I still remember exactly where I was and what I was doing, the moment I first saw that disturbing image of a delirious Britney Spears shaving her head with a wicked smile on her face. I will never forget that image. We were looking at a person, that came from nothing, defied all the odds against her, became the living epitome of the American dream, and then lost it all in a single moment. We all watched as a beautiful girl that was arguably the most well known and successful pop artist of the 21st century, slowly decaying into a shell of a person at our own hands. What many failed to notice in that picture, was that she is a human being. People saw an object to laugh at and judge, as she shaved off her long blonde hair and for once chose to stop making herself smaller and more "normal" to accommodate the public. For the first time, she did exactly what she wanted to do instead of being the version of herself that we wanted her to be. And while that image might still be strange and slightly cringe worthy, what we failed to realize was, this wasn't an attention seeking celebrity shaving their head for shock value or publicity. It was a deeply troubled young woman, broken down by the evil machine of the entertainment industry. And it was in this moment in our culture, my generation got a cold hard look at how cruel human kind can be.
The day before that still heartbreaking image was released, she was still Britney Spears the pop starlet that was a household name for every one in America, and all over the world. She came to us as a doe eyed, golden haired, baby doll in that iconic school girl uniform, and we ate it up. She was sexy, but innocent. And she was smart, yet dumbed down just enough to not intimidate her male counterparts. The day before the image was taken, she had checked out of a rehab facility and simultaneously lost her two children in a custody battle against her ex-husband Kevin Federline. What soon followed just hours later, turned to be one of the most memorable and iconic moments in pop culture. Four days after shaving her head while teetering back and forth from hysterically laughing to sobbing, Britney checked into a rehab facility again, for the second time in one week. While rumors had been circling for some time over Britney's alleged drug use, this time it was very real.
Arguably the most memorable moment in the downfall of the Britney Spears empire, was on February of 2007 when Ms.Spears attacked the car of a paparazzi who had been following her with an umbrella. This was the moment where it had seemed Britney had completely given up on life, on herself. It was also the biggest insight into what may have been fueling the pain and discontentment that led to her highly publicized breakdown. What we witnessed in the photographs and videos from that night, was a tired, hanging on by her teeth Britney Spears, finally standing up to the monster in her closet. And no it wasn't that paparazzi photographer specifically, but what he represented. The idea that she had to be perfect and camera ready at every waking moment. The notion that she must out-do herself every time to stay relevant. The demand that she stay young and not age a day in order to keep the attention of the male audience. The demand that she must edit every part of herself and craft it all into an illusion to feed the insecurities of the female audience. And most of all, the idea that without her gorgeous face and ship-shape physique, she could not be loved by the world or anybody in it.
The embarrassing part of Ms.Spears fall from grace, isn't in her actions or series of unfortunate events. The embarrassing part of the whole sad fiasco, was our reaction to it. We, as a group and as a society, met the incident with complete mercilessness and cruelty. She was mocked, she was slut-shamed, she was printed on the front cover of every magazine with the headline "Crazy Britney's done it again". No one took a single second to ask themselves "What must this girl be carrying inside her heart for her life to be falling to pieces like this?". The sad truth is, from the start of her career Britney Spears held the gold belt for pulling in profits. She made her record label and every other avenue that used her name billions of dollars. And in her moments of tragedy and loss, that was when she was at her most profitable. The publics interest in watching her fall apart in front of our eyes raked in millions of dollars, and those around her were rolling in the roses. Tabloids, magazines, the press, the media, her friends and family, and everyone she worked with, set her on a stage. They led her into the spotlights just to cage her, torture her down to her soul, and took our money as we sat down with stars in our eyes to watch the torment and decay of a young girl for our own personal entertainment.
This was not the first time human kind has shown we have a preconditioned craving to watch the demise of another person, a hunger to watch someone have it all and then lose it all in the most sadistic way possible. And surprisingly enough, it wasn't the first time we had seen this "lust for demise" in young female starlets. Bright young women in the entertainment industry have been broken down into tortured souls since the beginning of its existence. From Marilyn Monroe to Joan Crawford, and the more modern day examples, Mariah Carey and Britney Spears. While these women stories vary and are very different, they share vital things in common. All rose to fame from a background of poverty and disappointment, all receive worldwide critical and commercial acclaim. All have a lengthy career perched at the number one spot until they're seemingly thrown off the top into a spiral of mental illness, alcoholism, substance abuse, and loneliness. And the most disturbing part of all, all the women that have experienced this unfortunate fate, were by far the most talented and successful of their avenue. Thus, giving solid meaning to the phrase "the higher you climb, the further there is to fall".
The story of the Britney Spears breakdown and the stories of the women who came before her, can serve as a cautionary tale for current and future generations. It would be cliche to say fame isn't all its made out to be, but Britney is living proof that this statement couldn't be more accurate. If we analyze the way we, the public, belittled and mocked a helpless girl, we can change the scale we operate off of. Instead of turning a blind eye to another tortured soul, we can create a conversation on how to practice kindness, across all platforms, and with everyone in the world. The breakdown of Britney Spears was a sadistic mess that we created, endorsed, and supported. A moment in human history that will forever go down as us at our most wicked.