You would be hard-pressed to find an American of a certain age who does not remember Britney Spearss 2007 head-shaving episode. The world watched breathlessly as the pop star, who very clearly appeared to be in crisis, took a pair of clippers to her own head inside a tattoo parlor, and responded to her anguish with glee instead of empathy or even concern. A tattoo artist who was present that night later recounted hearing Spears say, by way of explanation: I just don't want anybody, anybody touching my head. I don't want anyone touching my hair. I'm sick of people touching my hair.
The photos were everywhere. It was, after all, the age of TMZs smug narration of paparazzi footage featuring celebrities in distress, and of Perez Hilton drawing his hateful little misogyny-doodles over pictures of female stars to emphasize whatever feature he thought would most deeply humiliate them. In the years that followed, it was easy to make light of the moment. It didnt take much in the way of moral gymnastics to jokingly refer to pop stars having breakdowns, to say if Britney got through 2007, I can get through this meeting without feeling like anyone was getting hurt. We had an appetite for mocking beautiful, powerful women, and especially of women perceived to be exerting any sexual agency, but it felt a little like we were just snacking when it came to Britney Spears. Even in the early days of the Free Britney movement, the sense that it was all just junk food was hard to avoid. Whats there to free a powerful, conventionally hot white woman from? The answer is now clear: our sense of ownership over her body.
In retrospect, our failure to acknowledge or take seriously what was happening that night, and as we then watched as Spears control of her life and finances was stripped from her and awarded to her father in the legal decision that followed, was a symptom of a larger willingness to dismiss the boundaries set by a woman around her body. To ignore a visceral sentiment"don't touch my hair"is a brick on the pathway to "she can't have an abortion without looking at the ultrasound" or "take this birth control, not that one. Down that same road lies Spearss intrauterine device, which we now know that she has in her body against her will.
I felt rage on Spearss behalf again on Wednesday night as I listened to her testimony before a Los Angeles judge, in which Britney revealed publicly that she has been drugged, forced to work against her will, and prevented from removing her IUD, making it impossible for her to have babies as long as its inside her. The revelation was a moment of shock and horror for many. But, while I was horrified by this, I wasnt shocked. Reproductive coercion, of which forced birth control is a little-discussed example, is a perfectly commonplace escalation of the abusive bodily control that triggered Spearss public display of despair in that tattoo shop all those years agoand the conservatorship that then followed as her punishment for expressing it in the first place.
Reproductive coercion practices range from forced sterilization and termination of wanted pregnancies, a form of reproductive violence in which the U.S. has historically been an enthusiastic perpetrator, to the many laws impeding access to birth control and abortion care and forcing people to stay pregnant against their will. Spearss unwanted IUD falls on a spectrum of abuses, and we are right to be horrified. But it shouldnt shock us that the body of a woman who has been packaged and sold for consumption since she was a child, a woman whose only way to escape being touched in ways she did not want was to completely remove a part of her body constantly subjected to that touch, is not under her control. That is, after all, the case for so many of our bodies.
When I read the eyewitness account of that night in 2007, in a transcript from the Channel 5 documentary Britney At A Breaking Point and heard her testimony before Judge Brenda Penny last night, I thought immediately of all the other Britneys I have known: the patients I encountered frequently in my job at a local reproductive health clinic.
Over my two years with the clinic and the political arm of its umbrella organization, I learned intimate details of patients sexual and reproductive lives, in exam rooms and counseling rooms, at the front desk, and over the phone with themoften on phone calls taken in secret, away from those who sought to prevent these patients from contacting us. I will never forget some of the people who came to us fighting battles over their bodily autonomy and their right to make medical and sexual choices for themselves. Somelike Britney for the past thirteen years of her lifewere legally under the custody of family members or of the state, but many morelike Britney on the night she shaved her headwere simply desperate for freedom after years of being told, by their families and churches and by the Perez Hiltons and TMZs of the world, that their bodies did not belong to them.
