Written by Rosie Whiteoak

Recent weeks have seen the airing of the documentary The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears. For those who had been unaware during the noughties or were not old enough to know what was happening, the documentary was eye opening to the way in which Spears was treated. From being surrounded by paparazzi, to inappropriate interview questions and magazine headlines and to the general public attitude towards her. Since the documentary, many have questioned how Spears was treated and their own attitudes towards the singer. Stars such as Justin Timberlake (Spears’s ex-boyfriend) have taken to social media to apologise to Spears.

It would be easy to assume that society has moved on since this period in time and female celebrities in particular would not have to deal with the same issues today, however it appears this may not be the case. 

In 2020, following the suicide of presenter Caroline Flack, society started to engage in conversations around mental health and the impact that the media as well as social media can have on a person’s wellbeing. However, one only has to take a brief glance at headlines or online comment sections on articles about women such as Meghan Markle, Taylor Swift, the Kardashians, to see that the same culture of picking famous women apart continues today.

Why is it that we love to see women fall from grace? After all, the headlines only make it to the front page because these stories attract sales. 

For some, it may be that picking flaws in these women makes them somewhat relatable. From a young age society teaches girls to idolise celebrities and dream of being like them. Therefore, when these women turn out to not be perfect (and let’s face it, who really is perfect?) it may cause a sigh of relief that these women are not the image of perfection that they have been built up to be. 

For others, it might simply be an entertainment value in seeing others struggle. The concept of a fall from grace as entertainment is a tale as old as time. In Shakespeare plays, the main characters in his tragedies will begin in a position of power yet have some form of flaw that leads to their downfall. In Macbeth, Macbeth’s demise is caused by his flaw of ambition, in King Lear the title character’s pride and arrogance leads to his undoing. This same pattern is often used with famous women. They are built up to a position of power by society before being picked apart for their perceived flaws. 

Can we alter our attitudes towards high profile women? Or will we, as a society, be stuck in a never-ending cycle of building them up and then tearing them down?