Essay youth

Not a Girl, Not yet a Woman

Bridie Wilkinson pens an ode to the pop idol of her childhood, and what loving Britney Spears taught her about becoming a woman.

by Bridie Wilkinson

She was born to make me happy.

Well, not just me. Along with thousands of pre-teen girls who bought albums from Our Price, had Smash Hits subscriptions and lived with no-more-than-two-hours-of-TV regulations, I was not alone in my love of Britney Spears.

She was the older (although looking back, so, so young), cooler, dream of a girl that we all wanted to be. She wore crop tops and low rise jeans, and had a kilowatt smile that blurred through our TV screens. An all-American girl next door from Louisiana who could be transported into my bedroom through the press of a play-button or the push of blue-tack onto a poster.

Her music was the equivalent of a can of Coke (from 2001 onward, Pepsi) being cracked open, lyrics perfectly clean enough to be sung into a hairbrush without concerning parents. White shirts were permanently tied at my waist and I started stealing my mum’s blonde shampoo in the hope that it would turn my curly brown locks into a long golden mane.

I read somewhere that she did 100 sit-ups a day, so I vowed to do the same. She came out on stage with a snake and my friend told me her mum had banned her from watching the most recent music video. I rushed home to make sure I was in possession of the remote and turned to MTV, to the sweltering, hazy video, with limbs and leather and a husky voice that sizzled where it once popped.

Britney had grown up, just like I desperately wanted to.  At 14 all I cared about was being cool, and that meant guitars and NME and listening to indie boy bands wail about themselves. I had no space for the princess of pop on my iPod (at least not in public), so I pretended I didn’t care. I was ready to leave her behind. To take down the posters, call her music a guilty pleasure and let Britney Spears go the way that all childhood icons do.

“It showed me the kind of world I was growing up into. The kind of world I was becoming a woman in. If I was going to survive, I was going to need some help. I was going to need Britney.”

But it was 2007. And the whole world was hungrily watching a young woman fall from grace. My mum told me that she had heard something about Britney on the radio. I turned on E! to see my dream of a girl being wheeled into a hospital with thousands of cameras fixed on her face.

She was 26 years old. She was tired of everybody touching her.

I was just a teenager. Not a girl, not yet a woman. I wasn’t quite sure if I was meant to laugh at the jokes boys made about my body and didn’t really understand why older men now looked at me longer if I forgot to wear a jumper.

As I watched the clips of her hospitalisation over and over, I didn’t see the pop star, teenage dream that I had wanted to be. I saw a young woman who had been pulled apart by the very people who were so hungry for her in the first place.

They had reduced an icon down to headline splashes, paparazzi flashes and tomorrow’s first exclusive shot. She was barely human.

It showed me the kind of world I was growing up into. The kind of world I was becoming a woman in. If I was going to survive, I was going to need some help. I was going to need Britney.

The bravery that it takes for a broken woman to put herself back in the firing line is unimaginable. In 2008, Britney appeared at the MTV Video Music Awards. It had been a year since her performance of Gimme More ignited the flames of a media frenzy that burned at her for all of 2007.  She returned to the VMAs, walked on stage, and smiled.

Four albums, two tours and a Vegas residency later, she is still here, smiling. It’s a miracle that we get to have her at all.

Britney’s comeback tour came to London the day before my Science GCSE exam. I went with my friend and we both cried. I will be seeing her for the third time in August at Brighton Pride. I will probably cry again. Britney is my icon, but it doesn’t mean she’s yours too, nor does she have to be. If you get the chance though, watch how I react when I hear the first three notes of …Baby One More Time. Maybe that’ll help you understand.

***

For your enjoyment, here are three dreams I have had about Britney Spears:

  1. Britney and I were on a hiking trip. I decided to dye my hair denim coloured. She then left me alone on the hiking trip.
  2. Britney and I were friends, but for some reason she didn’t show up in photos. We couldn’t take selfies, so no one believed we were friends.
  3. I met her, and asked all my friends if I was dreaming. They all promised me it was real.

 


Bridie Wilkinson | @bridifer

Co-founder of Dear Damsels. Britney forever.

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