There were the patients seeking abortion care, whose partners or family members were often threatening, intimidating, stalking and abusing them, or who needed help bypassing the draconian laws and loopholes designed to make their access to medical care as difficult as possible. But just as often, my health center saw patients whose self-determination was being impeded in other ways: the teenage girl whose older partner demanded she take a form of birth control that made her sick and depressed (he didnt like condoms), the trans man whose parents verbally and physically abused him if he wore the clothing in which he felt safe and affirmed. When I think of Spears pleading to go to the doctor and have her IUD removed, I think of the patient whose mother frequently called our front desk line to demand protected medical information about the services her daughter had received during her recent visits to our clinic, though she was not a minor, because in the words of her mother, she makes bad choices.
Pro-choice is not about centering a decision to have an abortion, Alison Bates, a Nurse Practitioner who provides care through a regional affiliate of Planned Parenthood, (and, disclosure: a former colleague of mine) told me. It is about centering and grounding patient autonomy, providing people with the information they need to make choices about their body, andwithout failurerecognizing the patient as the expert in their own life.
In a conservatorship, there are few if any checks on the court-designated conservators power over a persons body and medical decisions. Anti-abortion activists envision a world in which the state wields this level of power over each and every one of us. (Lawmakers in Texas are currently busy enforcing, or seeking to pass, measures prohibiting abortion before most pregnancies can even be detected and allowing private citizens to sue individuals or providers for obtaining or providing abortion care).
Britney Spears, an adult and a parent to two existing children, being forced to plead for her right to a wanted pregnancy is the dark inverse of these pushes to restrict abortion rights. No one who heard the IUD news last night could help but be shocked by it, but it's the logical conclusion of a national illness that denies women their right to make reproductive choices every day. In other words, the difference between a woman who has to walk through a line of protestors on her way to an abortion procedure and Britney being denied the right to remove her IUD are differences in scale, not kind.
But our national inability to talk about bodily autonomy doesnt start or end with abortion. Free Britney does not start or end with her IUD. For all the Britneys I have known, it begins with our gender presentation, our physical boundaries and desires in relationships, our access to sexual education and the language with which to form and articulate our plans around reproductive self-determination, our health care.
For Spears, it started with her hair.
Hannah Matthews is a librarian and writer based in Portland, Maine. She has written for McSweeneys, SELF, BUST, Catapult, The Washington Post, and other publications. She cries in public places and tweets @hannahmsays.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io
Read more here:
- Former Raptor Danny Green gets Toronto-themed tattoo (PHOTOS) | Offside - Daily Hive - September 1st, 2021
- The Most Unbelievable Customized Toronto Maple Leafs Items on Twitter - Editor in Leaf - August 20th, 2021
- Taboo in Japan, athletes sport tattoos at the Tokyo Olympics | Pictures - Reuters India - August 6th, 2021
- PICTURES: Kane Brown Posts Incredible Before + After Pics From One Year in the Gym - Taste of Country - August 6th, 2021
- 110 Short Inspirational Tattoo Quotes Ideas with Pictures - July 22nd, 2021
- Tattoo.com | A Shared Passion For Ink - July 22nd, 2021
- The Tattoo Healing Stages in Pictures - Tattoo Healing Pro - July 22nd, 2021
- Priyanka Chopra's fans spot never-before-seen tattoo on her arm as she reunites with her dogs in London. Watch - Hindustan Times - July 8th, 2021
