Britney Spears' troubling body comments, the role of the tabloids and her father

Spears' body shaming is unnecessary and also may reflect the way she was raised

By Alison Stine

Staff Writer

Published September 13, 2022 6:52PM (EDT)

Britney Spears performing on stage during her "Piece of Me" Summer Tour Opener at The Theater at MGM National Harbor on July 12, 2018 in National Harbor, Maryland. (Kevin Mazur/BCU18/Getty Images for BCU)
Britney Spears performing on stage during her "Piece of Me" Summer Tour Opener at The Theater at MGM National Harbor on July 12, 2018 in National Harbor, Maryland. (Kevin Mazur/BCU18/Getty Images for BCU)

Since the termination of Britney Spears' conservatorship in November 2021, the singer has taken to Instagram freely and frequently. Part of that 13-year conservatorship, which gave Spears' father, Jamie Spears, authority over her business and personal decisions, restricted Spears on social media. Limited no longer, posts from Spears in recent months have included candid revelations about pregnancy loss, emotional posts about her new freedom, and images of her body. 

Some fans argue her posts are going too far, particularly on Monday when Spears posted a quote attributed to Rodney Dangerfield: "I found there was only one way to look thin: hang out with fat people." She followed the image with her own caption: "I wish I could have chosen the nannies for my children . . .  my dancers . . .  I mean if I had Christina Aguilera's dancers I would have looked extremely small . . . I mean why not talk about it ?? Don't you think my confidence would have been a bit better if I could choose where I lived, ate, whom I called on the phone, dated and who was on stage with me !!! It's hard sometimes now I see how much of my womanhood was stripped away at that time and every person sat back and didn't say a thing !!! Anyways … I will be here talking bout things people NEVER talked about!!!"

That "dirrrty" beef with Xtina

But it's the way Spears is "talking bout things" that fans — and Aguilera, who promptly unfriended Spears after the post — are taking issue with, even as it may reflect the restrictive, sexist world in which she was raised.

Spears implied that Aguilera's dancers were larger than her own dancers, the latter of whom she also claims were hand-picked by her father to make Spears feel bad. This comment underscores a long history of animosity between Spears and Aguilera, which may have started after the 2003 Video Music Awards. At the awards show, a kiss between Madonna and Spears was famously televised; a kiss between Madonna and Aguilera that occurred directly afterward was not. Shortly after the event, Aguilera described Spears in an interview with Blender magazine as "a lost little girl."

One Twitter user laid out an extensive history of Aguilera's public slights against Spears, including insulting Spears' engagement ring (and the fact she proposed to her second husband, former backup dancer Kevin Federline), wearing a pin at an event that read, "I F***** Britney Spears," and calling Spears "fake and superficial" in an interview.

But the singers were pitted against each other from the beginning. Both blond teenagers when they were launched to musical stardom, after first meeting and starring in the "All New Mickey Mouse Club," they released singles within a year of each other in the late '90s.

Starlets coming of age in the '90s

And the '90s and early 2000s, as anyone who lived during that time will tell you, were land mined with misogyny, fatphobia and damaging messages about body image, especially for young women and girls

It was in the '90s that binge eating disorder was first given a formal diagnosis. Resulting media articles amounted to a near moral panic. As writer Allison Yarrow points out, attention about anorexia and bulimia in the '90s largely presented the disorders as white women's issues, ignoring people of color. A 1991 cover story in The New York Times ran with the headline: "The 90's Woman: How Fat Is Fat?"    

Spears and Aguilera both came of age during this time, and both grew up under the burning microscope of the tabloids, where their bodies were regularly used as cannon fodder. Spears' breasts were discussed by a talk show host in front of her. In 2021, Aguilera said she was still recovering from the damage done to her by tabloids. Other female stars from Brooke Shields to Tara Reid have reported similar claims, and have described the years upon years it takes to unlearn the hurtful messages fed to them as children. Shields was 15 years old when Barbara Walters asked her in a TV interview the measurements of her body.

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It makes sense that stars such as Spears and Aguilera would internalize such destructive messages and behaviors. Both singers have a history of abuse. It was only last year that Spears was released from the conservatorship of her father, after she claimed Jamie Spears controlled such aspects of her life as forcing her to take birth control and other medications against her will and dictating everything from her dating to her performances. The New Yorker reported a witness account of Jamie Spears telling his daughter, "You're fat. Daddy's gonna get you on a diet." The witness also alleged Jamie Spears called Spears a "whore" repeatedly.

But Spears' Instagram comments about body size are hurtful and all the more so coming just a day before Lizzo won an Emmy for "Lizzo's Watch Out for the Big Grrrls," a series on Amazon about her search for backup dancers. She dedicated her award "for the big grrrls!" 

The tide is hopefully turning against body shaming, but the tide seems also to be turning against Spears, whom some fear may not be getting needed help. Since Spears' post, Selena Gomez, Paris Hilton, Donatella Versace, Demi Lovato and Madonna have all joined Aguilera in unfollowing Spears.


By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a former staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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Body Shaming Britney Spears Christina Aguilera Commentary Fat Phobia Lizzo Music Weight