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Open letter to Britney

by: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach - Last updated: 2004-01-12

Open letter to Britney Spears

Britney Spears

I don't know all that much about you, and the little I do know makes me not like you very much. Please forgive me for not having studied your life in greater detail.

That has little to do with my resentment toward you and everything to do with simply being busy with my own existence. I realise that this may unnerve you, that by now you may have become dependent on people like me wanting to read what you ate for breakfast. So I apologize at the outset, both for my judgmentalism, as well as for inadvertently startling you. Although I plan to speak my mind in this letter – and you may consider me highly unfair – I believe it is important that I finally share my thoughts with you.

You and I once met, in the hotel room of Michael Jackson in late 2000 (I was the short one with the frizzy whiskers; Michael was the one with the high-pitched voice and the sunglasses). On that occasion, I barely knew who you were, although I had heard some reports of your striptease at the MTV music awards. When we met, you were all of 19 years old, and you looked it. You were unsure of yourself in front of Michael and your boyfriend, Justin Timberlake – some boyfriend he turned out to be – did most of the talking.

Who would have thought that meeting would have prophetically portended your having become the female Michael Jackson. That three short years later you would have tragically deteriorated into a female celebrity train wreck. A woman famous not for her music or dance, but increasingly for her irresponsible public antics. A performer notorious no longer for her albums, but for the outrageous sexual impact she has on young kids. A celebrity renowned not for public talent, but private desperation, not for virtue, but for being prepared to do almost anything for one more headline (did I say the word almost?).

Perhaps, Britney, this should make me pity rather than dislike you. Not knowing much about your childhood, I am unsure whether you were given the attention you needed as a young girl, and if not, whether this obsession with tawdry publicity is simply a cry to be loved. But pity, sadly, is the last emotion I feel since you have decided to pursue your fame at the expense of something that was once honored as a woman's dignity.

I can hardly turn my head these days without seeing you in a bra or panties on some magazine cover. Now, you can tell me not to look and, to be honest, my subjective dislike for you makes it pretty difficult to find you attractive, even when you strike those artificially sexy poses in your underwear. (That serious, determined stare you seem partial to can look comically incongruous coming from a woman decked out in her skivvies. Try to smile more.)

The problem is that whether or not I look, it is my five young daughters that I am far more concerned for. They see pictures of you and the kind of attention that sleaziness garners. And even though they are being raised in a religious household where modest dress is always mandatory, and attend a girls-only school where they thankfully need not seek popularity with the boys, your seedy image cannot help but negatively influence them. Thus, you are one of the people largely responsible for religiously inclined people like me feeling that our daughters must be increasingly cut off from the popular culture.

We are having to become much more strict with how our daughters dress, what music they listen to, who their friends are – all because we would rather be mauled by Rottweilers than ever allow our daughters to grow up dressing and acting like you. And the increased discipline leads to increased tension between parents and their offspring. It does seem a bit unfair that because you may not have gotten the love and attention you needed from your parents – for which I am truly sorry – you are now serving as a wedge between mothers and daughters.

Isn't there a better way, a healthier way, for you to get the love you crave? Lord knows, your recent 55-hour elopement marriage with a childhood sweetheart – reported even in the New York Times – showed that perhaps what you seek all along is a real relationship with a real person. I would urge you to pursue this. A man who really loves you – and not just your stardom – would provide the necessary balm for your aching heart. Flashing your underwear at a husband would be as appropriate as it is inappropriate to be flashing it at complete strangers.

No doubt you will feel that I am judging you harshly in this letter and that I am not being understanding of how all the racy, saucy stuff – the near naked photo spreads, tongue-kissing Madonna – is a necessary part of your rebellious public persona, something that a non-famous mortal like me could never understand. So let me share with you a story from someone who even you would agree should know something about fame.

A few weeks after your meeting with Michael Jackson, he and I were watching you on TV. You were doing some interview (and though I don't remember exactly what you said, I do remember that you were partial to the word "like").

Michael turned to me and said, "In a few years, this girl is gone from the public eye. Nobody's gonna care about her. She is all over the place. There is no mystery. I would never do what she does. I hold myself back."

Michael, of course, was only half right. He predicted, correctly, that a few years down the road your fame as a performer would already be on the wane. But what he did not see – what he could not see because he is blind to it even in his own life – is that it would be eclipsed by the notoriety of being a rash ruin, an unfortunate young woman, her self-respect in tatters, becoming more prominent as she becomes more misshapen.

And here is where, amid everything I articulated above, you do truly elicit my sympathy. Because I can only imagine how painful it must be – amid your obvious talent – to be famous for being one step above porn star.

My old friend Michael Jackson should be a lesson to you. At heart he is a decent man, a kind-hearted and humble spirit. But what destroyed him – and what is destroying you – is being bereft of a normal life, the sting of which is compensated for by the soothing warmth of the spotlight.

I close by asking you to forgive me for being so harsh while I urge you to please get your life together. Not for me (I assume by now that I'm not exactly your most favorite person) or even for the young women of the world. But for yourself, so that you can finally discover the happiness that has been denied you.