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The Britney Spears documentary makes me like her Instagram even more

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Framing Britney Spears adds new context to her Instagram account

Britney Spears at Sony Pictures’ “Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood” Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals Photo: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images

I didn’t grow up listening to her, but I’ve always been obsessed with Britney Spears’ Instagram. Even though her posts seem cheesy — she regularly posts inspirational quotes and over-edits her photos — she just seems so real on it. But the recent FX and New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears has definitely complicated my relationship to her posts.

Framing Britney Spears reexamines the original media narrative around Spears as a celebrity. Instead of seeing Spears as a “girl gone wild,” the documentary shows a vulturous media that unfairly punished and dissected a young woman trying to live her life. It also goes into depth on the story behind Spears’ conservatorship — a legal agreement where her father, Jamie Spears, was designated to take over her estate and person — and the #FreeBritney movement that it precipitated.

I and the general public have not known and will never know the “true” Britney Spears. To think that the Spears we see on Instagram is a full authentic expression of herself is naïve, I know. Still, the documentary highlights how important her Instagram was in the history of her life, and that makes me like it all the more. While her feed excludes heavier topics like the conservatorship, it’s still a remarkably earnest look into the day-to-day life of a pop star.

A typical Britney post, for those who don’t follow her, is a selfie. She posts tons of them — the more she likes an outfit, the more likely you’ll see multiple selfies featuring it. Sometimes her captions are just emoji; other times she points out what she likes about her own outfit. In a world where TikTok humor is wry and pessimistic, it’s genuinely refreshing to see someone note what they like in themselves.

In this video, Spears holds a bouquet of flowers and runs through a series of poses for the camera. It’s a simple post, but I got a lot out of it. Her early 2000s sense of style hasn’t changed. She wears low-cut shorts and a cropped shirt with puffy sleeves. She wears her hair big and wavy, and still rocks a smoky eye. Google “Britney Spears low-cut jeans” and you’ll find dozens of different versions of the same exact style. Her love for this iconic look is pure and true.

She also posts photos and videos with her children and boyfriend — including, before the pandemic, travel pics of the family. The caption below, which says, “anyhow my boys are older now, so they don’t like their picture taken ever... so I was thrilled today when they said SURE” could have been written by my own mom, which just makes it all the more relatable.

She supports her sons and their nerdy interests, and I’m here for it.

If we’re lucky, she’ll post a video of herself dancing. These moves don’t always look like the ones she pulls off during performances, and if they do, it’s nice to see the work in progress.

Besides photos and videos like this one, her Instagram also has a lot of photos that are just screenshots of sassy and inspirational quotes like, “It’s okay if you don’t like me. not everyone has good taste,” and, “Nobody watches you harder than the people that can’t stand you.”

Her entire account is reminiscent of my middle school days of posting. During those years, I would post photos of Converse shoes overlaid with some colored text, or I’d unironically take selfies with a duck face and fun sunglasses. It reminds me of what posting and editing photos looked like before people were worried about being cool and constantly showing the best part of themselves. “Cringe” wasn’t a concern.

I don't want to insinuate that Britney is immature. Far be it from me, a writer on a pop culture website, to criticize a woman for liking something associated with young people. But the fact Britney would post things outside of the popular Instagram aesthetic suggests that she genuinely likes this stuff. She’s not posting for clout.

We can’t know if she is as happy and joyful in real life as she is on Instagram, of course. And while the legal system that has failed her so deeply has recently started to show signs of progress, she is still under the dutiful thumb of the conservatorship. No doubt this reality has some effect on what she presents on social media, though we can’t know the full extent of it. But for many fans cheering her on in the comments section, her posts are a reminder that, even in dire circumstances, loving yourself is cool now — low-cut jeans and all.