“…Its now almost a truism to argue that male rage is explosive and female rage is implosive. Where male[s]…project their aggression outwards like a projectile, with many…female[s], anger backfires, becoming self-consuming.”
The Sex Revolts: Gender, Sex, and Rock ‘n’ Roll by Simon Reynolds and Joy Press
Untouchable, you think you’re untouchable.
You know…no one’s untouchable.
Britney only begins to really care when she sees the pictures.
Before the pictures, it was always sort of a peripheral thing, a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach and a throb under her fingernails—something she could push away. Something she could see on the insides of her eyelids, but that could be avoided if she never shut her eyes.
The pictures made it real. The pictures made the truth into something she could feel, run her fingers over, bend and fold and throw away. Except it stayed with her.
Because it had always been with her. Because the truth is, Britney can take her clothes off, but she could never, ever do anything that revealing.
When she sees the cover of the magazine, her knuckles ache, and she wants to punch Justin for real. Make it feel it, what it is to be bruised and battered, what it is to bleed, because Justin has never been hit in real life.
Neither has Britney, of course, but she knows what its like. To bleed. Its part of being a girl, being built to have your insides systematically clawed out.
Britney knows it maybe a little too well.
* * *
The first time they see Fight Club, they’re together. They rented it because the trailers looked cool, and because Brad Pitt was cut like a fucking rock in it, and eye candy was always a plus. Besides, Justin had practically been in love with Edward Norton since seeing American History X. So they’d rented it and popped it into the VCR, cuddled together on Britney’s soft, light pink couch, and made popcorn that neither of them touched after the previews.
By about halfway through, Britney was sick to her stomach but fascinated, biting the inside of her cheek and not even noticing the pain. Justin was rapt, staring at the screen with eyes wide and his hand clenched around Britney’s.
After it was over, Justin kissed her on the cheek and left to catch his plane. Britney went into her bathroom to wash her face for bed and looked at herself in the mirror, beneath the over-bright fluorescent lights. On her wrists were bruises from Justin’s strong, thick fingers, and when she spat into the sink she saw blood, bright red and shocking against the porcelain.
* * *
boys on my left side
boys on my right side
boys in the middle
and you’re not here
She thought she could just forget about it, because its just a stupid movie right? Wrong. Justin starts quoting it, and soon enough, all the guys do it, like they’re all different parts of the same organism. She hears them on KIIS FM, chanting, “Her name is Emily Porter! Her name is Emily Porter!” and it makes her want to throw up. As it is she digs her fingernails into her palms and smiles big and pretty when Fe asks her if she’s feeling alright.
Britney asks Rob to buy her the book, and he gives her a look, but complies. She can’t let her handlers see it—image means everything, after all—but she reads it. And the more she reads it, the more alone she feels. The more she turns on MTV and sees the guys, teasingly beating each other up on TRL. Putting their arms around each other, smiling, always touching. Close. Closer than she’s ever been to anyone. They have each other. All she has is herself, and that’s never seemed like enough.
It makes her understand how different she is from them, how much they can get away with and how much she can’t.
It makes her understand that in this sort of story, she could only ever be Marla, because it’s a boy’s world.
* * *
“I don’t want to die without a few scars, I say. Its nothing anymore to have a beautiful stock body. You see those cars that are completely stock cherry, right out of the dealer’s showroom in 1955, I always think what a waste.”
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
Britney doesn’t have any scars. Say what you will about implants, but strip her naked and all you’ll find is flesh so smooth and golden that it hurts your eyes. It certainly hurts her own. When she was a kid, she was always so fucking careful not to skin her knees, not to bruise her arms, to be pretty pretty pretty for auditions. Everyone should have flaws, and Britney doesn’t appear to have any.
She almost take a knife to her skin, once, just to create some small but meaningful imperfection, but she eventually decides against it. For one thing, so much of her is on display so often that there’s no way it could go without notice, and she’s not doing this for someone else. Besides, that sort of mindless self-destruction is so meaningless. What would it mean if even her flaws are manufactured?
Once the tattoos were enough, even if they were little things. A flower, a fairy. Girly things, pretty things, a rough patch inked onto her soft skin that caked over with blood after they were done pressing the needle into her. But soon enough everyone knew about them, and they weren’t what they were supposed to be anymore. To the press, to her mother, to everyone else they were cute little rebellions, a sorority sister thing to do. Her and her tattoos and her sweet little cosmopolitans.
She still gets them, but now they’re darker, more hidden. Raw patches beneath her tiny jeans.
When she looks at the freckles on her breasts, she feels better. She tells her makeup artist to stop covering them up for photo shoots, and she thinks she looks better after that. More touchable. They may not be exactly what she wants, but at least they’re real.
* * *
One day Justin tells her “self-improvement is masturbation,” with a wicked grin, and all she can do is look down at his perfectly manicured fingernails and try not to laugh.
* * *
me and a gun and a man on my back
Justin is strong, and getting stronger. Call it a remnant of their childhood relationship, but they wrestle all the time, and she could beat him when they were kids. Now, he can haul her shrieking over his shoulder and throw her carefully to the ground, rolling on top of her and pinning her wrists easily.
