Britney Spears is doing whatever the fuck she wants on Instagram. After all, she can now that she’s been freed from the 13-year conservatorship that kept her every move under lock and key. Over the last week, the pop legend has used her social media platform with 41 million followers to share photos of herself completely nude. The posts capture the singer naked inside her home experimenting with the Instagram-provided filters we stopped using 7 years ago. In some pics, she cups her breasts with her hands, covers her genitals with emojis, or holds her new dog in front of her private parts. But why is she posting these nudes? Who are these photos for? And why does everyone seem to have such strong opinions about them? The real answer: 1. Who fucking cares. And 2. It’s not even about that.
“Are these pictures hurting anyone? They’re not hurting us. They’re not hurting her. Why are we going to assume anything?” Nelson Saavedra, the main administrator behind the subreddit FreeBritney, tells Rolling Stone. “Let this woman figure it out. Let her just be a person. She’s not going to be perfect. For the majority of the time we’ve experienced Britney Spears, we haven’t let her be a human being. Every time she’s human, it’s a problem.”
More than a commentary on online nudity — which frankly hasn’t seemed to be a problem for other celebrities (think Kim Kardashian) — the messages under Spears’ posts claiming they’re concerned for her mental health or “what will her kids say?” are often thinly veiled misogynist attacks from people who frankly don’t want to see a woman comfortable with sharing photos of her own body.
“She’s clearly not functioning well,” wrote one user. “Anyone else here legitimately concerned?” wrote another. “Honestly some photos should be kept to yourself. You don’t have to share everything,” wrote a third. Like, just say it: you hate women who are comfortable with their sexuality and have full autonomy over their bodies. Britney Spears is simply their easiest target.
“There’s something very sinister about the way that discussion of mental health has been co-opted by people who are not actually concerned about mental health,” Matt Bernstein, a digital content creator who shares commentary surrounding queer identity, tells Rolling Stone. “It’s just so threatening and judgmental. You don’t know her. She’s a 40-year-old woman. You’re infantilizing her. And you’re judging her.”
To put it into further perspective, Spears is a woman who very recently gained control over her life after being released from a 13-year conservatorship that took full reins of what the singer did. Now that #FreeBritney is #FreedBritney, why is there such a focus on wanting to control what she does all over again? Isn’t that what people were fighting against in the first place?
For Bernstein, the comments also say more about “American insecurity around sexuality” than it does about Spears, her nudes or her mental health. “She’s really exploring and experiencing freedom on social media for the first time. If you and I — or anybody commenting these threatening and judgmental things on her Instagram posts — went back to our first posts, we would all cringe so hard because the things we were posting in 2008 probably felt really cool at the time,” Bernstein says. “She was having her life, body, work, and communication controlled throughout the years while we got to figure it out. I think she deserves some grace. And she’s not getting it.”
i swear people forget that britney was in a prison of her father’s design for the past 13 years. she missed the years when we were all terrible at instagram and used those tacky in-app filters. she’s feeling herself. let her be pic.twitter.com/KWAMAQ3bri
— matt (@mattxiv) May 9, 2022
A double standard also became crystal clear this week. As Spears’ comment section filled up with hateful messages, Spears’ contemporary Hilary Duff posed on the cover of Women’s Health completely in the nude. The reaction to Duff’s photos widely differed as fans and celebrities alike celebrated the Lizzie McGuire actress for her body positivity approach.
“If one person can do it with a major magazine, then another person can do it in their private time on their social media. I mean, it is her social media account,” says Raven Koontz, a legal assistant behind BritLawArmy, which has kept Spears’ stans informed with developments in her conservatorship court hearings. “If Hilary Duff is able to pose nude for body positivity, they’re not saying she’s doing that because of a mental health issue. Honestly, it’s not fair.”
For Bernstein, the comparison between Duff’s editorial shoot and Spears’ at-home pics isn’t as simple. Women are going to receive flack for taking control over their sexualities and bodies regardless, he believes.
"Stop policing women's bodies…"
"…except Britney Spears!" pic.twitter.com/k2kdBU6HqK
— ᴄᴏʀᴇʏ ᴍɪᴄʜᴀᴇʟ 4.0 🙄 (@heyitscoreyyy) May 10, 2022
“The reaction would be significantly different if [Duff] took nude pictures in her mirror, at home, on her iPhone and posted that,” Bernstein says. “I think people would be like, ‘Hilary Duff, what are you doing?’ And a huge reason why Britney gets so much kickback — on top of the fact that she’s Britney and people feel comfortable judging her because of her past legacy — is because I think people feel very uncomfortable when women become the architects of how their own bodies are viewed.”
In other words, society seems to accept that if a group of people (in the case of Duff, the photographers behind a major magazine) says it’s OK for someone to pose as Duff did, then it’s OK for us as a society to consume such and like it. However, “When Britney says, ‘I’m in control of my naked body. I’m a 40-year-old woman who can show you how my naked body looks the way that I want you to see it.’ People go, ‘There must be something wrong with her. Why would she show us that?’ ” Bernstein says. “Where was all of that big concern when it was photographers doing the exact same thing to her without her consent.” (Remember when paparazzi would take photos under Spears’ skirts and sell it for thousands of dollars?)
For Saavedra, who used Reddit as a way to share information surrounding Spears’ conservatorship news over the last several years, Spears’ nudes-posting is more than anything a “way of taking her power back” after losing control of her life for so long. “This is a way for her to work through a lot of those feelings. And instead of judging, I think it’s important that people look at this and go, ‘She’s working through something. And that’s OK,'” Saavedra says.
Regardless of the negative comments, Spears will continue to have a core set of fans that will support what she does, no matter what. “Millions of people love her and understand that her freedom means freedom to be whoever she wants to be: whether that is go and start recording an album next week, or whether that’s to sit for the next however long and continue taking nudes. That’s her prerogative,” says Bernstein. “No pun intended.”