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The Only Good Thing On The Internet Is Britney Spears' Instagram

Music
Photo by Kevin Winter/ Getty Images

You think you know her? Think again

Domination. Prerogative. These are the names of the only two saved Stories—the highlights—on Britney Spears's Instagram. They reference, respectively, her upcoming Las Vegas residency at the Park MGM and her new perfume, a unisex scent which Spears has described as "fruity, earthy, and woody with unique notes like Red Goji Berry and Saffron Cream that make it extra special."

But then also, the words are metonymical for Spears, who has, in the 20 years since the video for her instant-classic "...Baby One More Time" hit MTV, not only been an omnipresent force in the cultural discourse but also pulled off this feat in a way that is unmistakably and inimitably her own. It isn't so much that it is Spears' intention to dominate everything, but more that it is her prerogative.

In her 37 years on this planet, Britney Jean Spears has occupied many roles, both professionally and personally, some of which have proven to be more successful than others. Though, it should be said, that her failures, like her brief stint as a restaurateur, serve both to emphasize the towering heights of her successes as well as to make clear that her victories are the purest distillations of Spears herself—her personality, her thoughts, her desires. This, then, is why she excels in areas where others might fail, because they are evident extensions of who she is and what she wants. And this is why her Instagram is so perfect, because it is there that Spears is most unfiltered, transparently a person, not, as is the case with many celebrities, merely a persona. Or, rather, her persona is indistinguishable from who she is as a person, making it easier for her to navigate both in a unified way.



Spears' Instagram first became a widespread object of fascination in 2017, when she posted a video of herself—ponytail perched high on her head, cleavage perched high on her chest—painting in her backyard, a non-diegetic Mozart concerto tinkling in the background. The caption? "Sometimes you just gotta play!!!!!!" (I remember approving her use of an even number of exclamation points since I think using an odd number is a minor—and annoying—act of aggression.)

I had been following Spears' Instagram art for some time prior, though, to this post. A drawing she'd made in early 2016, consisting of swirling lines of color is not wholly dissimilar from a Brice Marden painting (okay, yes, actually it's wholly dissimilar), announced: "It's doodle time!" It was a particular favorite of mine, not least because of her use of the painter's palette emoji. Spears wields emojis like the late-millennial mother of two that she is, that is to say, prolifically.

And it's not just emojis that are plentiful on Spears' Instagram. Also abundant are: inspirational quotes (including "inspirational" quotes from Nietzsche), videos of her dancing, photos of her sons' artwork, clips of her stalking down her mansion's hallways as if they were Paris Couture runways, photos of the beach and of sunsets and of sunsets on the beach, a photo of Spears and Hillary Clinton. All of these are examples of things most of us are conditioned to find cliché and suburban mom-like and embarrassing. It can feel like the only thing missing from Spears' Instagram is a plea to buy essential oils or, like, some really cool leopard print leggings. They are all the sort of posts that ordinarily lead to mockery, or at least pity.

But then, Spears has always toed this line, this invisible, uncomfortable delineation between what is acceptable to perform in public and what we know exists in private. She has let us celebrate those things we enjoy but of which we've been taught to feel ashamed. She's done this ever since the first time many of us saw her, when she wore a blatantly sexual riff on a Catholic schoolgirl's uniform. By playing out, in excruciating detail, the most overdone sexual trope of all time, Spears excelled at embodying our collective id, acting as a mirror to our own, often stifled, desires and impulses. She makes us question why we find these things pathetic, challenges our perceptions of what is embarrassing and what is just human, makes us question why we need to feel bad about who we are.

This isn't to say that there aren't things to feel badly about, to feel uncomfortable as we watch them play out in her life, or our own, whether it's a 55-hour-long marriage to a virtual stranger or a public breakdown when the pressures of fame and mental illness get to be too much. But a little discomfort is okay. And, in her darkest moments, what Spears taught us to feel wasn't pity, but compassion—for her, yes, but ultimately, hopefully, for ourselves as well.

And so while loving Britney Spears is, currently, a popular thing to do, it's important to distinguish those professing their love for her sincerely from those doing so ironically. Those who love her ironically probably do so because it is easier to keep Spears at arm's-length, lest they too fully realize how close to her they are. It's a little bit like loving your mother, or an idea of your mother; you can't help but worry that love will transform into becoming her, or that idea of her. It's not—not really—very cool.

But if there's one thing Spears' Instagram can teach us, it's that being cool is not a means to an end, nor is it necessarily the end itself. The reason Spears continues to dominate is because she is consistently, almost decadently, herself, and she is so in a way that feels liberating to witness, so difficult it is to be that way in our own lives. So as we struggle to make sense of who we are, who we want to be, who we'll allow ourselves to become, it is nice to have an online oasis of sorts, a relief from the constant posturing that exists everywhere else, a place where we can't help but be reminded that it's boring to pretend to be normal, we should all just, as Spears reminds us, go back to being ourselves.

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.