Fame is a bee. It has a song — it has a sting — ah, too, it has a wing.

(Emily Dickinson, 1788)

In the relentless boil of the modern media landscape, the exploitation of female celebrities has become an unsettling hallmark of fame. The influence of the Hollywood spotlight extends far beyond adulation and adoration; it constructs narratives, shapes perceptions and dismantles the very essence of iconic figures and their destinies. It is female icons who more often find themselves scrutinised under the pressure and invasive nature of public observation, as is exemplified by the complex narratives of women like Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse and Princess Diana, whose untimely lives became cautionary tales both imbued with tragedy and mythification. This mythification, by the media and its public, constructs an ethereal pedestal so distant from reality that it transmogrifies the remarkable essence of these women into two-dimensional, performative and ornamental characters; their complexities stripped away, leaving behind an idealised mirage rather than the nuanced humanity they embody. Two luminaries that poignantly embody this mythification are indeed Marilyn Monroe and Britney Spears, who despite existing in different ages of media exploitation, share haunting parallels that echo across generations. The resonating chord connecting Britney and Marilyn isn’t just the shared trajectory of exploitation, but also lies in decades of gaslighting at the hands of abusive men who questioned and distorted their ‘sanity’ in order to publicly disparage and ultimately control them.


The metamorphosis of media exploitation, unfurling from Hollywood’s gilded age in the early 1950s to its monstrous proportions at the cusp of the new millennium unveils an unsettling odyssey along the enshrined halls of fame. The emergence of iconic female figures like Jane Mansfield, Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe marked a profound paradigm shift in celebrity culture. Marilyn, the ultimate embodiment of gorgeousness and unequivocally delicious glamour was thrust into the limelight by an entirely male-dominated studio system, who tightly managed the public personas of their stars. The postwar media landscape of pin-up girls and corsets reflected a delicate dance between idolisation and controlled disclosure—not too dissimilar to the stringent manufacturing of popstars during Britney’s time in the late 1990s. With her enchanting charisma and ethereal beauty, Marilyn so quickly became the face of Hollywood. Yet, within the folds of her fame a paradox dwelt. While her presence on the silver screen sparkled with brilliance, her dissatisfaction with oppressive forces and deeper personal battles from childhood remained veiled.

The studios that propelled her to stardom meticulously sculpted her into the mythified, over-sexualised and vacuous ingénue, perpetuating a facade that dismissed the vulnerability of Norma Jeane Mortenson—the true woman behind the myth of Marilyn. She thus became a receptacle onto which unattainable ideals of mythic beauty and femininity were projected, setting both the public and herself up for profound disillusionment—yet only one were to suffer the consequences. Despite being the quintessential ambassador for sex and its male-gaze, her defiance against the constraints of this patriarchal industry, its draconian contracts and her pursuit of self-actualisation as an actress, resonate with early feminist ideals. Marilyn famously declared ‘I want to be an artist, not an erotic freak. I don’t want to be sold to the public as a celluloid aphrodisiacal’ {Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by M.M.}. She wanted so deeply to transcend the confines of her objectification, and in turn successfully did so. In 1954, she established Marilyn Monroe Productions as an act of freedom, granting her a measure of control and autonomy over her career that no actress in Hollywood had ever had before. Her keen awareness of the industry’s constraints and her quest for recognition beyond her physical allure underscore a latent feminist consciousness. While Marilyn may not have explicitly identified as a feminist, her actions and aspirations align with the early stirrings of feminist thought, making her a complex and intriguing figure within the framework of protofeminism.

Plato once asked, ‘are dogs divided into hes and shes, or do they both share equally in hunting and in keeping watch and in the other duties of dogs?’ In her work on ‘Women in Men’s Utopia’s’ {1974}, Elaine Hoffman Baruch explores how Plato argues for the ‘total political and social equality of women, advocating that they be members of his highest class… those who rule and fight’. The idea of protofeminism as emphasised by Baruch and Plato encompasses individuals or ideas that exhibited a consciousness of gender inequalities and sought to address them before the concept of ‘feminism’ gained widespread recognition. In the case of Marilyn, her protofeminism emerges as an avant-garde force, uniquely navigating the confines of her era with an innate defiance of expectations, infusing her sensuality and autonomy into a pre-feminist landscape.