- CCTV pictures released as police probe assault and robbery in Edinburgh - Daily Record - July 8th, 2021
- Fact Check-Florida babys tattoos were temporary and intended as a joke - Reuters - June 26th, 2021
- Share your pictures and stories of pet tattoos - The Guardian - May 28th, 2021
- "Overacting Ki Dukaan": Actress Arti Singh Trolled For Her Vaccination Pics - NDTV - May 16th, 2021
- Dr Gregor Smith: Tattooed chief medical officer surprises Scots with stunning body art as he receives coronavirus vaccine jag - The Scotsman - May 4th, 2021
- Billie Eilish Tattoos: Guide to Ink Designs and Their Meanings - J-14 - May 4th, 2021
- Here are the nine men from Hudson Valley charged with participating in Jan. 6 Capitol riot - The Journal News / Lohud.com - April 19th, 2021
- Jennifer Aniston Shares Meaning of '11 11' Tattoo: Pics - Us Weekly - March 8th, 2021
- PICTURES: Care home residents at Innis Mhor in Tain make an impression with special tattoos - Northern Times - March 8th, 2021
- Father-Son Duo Facing Charges of Armed Pot Robbery - The Peoples Vanguard of Davis - March 8th, 2021
- Rohanpreet Singh gets a tattoo of wife Neha Kakkars name! - The Tribune India - February 19th, 2021
- Valentines Day 2021: Neha Kakkars Husband Rohanpreet Singh Gets Nehus Man Tattooed On His Arm; Lady Gushes Over Him And Calls It The Best Gift Ever-... - February 17th, 2021
- Rohanpreet Singh gets a tattoo for Neha Kakkar on Valentines Day; 'Nehu's man', it reads; check it out - The Tribune India - February 14th, 2021
- Norfolk tattooist turns to art in lockdown - Eastern Daily Press - February 14th, 2021
- CrimeStoppers says face masks are making it harder to identify wanted criminals - KHON2 - February 11th, 2021
- Sapna Choudhary gets husband Veer Sahu's name tattooed on her arm | Latest photos - India TV News - February 6th, 2021
- Khushi Kapoor is OBSESSED with tattoos; Take a look at these PHOTOS which prove the same - PINKVILLA - February 4th, 2021
- Best of Jackson 2021: Community and Culture - Jackson Free Press - February 4th, 2021
- All About Alev Aydin, Halsey's Boyfriend and Father of Her Child - ELLE.com - February 2nd, 2021
- Who is Leni Klum? 5 fascinating facts about Heidi Klum's 16-year-old daughter who walked her first runway - MEAWW - January 27th, 2021
- BTS Jungkooks tattoo to Jennies 25th birthday; Heres a weekly round-up of K-pops - Republic World - January 24th, 2021
- UK lotto winner shares photo of her bizarre bum tattoos on Instagram - NEWS.com.au - January 22nd, 2021
- 90 Day Fiance: Everything To Know About Yolanda's Ex Josh Seiter - Screen Rant - January 15th, 2021
- Tattoo artists share 6 of their favorite designs to ink, and 5 they don't really like - Insider - INSIDER - January 12th, 2021
- Chicago Activist Outs Local Insurgents Who Traveled To Capitol - WBEZ - January 12th, 2021
- POLICE LOOKING FOR SUSPECT IN TOOL THEFT FROM LOWE'S IN DECEMBER - wccsradio.com - January 9th, 2021
- Brad Pitt Shows Off His 7 Back Tattoos As He Goes Snorkeling In Turks And Caicos - SpotboyE - January 5th, 2021
- Raheem Sterling's tattoos explained: What do they mean and where are they on his body? - Goal (English) - January 5th, 2021
- Inspired by the sun's nourishment - Otago Daily Times - January 5th, 2021
- Raheem Sterling's tattoos explained: What do they mean and where are they on his body? - Goal.com - January 3rd, 2021
- David Fincher, the Unhappiest Auteur - The New York Times - January 3rd, 2021
- The Nashville explosion slammed these small businesses. They'll need help digging out - WLS - December 28th, 2020
- Ink Master Season 1: Where Are They Now? Ink Master Season 1 Winners Today - The Cinemaholic - December 25th, 2020
- Police trying to ID woman hit by van - Times-Mail - December 23rd, 2020
- Chhavi Mittal Flaunting Her Stomach Tattoo Dedicated To Hubby, Mohit Hussein Screams Of Eternal Love - BollywoodShaadis.com - December 21st, 2020
- Mom-To-Be Kareena Kapoor Khan Turns Author, Shares How The Subject Of Her Book Is Close To Her Heart - BollywoodShaadis.com - December 21st, 2020
- Fantasy Island reboot on the cards - The New Indian Express - December 18th, 2020
