–written by Bianca Betancourt @ByBiancaBee & illustration by Andrea Vásquez

My love affair with Britney Spears is defined in moments:

–Seeing the Baby One More Time music video for the first time and being mesmerized by Britney’s facial expressions while simultaneously wanting her baby pink pom pom scrunchies.

–Copying the Oops I DId It Again choreography with second grade girlfriends.

–Thinking how she didn’t get mauled by the tigers on stage with her for the legendary Slave 4 U VMA Performance.

–Remembering my mother shouting disgust at her following her kiss with Madonna at the following year’s VMA’s.

–Debating in my 7th grade U.S. History class that she wasn’t crazy (circa 2007), but simply sad over the dissolution of her marriage to Kevin Federline. And that she needed a friend.

–Still 2007: Holding my breath when I checked my phone every morning hoping there wasn’t a news alert that she was gone.

If there’s anything women, especially pop stars, are notorious for, it’s not getting the recognition they fairly deserve. That can be in pay, that can be in critique, but in Britney’s case, it’s for her humility as not just an artist but herself as a human. 

A simple Google search can clear up any confusion on the stats of her success: album sales, Top 10 hits, accumulated awards–those are the facts that people tend to push under the rug whenever Britney Spears is brought into the conversation. 

Questions regarding her modern day relevance and people’s disacknowledgment of any album past Oops! I Did It Again are constant excuses expressed when I mention my adoration of her. People claim she’s a puppet of the music industry and had no say into her uber-sexualized persona starting out. 

But then again, how can most people see the humility behind one of the biggest, most exposed faces and personas in the world? 

Growing up, I knew two things about her to be true: That she helped me understand the complexities of being a young woman and that she was and still is the most misunderstood starlet on the planet. 

During the early millennium there were other pop stars who went the overtly sexy route (Xtina for example) but like many critics echoed, it seemed forced, unnatural and inauthentic.

Britney was the opposite.

She made womanhood and all of its intricacies seem fun. Her choreography, costumes and signature doe shaped bedroom eyes were economically meant for the male gaze but emotionally, motivated young women to be unafraid of their sexuality and and inner and outward desires. (RE: "Touch of My Hand," the original female narrated self love anthem.) 

Though I was always too timid to project Britney’s performance aura into my everyday life, and granted, a conservative southwest suburb isn’t the ideal environment to do so, behind closed doors or within the comfort of a crowded dance floor, I would pretend and attempt to personify my idol in hopes of feeling like a better, stronger, me. 

It wasn’t until I saw her 2008 MTV documentary, For the Record that I began to truly understand who Britney was as a person, as a woman, and as a girl. 

I was cuddled up with a blanket in my mother’s throw chair in the corner of her bedroom–aside from the living room, it was the space with the biggest TV–ready to watch and learn. Watching it now, almost 8 years later, you can tell certain questions were required to be unasked and the state of her “breakdown” (was she really diagnosed with some sort of mental disorder? depression?) was fogged and unclarified. 

The moment that will forever stay with me though is the moment when the interviewer bluntly asked her how she was feeling and she simply answered “I’m sad,” while trying to hold tears back. It’s the simplest, shortest answer that so many people mutter through a state of crying. Words that people never know how to respond to, but wholeheartedly understand how it feels. 

She went on to explain the state of her sadness: “I tell people how I’m feeling but no one listens–no one is actually listening.” 

In the midst of my mother’s vacumming over the program that I had turned full volume in order to hear (we didn’t have DVR) I held back tears of my own. Those few times of teenage abandonment when you can’t describe your state of emotional desolation–when your best friends pat you on the back and say you’ll be okay without actually understanding why you’re upset, and when you can’t talk to your family because they’ll try and diagnose you as being overdramatic and self loathing–all flooded back to me in that moment. 

Within that moment, the world became smaller and instead of solely in my wildest dreams, a connection between the modern day princess of pop and me–was born.

That and the fact a few months later she followed me on Twitter.

I joke around with people when I talk about my affection for Britney (one being the fact I hardly feel the need to reiterate her last name) that we were sisters in another life. I say that, because after seeing her documentary, hearing her speak her truth, and seeing her reveal herself as a human rather than solely a performer or star, proved to me that no matter if I was famous like her, or if she was “normal” like me, I knew she would be someone that understood the complexities of being a misunderstood and misinterpreted woman. 

Though she’s given her fans a gift of music that will last a lifetime, I only wish that she goes the rest of her life knowing one thing: that there are people out there who know how she felt.

–be sure to follow illustrator Andrea Vásquez on Instagram and tumblr.