Today marks 10 years since Britney Spears shaved her head. On February 16th 2007 the pop star entered Esther’s Haircutting Studio in Tarzana California and the rest as they say is history.
I’ve always found the images of a bald Britney wielding an umbrella at paparazzi hard to stomach. There she was, having a very public mental breakdown and all the media could do was snap pictures and ridicule her. The infamous photo of Britney looking irate into the camera remains the most expensive paparazzi photo after it was sold for $500,000. Since then it has become one of the defining images of pop culture.
This was before Twitter and Facebook so a lot of the news about celebrity and pop culture I got was from trawling TMZ and Perez Hilton’s blog. Thinking back now I feel so dirty that I ever spent so much time on those repugnant sites. Day after day I saw jokes about Britney’s mental health with doctored photos of her in stray jackets with the caption ‘I’m crazy y’all!’
I often wonder how the media would treat Britney’s breakdown if it happened today. Mental health has gone from being a taboo topic talked about behind closed doors to a part of everyday conversation – and rightfully so. Pop stars from Olly Alexander (of Years & Years) and Kesha have spoken frankly about their ongoing battle with depression. Last year singer Kehlani attempted suicide and there was an outpouring of support and sympathy from fans as well as the media.
I get that hindsight is a wonderful thing because knowing what the general public know now about mental health, I’d like to think everyone would have cut Britney some goddamn slack in 2007. But just last week on the Grammy’s red carpet, Katy Perry made a comment about taking time away from music to focus on her mental health and that she hasn’t shaved her head…yet. Realising she was onto a winner, she repeated the snide remark twice.
The singer received widespread criticism for her comment, though K-Pez is yet to acknowledge any wrongdoing on her part and issue an apology for it.
This got me thinking about Britney’s breakdown and how much have we actually learnt from it. While the backlash the singer received shows the public don’t see mental health as a joking matter, the fact Katy thought it was okay to say in the first place is what’s the problem.
In the years that followed, Britney and 2007 have become synonymous with being strong and overcoming massive hurdles. Urban Outfitters still sell mugs that read ‘If Britney can make it through 2007, you can make it through today’ and there’s a meme that reads ‘The older I get, the more I understand Britney’s breakdown’.
But the gag is if you’re still making jokes about it 10 years on then clearly you don’t fucking understand at all.
I’m sure there were fans of Katy Perry who battle with their own mental health that watched in horror as she trivialised perhaps the biggest celebrity mental breakdown history into a sound bite.
And to think just last week I was saying how great it was to have Katy Perry back in pop music because she made it fun again. Sigh.
Britney however has put 2007 and everything it threw at her in the past. She’s since toured the world twice, released five albums, a lingerie line, endless perfumes, documents her weird and wonderful life on her Instagram page and currently makes a cool million dollars a week from her Las Vegas residency.
Katy Perry was not the first and she sure as hell won’t be the last person to make a joke about Britney’s 2007 meltdown. YouTuber Tyler Oakley said in a video that Britney shaved her head for our sins just how it’s believed Jesus died for our sins. Even worse, while I was trying to find an picture for this blog post I saw loads of imitations of Britney shaving her head on Google images, I think someone even used it as their Halloween costume.
I really despise the fact that there seems to be a double standard when discussing female mental health. Remember the coverage of Amanda Bynes’ breakdown? Even Kehlani’s attempted suicide was met with some ridicule from human trash can Chris Brown. Whereas Kanye West and Zayn Malik’s mental health struggles are strictly off limits. But that’s a story for another day.
Fact is, if people, famous or not, are still making snarky comments about the Britney’s metldown an entire decade later and see nothing wrong in doing so, it just goes to show that there is still a long way to go until mental health is treated with the seriousness it so badly deserves.