Britney Spears and Her Dad: How He Took Control of Her Life

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Woman in Me" by Britney Spears. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why was the relationship between Britney Spears and her dad strained? What did her father make her do while controlling her under the conservatorship?

In her memoir, The Woman in Me, Spears recalls how her father had a drinking problem since she was a child. When she was an adult, he was made her conservator in a controversial case that led to years of abuse and mistreatment.

Continue reading to learn more about the strain Spears felt in the relationship with her father.

Performing on Demand

Britney Spears and her dad’s relationship was incredibly toxic, evident just by the way he treated her during her career. One of the things Spears’s father required in her conservatorship was that she go on tour and make appearances on TV. Spears draws attention to the contradiction of claiming that someone’s too sick to make decisions but is healthy enough to learn dance routines, endure an exhausting tour schedule, and present herself well in front of the camera. On tour, she pretended to be an adult on stage, but once her shows were over, she was treated like a heavily chaperoned child. Spears wasn’t even allowed to decide what she ate. When one of her hairdressers commented on Spears’s insane schedule, they were fired the next day. No one was allowed to question Spears’s father.

(Shortform note: The tour that Spears discusses began in 2009 and was the first time Spears had gone on the road since before her marriage to Federline. Critics praised the show’s lavish production, but were less favorable to Spears’s performance, with one reviewer commenting that the concert seemed designed to draw your attention away from Spears.)  

When a deal came along in 2013 for Spears to do a multi-year residency in Las Vegas, her fans were welcoming, and her show attracted a younger audience than Vegas usually receives. However, Spears’s enjoyment wouldn’t last. She writes that her boyfriend at the time gave her over-the-counter energy pills that greatly improved her performance on stage, but her father, who had control of her body, sent her into rehab, even though the supplements were legal and available to anyone. In a 2014 bid to break free from her father, she pleaded with the court to test him for drug and alcohol use, but her request was summarily denied.

(Shortform note: The degree of control that Spears’s father exercised is a tool of psychological subjugation, which some abusive parents exert over their children well into adulthood. People who grow up under such conditions often feel helpless to change their situation. In Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, psychologist Lindsey Gibson writes that when a parent is controlling and goal-focused, nothing their child does can ever be good enough. In these family environments, children may cope by escaping into fantasy—as Spears said she frequently did with her music—or by presenting an inauthentic version of themselves, as Spears did whenever she went along with all of her father’s stipulations.)

Spears’s Las Vegas concert series sold nearly a million tickets during its run, enriching her father, her management company, and anyone else connected to the “Britney Spears industry.” Spears states that while others were profiting from her work, she was only given an allowance of $2,000 per week, which she could only spend with her father’s permission. As the end of the Vegas residency approached, she pleaded for time off to spend with her children, but instead, her father and managers ordered that she start touring again right away. Her father promised that if she refused, he would humiliate her in court for breaching the terms of her conservancy.

(Shortform note: Spears’s exploitation by her father during the conservatorship has parallels to the relationship between Elvis Presley and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Though Presley wasn’t restrained by the courts as Spears was, Parker used financial and psychological manipulation to control Presley and his career, taking 50% of Presley’s earnings for himself. Parker had a gambling addiction and locked Presley, like Spears, into a long-term Vegas residency to help Parker cover his debts. Like Spears before her conservancy, Presley took prescription amphetamines to keep up with the hectic concert schedule that Parker booked for him, though unlike Spears’s father, Parker is believed to have enabled Presley’s drug abuse.)

Britney Spears and Her Dad: How He Took Control of Her Life

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Woman in Me summary:

  • The key takeaways of Britney Spears' memoir about her career and private life
  • How the media's portrayal of Spears differed from her experiences
  • How the music industry treats women differently than men

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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