Sarah Churchwell’s comprehensive text on ‘The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe’ {2004} dissects the dichotomy of Marilyn’s identity, portraying her as a protofeminist icon entangled in the complex web of Hollywood’s expectations—as Britney would come to be. Churchwell remarks how ‘Monroe’s identity is an unstable compound of performance and reflection, of exhibition and observation.’ This polarity between sexual exhibitionism and feminist reflection encapsulates the constant negotiation of roles she played versus the ones she wanted to embody, all while being judged for simply existing. Marilyn’s protofeminist leanings emphasise her desire for creative autonomy and recognition beyond her sexuality and beauty, highlighting her agency in challenging the traditional gender norms of an industry and media characterised by patriarchal power and male desire. Her aspirations for more multi-dimensional female roles and her own intellectual fascination with psychology and sociology highlight her as a nuanced pioneer who strove for self-empowerment within an exploitative industry. Churchwell describes ‘Monroe’s personal library [to have] included works by Sigmund Freud, Upton Sinclair and James Joyce’ all of which explicitly challenge the media and public’s prevailing perception of her as a dumb blonde.

While Marilyn singlehandedly upheld the glamorous facade of the 1950s entertainment industry, its evolution took many turns before its darkest culmination almost 40 years later. The late 1990s and early 2000s brought about significant technological advancements, including the internet and the proliferation of online media. The internet democratised information, making it easier for gossip and personal details about celebrities to spread rapidly. Paparazzi photos and celebrity gossip became easily accessible to a global audience, with figures of extreme fascination like Princess Diana falling prey to pervasive scrutiny. In the case of Diana, the insatiable appetite for scandal reached a fever pitch as the new millennium dawned. This grotesque obsession and exploitation of privatism is epitomised through Britney Spears, whose struggles were sensationalised, commodified and exposed in a way that so deeply overshadowed her talent and divorced her identity from the art she gave us.


Britney’s meteoric rise to fame and emergence as a luminary pop icon in the late ‘90s encapsulates a pivotal era in the music industry’s transformation. Much like Marilyn in her time, Britney became the face of pop culture, and represented an era defined by the formulation of popstars through the Hollywood machine. As the music industry shifted towards more commercialised strategies, record labels sought to craft younger marketable personas. Britney’s overnight ascent to stardom mirrored a similar blueprint to Marilyn’s in its orchestration—both epitomising femininity designed for mass appeal, where the allure of innocence and sensuality were inextricably intertwined. However, the nuances of their fame differ; while Marilyn navigated the regimental studio system, Britney had to grapple with a burgeoning and ever-shifting digital age, where disparagement reached unprecedented heights.

Britney’s artistic evolution is a poignant narrative that traces the highs and lows of autonomy within the music industry. In her early years, she showcased a level of control over her artistic vision, exuding confidence and charisma that resonated with her audience. Her debut record, ‘...Baby One More Time’, indeed established her as the quintessential teenage girl-next-door, projecting an image of innocence and the simplicity of teenage romance. The evolution from her girl-next-door debut to the vibe of her second and third albums marked a significant shift in both sound and image. The transition is palpable, such as in ‘Lucky’, a song that serves as a poignant parable on the burdens of fame. This song ostensibly depicts the opulence and celebrity life of a girl named ‘Lucky’, singing ‘she’s so Lucky, she’s a star / but she cry cry cries in her lonely heart, thinking / if there’s nothing missing in my life / then why do these tears come at night?’. The tragic irony of Marilyn as the original ‘Lucky’, along with Britney’s later life adds a painful layer to this narrative, giving us a glimpse into her own early realisation of fame’s isolating nature, as well as unintentionally foreshadowing the challenges she would come to face. The idea that she is ‘lucky’ to be a star is a concerning notion that entirely dismisses the pain, control and exploitation that these women faced. Yet people forget that it is not luck that made these women stars, but their authentic talent and undeniable magnetism.

Later songs like ‘Overprotected’ and ‘I'm a Slave 4 U’ from her third record stand as early red flags, signalling the stringency of her management and pressures from the media to remain young and virginal. In ‘Overprotected,’ she tells us how sheltered she is from the realities of the world, lacking freedom as a young woman—exacerbated with lyrics like ‘I need to make mistakes just to learn who I am [...] I don’t need nobody telling me just what I'm gonna do about my destiny’. The irony deepens in ‘I'm a Slave 4 U,’ where her more sultry and sexualised persona begins to pierce through. Britney’s empowered embrace of her sexuality as a young woman was a testament to her agency and autonomy as an artist. In a society that crucifies women for being whores, Britney is a felicitous example of Freud’s Madonna-whore complex, and how women are expected to live at either end of the virgin-whore spectrum—why can’t they be both? The issue lies not in her exploration of her sexuality, but in the media and public’s fixation on her as a perpetual teenage archetype. Early press tours saw relentless inquiries into her virginity, reinforcing a perverse prurient fascination that went beyond curiosity, and that progressively delved into invasive and shameful territories. Britney’s right to embody her ever-evolving identity was overshadowed by societal standards of how girls should remain ‘pure’, and reflects the same problematic scrutiny that Marilyn faced for being a woman exploring her identity and embodying her sexuality.

