They were supportive and ethical in every way; I was never treated like a “racehorse,” as Ms. Spears’s father reportedly called her. My mom taught me everything I know about money management, from balancing checkbooks to coding my business expenses in my credit card statements. My father was a fiercely protective advocate.
Even so, having my parents on payroll was damaging to our relationship, whether we understood that or not. I couldn’t shake the feeling that every time I had a conversation with my parents about money it felt as if I was asking for an allowance — only the allowance came from money I’d earned. Every conversation with them became about my earnings and my work, and even though I knew there was space to call up my parents and ask for life advice, or just catch up, I rarely did so because of the roles they had taken in my life.
More profoundly, the line between where I ended and where others began felt blurred in a way that I couldn’t articulate at the time. As I made more and more money, the circle of those I supported opened up to include extended family members and friends. I was the one they came to for a small loan or in an emergency, the one who always picked up the check. At one point when I was 21, I even bought an ex-boyfriend a new car in an attempt to break up with him; I was that used to using money to make people happy, or fix problems, or appease my guilt.
I was everyone’s A.T.M.: a bank that was, nonetheless, unconditionally loved. Still, as I got older, it got harder to trust the source of that love.
One of Ms. Spears’s most disturbing claims this week was that she was forced to get an IUD to prevent her from having more children; it was not just her money they wanted to control, but also her body, because in entertainment, for young women, the two are almost invariably intertwined. I’ve experienced my own version of this dynamic. Growing up, my weight was openly discussed by everyone, from family members to Hollywood creatives. I’d grin and bear it, because staying silent — and thin — meant I would get hired again; getting hired again meant people would be proud of me and that I would have the money that was needed to keep the ship afloat.
Again, none of this amounts to the dynamics of control and abuse that we’ve heard about in Britney Spears’s case. But I can see how easy it would have been to slip into those dynamics. In these situations, some kind of damage is invariably done — a stunting of the ability of an individual to grow and make the most basic of decisions, or practice good boundaries. When I finally parted professional ways with my parents, they couldn’t help but feel as if they had done something wrong. But they hadn’t. Money had.
Britney Spears is not the only woman in the public eye who has long been privately controlled, but she may be one of the first women in a very long time to give such a damning public record of it. When I see her giving her testimony now, I can’t help but think back to that bald Britney in 2007, raw in her rage and tired of being everyone’s spectacle. Even now, I can feel the world wanting to turn her recent testimony back into another episode of voyeurism — to champion her once again as our favorite mess.