” in June 2021. On getting to tell her story in court, she says she felt like she’d “finally been listened to” after 13 years. Speaking about the decision to end the legal arrangement, which came in November 2021, she says: “And now, finally, it was my own life.”
Sam Asghari – and her message to fans
Spears describes meeting her now estranged husband Hesam (Sam) Asghari on the set for the video for her song Slumber Party, and says she was “instantly smitten”. The book went to print before their split earlier this year so there is no detail of their break-up. Spears says Asghari helped her believe she could do anything and that they wanted to have a baby – but as she said during her conservatorship court hearings, she had been fitted with an IUD – she alleges her father would not allow her to have it removed.
After the end of the conservatorship, she did become pregnant but miscarried. “I was devastated to have lost the baby. Once again, though, I used music to help me gain insight and perspective.
“Every song I sing or dance to lets me tell a different story and gives me a new way to escape. Listening to music on my phone helps me cope with the anger and sadness I face as an adult.”
She finishes the book by saying: “There’s been a lot of speculation about how I’m doing. I know my fans care. I am free now. I’m just being myself and trying to heal. I finally get to do what I want, when I want. And I don’t take a minute of it for granted…
“It’s been a while since I felt truly present in my own life, in my own power, in my womanhood. But I’m here now.”