Usually she likes it, her big strong boyfriend and his powerful arms, but this time she feels trapped. He’s too busy laughing to notice the way she’s breathing, the look in her eyes. When she bites his arm he yelps and lets her go, pouting and clutching the red mark as she crawls out from beneath him. “What’s your problem today, girl?” he asks, obviously trying not to be pissed.
Chris and JC look up from their conversation in the corner, both of them mildly surprised and more than a little curious, and she doesn’t know what to say. She’d felt weak and kittenish, fighting him off, and she’d felt crushed and tiny beneath him. But they’ve wrestled a thousand times before, and she’s lain beneath his always muscular body before, and never has she felt like this.
She shrugs. “Just…I did too many sit-ups last night. My sides are really sore.” Which isn’t a lie, because she’s been doing a thousand, more than a thousand, every night now. Trying to get rid of the excess and the weakness and the soft feminine flesh.
Justin’s seen her doing them, and his new trainer is a bitch about sit-ups, so he just mutters a soft, “Sorry,” and hugs her quickly, never giving it another thought. Chris, however, looks at her carefully with his dark, implacable eyes before turning back to JC. Neither of them have said a word to her since she showed up. Not out of spite, just out of dismissal.
She’s not one of them, and she never will be.
* * *
i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite a new thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
The next time she meets with her trainer, he compliments her on her abs. She smiles and tells him that she wants to concentrate on building muscle rather than just muscle tone. Now.
She hates the weak little girl muscles she has now, the model muscles, the for-show muscles. Her abs are hard, and her legs are thick and strong from dancing, but her arms are like a child’s, with only a thin layer of muscle over the bone. Fuck being the tight, toned, slim little thing she was before. She wants to be strong.
He doesn’t like it, but he helps her. She lifts weights until her arms ache and she wants to cry, until she thinks her hands are getting blisters. He tells her to stop but she can’t, not until she can feel the burn in her arms and her chest and her brain, until everything is hot and unreal, a sweat-soaked haze.
After he goes, she lays down on the mats and thinks about the cells of her body, the atoms of her muscles being broken down into nothing to build new, powerful muscles, like scar tissue over a wound. She thinks she can feel it, the way one can feel the beginning of an illness, the sensation of the weak body being overtaken by something stronger.
She pictures her muscles, dissolving crimson beneath golden skin. Strain, break down, rebuild. A new beginning.
* * *
Hit me, baby, one more time…
She doesn’t own a copy of the magazine, not since she destroyed her last one, but she knows where to look online to see the pictures. There’s Justin, water gun and gold tooth and implied threat. Her fucking lyrics on the cover, like a mockery. Never, ever her on the cover that way, just her empty words.
She looks at pictures of herself, the ones from Harper’s Bazaar, and all she can seem to focus on is the corset, the padlock necklace. Confining, chaining her in.
Justin was half-naked, touching himself, colored red and gold. Her in shades of black and white, colorless. Disconnected, even to herself. Hands to the wall.
* * *
My body's taken over
And I want some more
I’ll be anticipating
They won’t let her take boxing, but she does cardio-kickboxing like her life will be saved by it. Everyone suggested yoga, because Madonna does it, but its too still for her, not to mention that its just the same new-age self-improving bullshit she’s been trying for Justin’s sake, because she seems “too tense” lately. She wants something new.
What she really likes is punching. She’ll pound the sand-filled bag until her knuckles are raw and sore and her long nails have dug caverns in her palms. She just likes the impact of flesh against something heavy and hard, but giving. She feels like she’s affecting something, even if its really nothing at all. She feels strong.
Her trainer asks her if she’s preparing for a fight, and she doesn’t know what to say. No. Yes. Maybe. They’re all the right answer.
* * *
keep your mouth shut
keep your legs shut
get back in your place
damsel in disgrace
She likes watching her dancers. They’re all slim and beautiful like she used to be, boys and girls alike, and a few of them can flip themselves all the way across the stage, the way the guys used to.
All of her boy dancers are feline and sensual, doing the same moves as the girls but twice as good, and she envies them, almost. She envies their casual rapport with each other, the way that one minute they can be laughing and giving each other noogies, the next jerking their hips to the music, sharing hot glances and brushing against each other accidentally on purpose as they each spin their respective girls.
She only catches any of them in action once. Looking for craft service and finding a dark, closed off place. One of the new guys had his hands tangled firmly in the curly hair of the dancer on his knees, and he was moaning with his eyes closed, banging his head against the wall and ignoring the little whimpers of the boy in front of him, who was obviously struggling for breath.
Britney remembers catching her breath and trying not to gasp, holding a hand over her mouth, but she couldn’t stop staring. It was fascinating—the pull, the thrust, the violence of it. Boys with boys, and her mouth moist and open against her palm, and Justin’s face, Justin’s curls in her mind. Memory of Joey’s fingers in Justin’s hair, the way everyone’s hands always seem to tangle there, without their permission. The way Justin smiles at her when she pulls him away from her throat by his curls.
