The legendary Miss Britney Spears has had a storied career; with a catalog of unparalleled hits. She has become one of the most celebrated and endearing LGBT icons of her time. Her voice is unmistakable and she has the distinct ability to whip her gay fans into moments of unabashed frenzy when she utters the word ‘bitch.’ Spears’ journey hasn’t been an easy one as her struggles with mental illness and addiction have been well documented. At one point, media outlets were preparing her obituary.
Looking back on her darkest times, she was unfairly exploited by her ex-boyfriends, the press, and fairweather fans. She is the ultimate definition of the word survivor. Through it all, she has never wavered in her support of the LGBT community. She is set to receive the Vanguard Award at the 29th annual GLAAD Media Awards on April 12. A deserving recipient whose story mirrors struggles so many in the LGBT community encounter.
Break-ups are difficult emotionally, especially if you are not the alpha in the relationship. Spears and Justin Timberlake were the ‘it couple’ of their day and an entire generation of young adults looked to them as their couple goals. Media cashed in on the pair and profited off their every move. After their break-up, Timberlake was positioned as the hero and Spears the villain. His solo career was built off the back of Spears with an utter disregard for her humanity and emotional well being.
He capitalized on ‘taking her down a peg or two’ publicly by releasing music and using his public persona to shame Spears. Her character smeared while he became the sympathetic figure. He played into the wounded, faultless victim. The thing is he made a fortune and sold millions of albums off his ‘act.’ Who can forget the song and video for “Cry Me A River?” Timberlake has a history of throwing strong women under the bus. Janet Jackson, anyone? Spears never once used her platform to tear him down as he had done to her. Cue the beginning of her public mental health deterioration. Any relationship that has love is going to hurt when it ends. It takes a weak man to have added more hurt onto her already heavy heart.
As Spears’ mental breakdowns and drug use progressed the public witnessed her every move. Paparazzi and media recklessly exploited her fall from grace. Labels like crazy were placed on her. Videos of her crying incoherently, shaving her head, and her infamous MTV Video Music Awards performance of “Gimme More” became part of the news cycle. Late night comedians and even journalists used Spears’ troubles as punchlines; she became their joke. She had the ‘perfect storm’ engulf her. Heartbreak, intense public attention, her sex symbol status, and her mental issues and addiction all hit when she was most vulnerable.
It should have been obvious to all that Spears was in a desperate situation. It is reprehensible that the press added to her insurmountable struggles and downward spiral. They fed into the power of stigmas and used them against her. They recognized her life was in serious jeopardy, but continued to make light of what she was going through. Instead of offering compassion they shamed her for sport.
The message sent to the public and those battling mental illness and addiction was an unfortunate reinforcement of stigmas and that those who need help are undeserving of compassion. The media circus surrounding Spears was detrimental to her recovery and in the fact that instead of providing an education on these issues they stigmatized those suffering.
Most of those who endure these afflictions do so in silence. Few fully understand what they are going through because mental illness and addiction are rarely talked about socially. It takes committed healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat these conditions, but when going through the throws alone one is left to ‘white-knuckle it.’ How frightening must it have been for Spears, one of the most famous women in the world, to realize she was struggling, but not understand what was happening to her. Having her story made so public and taking on a mountain of negative press must have been unbelievably traumatic. One can only imagine.
With the help of her family and treatment team Spears was able to turn her life around. Her strength, bravery, and determination enabled her to overcome. She has reconnected with her children, had one of the most successful residencies the Las Vegas strip has ever seen, and is set to receive the GLAAD Media Vanguard Award. Her spark is back and better than ever. She has certainly come a long way since her “Blackout” days and along the way served as a valuable resource for many others; including the author of this article. She navigated uncharted territory that most wouldn't’t have survived.
Britney Spears gave a much needed, albeit unintended, voice to those affected by mental illness and addiction. Her recovery not only gave insight and hope to others; it educated the public. Her experience has since helped ease stigmas and changed ignorant ideologies. She brought the importance of compassion to light. Her LGBT fans never gave up on her, even during her ‘rock-bottom.’ She in turn never turned her back on the LGBT. Mental health and addiction issues are alarmingly high in the gay experience and it is safe to assume that Spears and the LGBT community have a very special bond. The meme is true: “if Britney could make it through 2007, then you can make it through anything.” Now, get to work bitch!