On the 25th anniversary of that outfit from 1997, what our collective mind-map of Britney Spears looks like

Over 25 years ago, a dazzling little girl wrapped her modest body in the famous star’s empire-waisted white pants. Now, her dreams are bright: She looks back fondly on the days when you could…

On the 25th anniversary of that outfit from 1997, what our collective mind-map of Britney Spears looks like

Over 25 years ago, a dazzling little girl wrapped her modest body in the famous star’s empire-waisted white pants. Now, her dreams are bright: She looks back fondly on the days when you could see her name on t-shirts and sweatshirts all over the world.

As Britney Spears grows up in public, her clothing choices have provided fodder for the tabloids who feed off her travails.

In the late 1990s, Britney wore body armor, revealing her chest. The tabloids had a field day with that.

The next year, Britney wore low-slung trousers that exposed a crotch-height crotch gap and thighs that were insanely short on her rack. She was a particular target for tabloid pen-pushers.

Here’s what the article about Britney’s scandalous outfit from U.K. tabloid The Sun read in the summer of 2001. “As Britney Spears stunned fans in Cannes this week it transpired her bustiest outfit ever is real. “Dressed in a gold gown slashed to the navel, the pop princess let her cleavage swing freely around her tiny waist.”

And here are some of the other text captions that accompanied the sensational headlines. “Bye bye Britney!” “Up Her Sheer.” “Britney’s battle for the right to bare breasts.” “Britney’s breast appeal down to its barest bones.” “Paris I want you to remember.”

And so, on the anniversary of this infamous incident, a source in an international tabloid told news editors that she had to be taking injections.

“She’s injected herself with thousands of dollars worth of fillers to get rid of her already-thin lips. “They were the result of constant bullying at school and a result of trying to be the best and lose weight,” the source continued. “To Britney, there is nothing wrong with looking this skinny. She is happy with what she’s got.”

And so the nightmare began. The following days, the news headlines did not get any more printable. And in years since, Britney has never looked quite as sexy in public. Since the new millennium, she has, however, changed her style.

The 1998 one-piece with a slash of white on her midriff, on the other hand, was a signature of the 1998–2001 decade. And now the zipper and cut of it are too small to put it on. It fit so well.

It is important to note that this incident also created, of course, a banner for then-cocaine-addicted Justin Timberlake, an unkind, voyeuristic joke. It also created a spark and even a sparkly proposal of forgiveness: Only days after the incident, the two performed in front of the world together, the two sharing a guitar and a kiss.

But it also created a slew of copy and a bonanza of newsfeed-catching headlines. Then, this added to the other tabloid perception of Britney, which was that she was a bad actress, “plagued by ill-advised acting roles.”

Now, years later, we look at the Britney saga through a prism of memes and GIFs and memes and GIFs, which have been used, like the singer herself, in such expressive ways that they’ve transformed our perceptions and had interesting ramifications.

And so the spotlight shines even brighter on this young, stunning woman. In so many ways, we see a heightened version of ourselves. And no matter what has happened or what’s happened, we each admire the grit she’s been able to show through it all.

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