They were supportive and ethical in every way; I was never treated like a “racehorse,” as Mrs. Spears’ father supposedly called her. My mom taught me everything I know about money management, from reconciling checkbooks to coding my business expenses on my credit card statements. My father was a passionate advocate.
Still, having my parents on the payroll hurt our relationship, whether we understood it or not. I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that every time I talked to my parents about money, I felt like I was asking for an allowance – only the allowance came from the money I had earned. Every conversation I had with them was about my income and work, and although I knew I could call my parents and ask for life advice or just catch up on life, I rarely did so because of the roles they had played in my life.
Going deeper, the line between my ending and the beginning of others felt blurred in a way that I couldn’t articulate at the time. As I made more money, the circle I supported opened up to include more family members and friends. I was the one who came to them for a small loan or in an emergency, who always picked up the check. At some point when I was 21, I even bought an ex-boyfriend a new car to break up with; I was used to using money to make people happy, solve problems, or appease my guilt.
I was everyone’s ATM: a bank that was still unconditionally loved. However, as you got older, it became more difficult to trust the source of that love.
One of the most disturbing claims made by Mrs. Spears this week was that she was forced to be on an IUD to prevent her from having any more children; They not only wanted to control their money, but also their bodies, because in conversation, for young women, the two are almost invariably intertwined. I’ve seen my own version of this dynamic. Growing up, my weight was openly discussed by everyone from family members to Hollywood creatives. I would grin and take it because silence – and thin – meant I would be hired again; Reintegration meant that people were proud of me and that I had the money it took to keep the ship afloat.
Again, none of this matches the dynamics of control and abuse that we have heard of in the case of Britney Spears. But I can see how easy it would have been to slip into this dynamic. In these situations, some kind of harm is inevitably done – a stunting of an individual’s ability to grow and make the most basic decisions or to exercise good boundaries. When I finally broke up with my parents professionally, they couldn’t help but feel like they did something wrong. But they didn’t. Had money.
Britney Spears isn’t the only woman in public who has been privately controlled for a long time, but she could be one of the first women in a very long time to make this publicly so devastating. When I watch her testify now, I can’t help but think of that bald-headed Britney in 2007, raw with anger and tired of being everyone’s spectacle. Even now, I sense that the world wants to turn its latest statement back into yet another episode of voyeurism – to defend it once again as our favorite mess.