She makes herself back away, and won’t let her thoughts go beyond that point.
* * *
cant live with ‘em,
can’t live without ‘em
She and Justin have had sex once and only once, and she doesn’t even really remember it. Just the haze of pain, the embarrassed look on Justin’s face, and the blood on the sheets afterwards. She’d thought that was just a myth.
She’d had to hand-wash the sheets in cold water three times to get the stain out. She and Justin have never talked about it.
For people who date, they don’t touch very much. They wrestle, and they kiss each other goodbye, but mostly if they’re together they’re with their families or the guys, and Justin ends up sprawled across the floor in front of the couch, trading insults with Chris, feet in Lance’s lap.
They’re boys; men. They have a connection with each other that she doesn’t have with anyone, and she wonders if its just because of their dicks. A common piece of flesh, the same intriguing body parts, a sense of unity.
She doesn’t think so.
* * *
think that you know me now, but you don’t
think that I can’t stand on my own
in my philosophy
won’t you just let me, let me be?
What Britney didn’t know about herself is that she likes being alone. She’s so used to being surrounded by at least a dozen people at all times that the solitude is strange for her, but nice. She doesn’t have to answer to anyone. She can walk around her big echoing house and know that its hers, that she has a home and a life and no one can take it away from her, even if everything else falls away, as everything eventually does.
She likes being able to walk around her house naked: no clothes, no makeup, just her and her skin and no expectations. She doesn’t pick up the phone when it rings; the outside world just doesn’t exist. Its just her and her thoughts and all her pretty things.
Oddly enough, though, her favorite part of the house is the part that’s most bare. She’s getting her bathroom redone because Justin hates the tiling, so right now its just a claw foot tub and a mirror, but she likes it. She’ll curl up in the huge bathtub with the notebook Justin gave to her and just write for hours on end, porcelain cool against her back, mind burning.
Half of what she writes she scraps, or tells them she does. She keeps those thoughts to herself, in a leather-bound book with gilt pages. When she bought it, the clerk looked surprised, like he thought she didn’t know how to write or something. Well, fuck him. Here, none of that matters. Here, words and phrases trip out of her brain, off her tongue and into her fluttery writing, blue-black on pure white paper, and what she thinks actually means something.
Her other notebook is filled with song lyrics, and sketches of the reflection she sees in her mirror. Girl with wide eyes and a real smile on her face. She’s happy when she’s alone.
* * *
Why is it that if you see a man is bruised and bloodied, he’s always the hero, and “you should see the other guy,” but if a woman has been hit she’s being abused? Victim and victor. Battle of the sexes.
I was born to make you happy. Hit me, baby, one more time. Sometimes I run, sometimes I hide, sometimes I’m scared of you.
* * *
now I shall
break free from all your lies
I won’t be blind, you see
my love, it can’t be sacrificed
She accidentally leaves a scrap of her real thoughts in her lyric book once, and that’s how she and Max end up with “Cinderella”. Britney’s always thought of her life as a fractured fairy tale, and the notion of her as an ash-girl with a rhinestone tiara is oddly fitting.
The line she had was, “I don’t believe in fairy tales.” Which is true, but she certainly feels like Sleeping Beauty sometimes. She was under a spell for so long, young and willfully blind and stupid. Now its like she’s woken up, and its like she’s seeing everything with new eyes.
All it took was blood running over Justin’s lips, and she feels like she’s been kissed.
* * *
you try to feel me
but I’m so out of touch
* * *
and I can see, obviously
baby, you don’t know what its like to be me
Justin comes to visit her when she’s working out, and she doesn’t even notice him until he says, “Hi.”
She looks up from her push-ups and smiles, pushing a piece of sweaty hair out of her eyes. “Hey.” When he doesn’t say anything else, she goes back to exercising. Up, down, up, down. Its simple, the way everything is lately. She likes it this way.
He clears his throat. “I saw your notebook on the table. It was open.”
She doesn’t say anything, but pauses, so he goes on.
“You don’t have to do this for me, you know. I mean, I love you. The way you are. You don’t have to feel like you—”
She’s up on her feet before he even notices it, and when she punches him, he staggers. She feels the impact of bone against flesh all the way up her arm, and now that its here she doesn’t know whether to cry or do it again. It felt terrible. It felt wonderful. It hurt her.
She clutches her knuckles and he gets up off his knees, bringing his hands away from his face to look at her. There is blood running in a slow but heavy trickle from his face to his lip, and he licks it away without thinking, eyes wide. “Oh. I…oh.”
She doesn’t look at him again, just gets back on her hands and knees. Up, down. Up, down. Simple.
Tori Amos: Caught A Lite Sneeze, Me And A Gun
e.e. cummings: Sonnets—ActualitiesVII
Britney Spears: (Hit Me…) Baby One More Time, Anticipating
Spice Girls: Do It
Britney Spears: Boys, Let Me Be, Cinderella, Let Me Be, What Its Like To Be Me, Autumn Goodbye