The era of Britney’s fifth record, ‘Blackout’ {2005}, stands as a defining chapter in her career—a visceral expression of dark femininity and a tipping point in media exploitation. Amidst the relentless harassment of tabloid culture, her decision to shave her head was a distinctive act of defiance that challenged the conventional beauty ideals projected onto her, and invoked questions about her sanity. This event transcended the superficial in order to unveil deeper wounds. Marilyn too faced gaslighting amid the festering wounds of trauma from stillbirth and miscarriage, which clouded public perception of her competence as an actress and emotional stability. The controversy around Britney’s sanity became a lens of obsession through which her artistic competence was heavily distorted, echoing the emotional and psychological invalidation Marilyn experienced in her time, and the ultimate perception of Marilyn’s death being induced by a barbiturate overdose. What is striking is how timelessly the culture will question a woman’s sanity the moment she acts out of pain—a notion traced back to England’s Victorian era and its Machiavellian ways with women.

In her 2023 memoir ‘The Woman in Me’, Britney candidly declares ‘Blackout’ as the best record she ever made, a masterpiece coinciding with the climax of her shameless embodiment of sexuality. This artistic pinnacle however, collided with the onset of her conservatorship. The stark contrast between this era of extreme freedom and the subsequent legal constraints becomes glaringly apparent. After the birth of her babies and divorce from their leeching father, Britney organised and hosted the secret ‘M&M shows’ (Mother & Miss) at various House of Blues venues across the country. Clandestine and unvarnished, these 20-minute sets marked her last taste of absolute freedom. These intimate performances, hidden from the prying eyes of her management and the media symbolised a greater rejection of the control they sought to exert over her career and life. In a similar way to Marilyn Monroe Productions, these acts offered a fleeting glimpse into the unbridled passion and creativity that flourished when these women had control over their careers and lives.

Britney’s 15-year-long conservatorship, primarily orchestrated by her father Jamie Spears, transcends the legal framework it claims to operate within, manifesting as a pertinent example of patriarchal exploitation—at the hands of her very patriarch himself. This extended period mirrors the control exerted over Marilyn by her abusive ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, who sought to mould her into a conventional housewife. Similarly, Britney’s father manipulated legal mechanisms to gain prolonged control, overshadowing his daughter's personal and professional decisions. The unique brutality lies however in the collusion between Britney’s father and the media. The symbiotic relationship between the two transformed the conservatorship into a monstrous entity of exploitation. The media, instead of serving as a watchdog, became complicit in perpetuating narratives that upheld the conservatorship, turning a blind eye to the blatant infringement of Britney’s rights. This collusion not only obscured the reality of her dire circumstances but contributed to the dehumanising perception of her as a commodity rather than an individual. In this dystopian reality, Britney’s conservatorship ceased to be a legal safeguard and morphed into a modern-day form of enslavement, with the media acting both as witness and perpetrator.

In the midst of oppressive mythification and media monsters, Britney and Marilyn emerge as resilient, proto-feminist angels in a gilded city of exploitative demons. Despite the clutches of patriarchal figures and the condemnation of a relentless public eye, these women transcend their roles as female icons. Through the darkness of fame, binding contracts and abusive men, they embody the enduring power of self-belief and perseverance in the face of adversity. Despite all of this, theirs is not a life defined by tragedy but rather one championed by triumph and inspiration. Their legacy encapsulates a trailblazing spirit marking them as symbols of empowerment that transcend the traditional arc of feminist narratives.

A note on the soul

In my ever-evolving exploration of the many lives lived by the single mastered soul, I trust and believe in certain downloads from Source that indicate to me that Britney is indeed a reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe. Not only in the uncanny semblance of their universally-recognised ethereal beauty, downturned eyes, blondification and seductive charm, but also in a combined human narrative that is so explicitly karmic, imbued with lessons that have needed to be learnt, karmic debt needed to be cleared, and an overwhelming identity of a soul born to inspire and enchant the world with divine feminine energy, art and beauty. Them both being Lunar Aquarians and being born along the Gemini-Sagittarius axis underscores energetic parallels that emphasise their unique and somewhat Jesus-like magnetism. While they radiate absolute eternal and divine love, I feel that their soul contract entails a particular kind of suffering induced by the pain of patriarchal oppression, along with the isolating burden of extreme fame. Yet with the strength acquired from Marilyn’s lifetime, and the darker tribulations that she’s experienced as Britney, it is no doubt that this soul’s resilience to overcome and transmute such trauma into astronomic inspiration and divine wisdom will ultimately prevail in the new world and its infinite ascension.