However, the pop star, 41, has also found her voice and freedom after 13 years in a conservatorship that ended in 2021, by writing a memoir and finally getting to tell her side of the story.
Released on Tuesday, The Woman in Me has been described as “a brave and astonishingly moving story about freedom, fame, motherhood, survival, faith and hope” by her publisher Gallery Books, which has also stressed “the importance of a woman telling her own story, on her own terms.”
Here are eight of the book's biggest revelations.
1. Why she shaved her head in 2007
Photos of Spears taking a pair of clippers to her head in full view of the paparazzi at a hair salon in Tarzana, Los Angeles, went viral, shocking fans around the world.
The singer gave herself the impromptu haircut just one day after she left a rehab facility in Antigua.
“I’d been eyeballed so much growing up. I'd been looked up and down, had people telling me what they thought of my body, since I was a teenager,” she writes in her memoir. “Shaving my head and acting out were my ways of pushing back.”
When her conservatorship was put in place the following year, Spears revealed that she no longer had any control over her image.
“Under the conservatorship I was made to understand that those days were now over. I had to grow my hair out and get back into shape. I had to go to bed early and take whatever medication they told me to take.”
2. Feeling betrayed by Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake
Spears writes about how she felt when she saw the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in 2003, which featured Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake ahead of their joint The Justified & Stripped Tour.
In the interview Aguilera said she felt Timberlake and Spears would reconcile, saying: “I know that they talk and everything, and it's cool. I don't think it's over.”
Spears blasts the pair for posing together, writing: “In that story, she said she thought Justin and I should get back together, which was just confusing, given how negative she'd been elsewhere.”
“Even if they weren't trying to be cruel, it felt like they were just pouring salt in the wound. Why was it so easy for everyone to forget that I was a human being – vulnerable enough that these headlines could leave a bruise?”
3. Conservatorship turned her into ‘a child-robot’
Spears writes at length about the conservatorship she was placed under, which was overseen by her father Jamie for 13 years.
“I became a robot,” she writes. “But not just a robot – a sort of child-robot. I had been so infantilised that I was losing pieces of what made me feel like myself.”
“Thirteen years went by with me feeling like a shadow of myself. I think back now on my father and his associates having control over my body and my money for that long and it makes me feel sick … I didn't deserve what my family did to me.”
4. Her 55-hour marriage to Jason Alexander
News of Spears’s Las Vegas marriage to her childhood friend Jason Alexander made headlines around the world in January 2004.
“When we got there, another couple was getting married, so we had to wait,” she writes about her and Alexander's visit to the Little White Chapel. “Yes – we waited in line to get married.”
Adding of her parents’ reaction: “They made way too big a deal out of innocent fun. I didn't take it that seriously. I thought a goof-around Vegas wedding was something people might do as a joke. Then my family came and acted like I'd started World War III.”
5. Calls younger sister a ‘little witch’
Close when they were younger, Spears writes about how she and her little sister Jamie Lynn, 32, drifted apart after she felt Jamie Lynn “ruled the roost” at their Louisiana home leaving Spears feeling like a “ghost child”.
“I can remember walking into the room and feeling like no one even saw me,” she writes. “Jamie Lynn only saw the TV. My mother, who at one time had been the person I was closest to in the world, was on another planet … I'd listen to her spew these hateful words, and I'd turn to my mother and say, 'Are you going to let this little witch talk to you like that?' I mean, she was bad.”
6. Suffering from post-partum depression
After marrying her backing dancer Federline in September 2004, Spears welcomed two sons – Sean in 2005 and Jayden in 2006.
The singer writes about how she struggled after giving birth. “I got a little depressed once I was no longer keeping them safe inside my body. They seemed so vulnerable out in the world of jockeying paparazzi and tabloids,” she says.
“I now know that I was displaying just about every symptom of perinatal depression: Sadness, anxiety, fatigue.”
7. ‘I gave up my freedom for my sons’
After her 2008 hospitalisation, her ex-husband Federline was given sole custody of their sons and Spears says she had to sacrifice any freedoms she had to spend time with her boys.
“My freedom in exchange for naps with my children – it was a trade I was willing to make,” she writes. “Starting a family was my dream come true. Being a mom was my dream come true.”
8. Short-lived fling with Colin Farrell
Photos of Spears with the Irish actor at the premiere of his 2003 film The Recruit set tongues wagging in Hollywood that the pair were dating.
Revealing that she visited the “handsome” actor on the set of his movie S.W.A.T, Spears said that while she enjoyed their two-week romance, writing, “for a brief moment … I did think there could be something there”, that she still wasn’t over her break-up with Timberlake.