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Let’s Not Make Britney Spears Revisit Past Trauma Like We Did With Tina Turner

Britney Spears has finally responded to documentary The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears that caused a widespread revaluation of how the media treated famous young women throughout the 2000s. Many who viewed the documentary saw it as vindication for the pop star who was, among other things, harassed about her virginity on red carpets and publicly berated after her breakup with Justin Timberlake before having her 2007 breakdown become tabloid fodder too. But Spears’ response on Instagram suggests she has a different view of what’s shown in the film — or at any rate, that looking back on such a vulnerable period of her life may still be painful and unpleasant for the star. With the recent release of HBO’s Tina, in which Tina Turner’s painful choice to go public about the abuse she endured in her marriage to Ike Turner prompts a similar revaluation as Framing Britney, we should be more conscious than ever about asking people to revisit their trauma for the public’s edification. In Tina, we saw the lasting results of that media storyline’s attachment to Turner’s life; in Britney Spears’ latest response, we see a suggestion that she may not want her life forever linked to her treatment in the 2000s.

In another one of her now-trademark dancing videos on Instagram, Spears shared her thoughts after having watched a few clips of Framing Britney. 

“My life has always been very speculated …watched … and judged really my whole life !!!” she began. “I didn’t watch the documentary but from what I did see of it I was embarrassed by the light they put me in … I cried for two weeks and well …. I still cry sometimes !!!!”

I have been exposed my whole life performing in front of people  😳😳😳 !!!” she elaborates. “It takes a lot of strength to TRUST the universe with your real vulnerability cause I’ve always been so judged… insulted… and embarrassed by the media… and I still am till this day 👎🏼👎🏼👎🏼 !!!! As the world keeps on turning and life goes on we still remain so fragile and sensitive as people !!!”

Those who viewed the Framing Britney Spears documentary were struck with a new understanding of how traumatic the paparazzi attention must have been for Spears, a cultural phenomenon we were much more comfortable with back in 2007. And while documentaries like this and Tina may be useful for forcing us to face our complicity and drive home the urgency of doing better, it’s also undeniable that they take a toll on their subjects — subjects who have already suffered the trauma that’s being documented.

When we look to Spears or to Turner to explain their own trauma back to us, or to affirm a new take on how their lives played out in the public sphere, we neglect the fact that these documentaries are made because we the public, we the media, are the ones in need of self-examination, not the stars whose lives we re-visit. There are lessons to be learned from the publicly available material on both these stars’ lives without requiring either woman to look us in the eye and say ‘yes, that was wrong, and this is how it hurt me.’

When the desire to hear that directly from the source arises, we should treat it as the lingering aftermath of a tabloid culture so invasive that it had Spears fighting them off with an umbrella. Just because we feel the urge doesn’t mean it’s a good one, and Spears doesn’t have to watch another second of this documentary no matter how curious others might be about what she thinks.

'Framing Britney Spears' on Hulu $5.99
'Tina' on HBO Max $14.99

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