- She was in Iraq when her son was killed. Four years later, the police have no leads. - Houston Chronicle - December 17th, 2020
- Sushmita Sen And Rohman Shawl Vacay In Dubai, Her Brother, Rajeev And Wife, Charu To Join Them Soon - BollywoodShaadis.com - December 16th, 2020
- Nipsey Hussle, The LAPD And The Inescapable Trap Of Gang Affiliation - NPR - December 14th, 2020
- This Alberta dad sat through 30 hours of tattoo pain so his son would feel better about birthmark - CBC.ca - December 11th, 2020
- Mom-to-be Kareena Kapoor Khan snapped with hubby Saif Ali Khan; latter's new tattoo grabs everyone's atte - Times of India - December 11th, 2020
- Gwen Stefani reveals why shes delayed Blake Shelton wedding - Metro.co.uk - December 9th, 2020
- Madonna, 62, Gets Her Very 1st Tattoo and the Beautiful Design Is Touchingly Beautiful - Us Weekly - December 8th, 2020
- At the age of 68, Purnimas mother with a tattoo on her arm! - Primetime - December 8th, 2020
- Lost Gypsy Tattoo holds giveaway to encourage holiday sponsorship of veterans, children in need - Hazard Herald - December 5th, 2020
- Chris Evans and His Dog, Dodger, Have the Purest Bond See Their Cutest Photos - POPSUGAR - December 5th, 2020
- Press photographer's new collections of snapshots bring Swindon's history to life - Swindon Advertiser - December 2nd, 2020
- Justin Bieber wants 'a little tribe' of kids with wife Hailey Baldwin - Metro.co.uk - December 1st, 2020
- Merrill man charged with making child pornography after investigators say they identified him by his tattoo - Wausau Daily Herald - November 25th, 2020
- Kunal Kemmu's tattoo will leave you impressed - Times of India - November 25th, 2020
- Karan Mehra And Nisha Rawal Celebrate 8th Wedding Anniversary, Share Photoshoot Pictures With Kavish - BollywoodShaadis.com - November 25th, 2020
- Dipika Kakkar Flaunts 'Shoaika' Tattoo, Calls it Her Reason for Happiness - News18 - November 25th, 2020
- When Tracey was Traci: Emin's unseen early paintings published for the first time - The Guardian - November 23rd, 2020
- Dipika Kakar gets a tattoo of 'Shoaika' on her hand dedicated to her and Shoaib's love - News Track English - November 21st, 2020
- 2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Picture [Updated November 19] - Gold Derby - November 20th, 2020
- I'm A Celebrity: Jordan gets a helping hand from Gavin and Stacey - Metro.co.uk - November 20th, 2020
- Lisa Congdon On Creativity, Activism, and Finding Your Flow - Brit + Co - November 20th, 2020
- Is it the last of the Camden Lock mohicans? - Camden New Journal newspapers website - November 18th, 2020
- Is Angelina Pivarnick already headed for divorce? Heres why Jersey Shore fans think she and Chris L ... - Monsters and Critics - November 18th, 2020
- Unseen Pictures Of Arpita Khan Sharma And Aayush Sharma From 'Grih Pravesh' Ceremony Post-Wedding - BollywoodShaadis.com - November 18th, 2020
- Police release pictures of three men wanted for knife and bat attack on woman in Lancaster - Lancashire Post - November 16th, 2020
- Tattoo Inks Market Expected To Witness A Sustainable Growth Over 2026 - PRnews Leader - November 6th, 2020
- Brooklyn, son of David Beckham, is the latest popular child to reveal a face tattoo - DodoFinance - November 5th, 2020
- Dad ridiculed after getting tattoos of his kids POO on his leg as gobsmacked people joke I thought Id seen - The Sun - November 5th, 2020
- Kajal Aggarwals fan gets her name tattooed on the formers wedding day. See PHOTOS - Times of India - October 31st, 2020
- First day of tier 3 restrictions in Sutton - in pictures - Mansfield and Ashfield Chad - October 31st, 2020
- Tattoo Photos and Premium High Res Pictures - Getty Images - October 30th, 2020
- Kunal Kemmu's Stylish Tiger Tattoo Took 4 Years to Complete and It Looks Awesome - Report Door - October 30th, 2020
- Larissa Lima has yet another cosmetic procedure, promises pictures after she heals - Monsters and Critics - October 30th, 2020
- Prince Monolulu: The truth behind horse racing's original showman tipster - BBC Sport - October 30th, 2020
- Tattoo artist has nose CUT OFF and horns added to make himself look like Marvel villain Red Skull - The Sun - October 27th, 2020