The Disturbing Truth About Why Britney Spears Shaved Her Head Has Finally Been Revealed

Escaping a pack of paparazzi in February 2007, pop star Britney Spears ran into a beauty salon. Once inside, she gave herself a buzzcut despite the protests of the owner. And for years, no one has really known why. It was only when, in November 2019, U.K. TV station Channel 5 broadcast a documentary, Breaking Point, that the reason for Spears’ behavior was finally revealed.

The incident came in the middle of a rough time for Spears. Having been in the limelight since the 1990s, she’d had her public image strictly managed for years. Then she married support dancer Kevin Federline, and began to run off the rails. That marriage ended in 2006, leaving her single but in the midst of a tough custody fight.

Federline allowed Spears to go a little wild. Vanessa Grigoriadis told Rolling Stone in 2008, “Federline gave Britney license to fully embrace her white-trash side – walking into gas-station restrooms barefoot, dumping ashtrays out hotel windows, wearing novelty tees like I’M A VIRGIN, BUT THIS IS AN OLD SHIRT and, most notably, not strapping the kids into car seats.”

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However, once divorced from Federline, Spears seemed to spin out of control. She was regularly seen in clubs in Los Angeles. After enjoying one too many big nights out with heiress Paris Hilton, Spears finally decided to get her substance issues under control, checking herself into a rehab facility in Antigua.

Spears first came to prominence as a teen, sporting a sexy image that was belied by her commitment to faith that led her to promise abstinence until marriage. The Mississippi native, who’d grown up in Kentwood, Louisiana, had been seen on the stage and on TV before she was snapped up by Jive Records in 1997.

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Jive sent her to work with Eric Foster White, a producer, who molded her into a pop singer. She’d thought of herself as more the Sheryl Crow, adult country rock type, but the shift to something more poppy suited her since she could dance to her own music. A spell in Sweden working with producers there resulted in an album that would set the music world alight.

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Her first album… Baby One More Time was released in January 1999 and went straight to number one on the Billboard album chart. Within a year, it had shifted more than 10 million copies, and the single of the same name also topped the charts, selling half a million copies on its first day of release. She followed up with Oops!… I Did It Again in 2000. That album smashed the first-day sales record for a solo artist and went on to be one of the most successful ever.

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The following year saw a deal with Pepsi that brought Spears millions and another number one album. Critics hailed Britney, seeing it as a step forward to a more adult sound. Its success culminated in a couple of Grammys for the singer. She also co-wrote a book with her mom and starred in her first movie, Crossroads, a hit at the box office if not with film critics, who did, however, like Spears in it.

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Another hit album followed in 2003 with In the Zone, most of which Spears wrote. It again shifted more than 10 million units across the globe. Spears’ continuing success led her to release a 2004 greatest hits compilation, and even her 2005 remix album sold more than a million copies.

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Spears had enjoyed years at the peak of pop stardom; even so, she was oddly constrained. Ever since her first appearance, she had found herself held on a tight leash by her record company. They had controlled every aspect of her presentation, even, some reports had it, going as far as to select her underwear.

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One area that music executives had not been able to manage had been Spears’ love life. She had a three-year liaison with Justin Timberlake and, according to the Limp Bizkit frontman himself, she had followed that with a fling with rocker Fred Durst. Things took a slightly surreal turn with a 2004 Las Vegas wedding to a longtime friend, Jason Allen Alexander, that lasted just two days before being annulled because, as a court paper stated, she “lacked understanding of her actions.”

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Undaunted by the experience, Spears was engaged again in July 2004. This time her beau was Kevin Federline. The pair had become acquainted only three months earlier. The media gobbled up their relationship, not least when it became the center of reality show Britney & Kevin: Chaotic. They went on to marry in September 2004.

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It wasn’t too long before Spears fell pregnant, and she had her son Sean in August 2005. Scandal struck in February of the next year when she was photographed with the baby in her car. Sean was not restrained but instead rode on her lap. She claimed that she had been scared by paparazzi. In September she went on to have her second son, Jayden.

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However, despite having two children together, Federline and Spears were not happily married. Only a couple of months after giving birth to Jayden, Spears was filing for divorce. By July 2007 the split was final, and although they ultimately agreed to share care for the kids, there would be a bitter fight over custody after the divorce.

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In addition to her divorce, Spears had to cope with the passing of her aunt Sandra Bridges Covington in January 2007. They had been very close, with Covington a key figure in Spears’ childhood. Spears’ mom Lynne had told People magazine in 2002, “Sandra’s like a second mother to Britney.”

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The loss of her aunt had come at a time when Spears was already spiraling out of control. Family and friends had begged her to seek help, and it seems that Spears had known well that her behavior wasn’t making her look good. A person close to her told newspaper USA Today, “She understands what’s going on right now, and she calls it her ‘rocky moment.’ Britney knows exactly what she needs to do.”

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In fact, Spears arranged a stay at the Crossroads Center, Eric Clapton’s rehab facility in Antigua. However, she managed only a single day there before turning up at Federline’s home, requesting a visit with her sons. But the dancer, backed up by Spears’ manager and her mom, said that wouldn’t be possible unless she signed up for rehab in Malibu.

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Angry, Spears disappeared into the night. Shortly afterwards, the owner of Los Angeles salon Esther’s Haircutting Studio, Esther Tognozzi, saw lights outside. At first, Tognozzi thought that it must be the cops, but someone was banging on the door, asking for entry for Britney Spears. She wondered what Spears could possibly want.

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Tognozzi spoke to the Channel 5 documentary, Breaking Point, about what happened next. She said, “And they proceeded to come in, she sat on my chair, I said: ‘What’s up, can I help you?,’ she said, ‘I want to shave my hair off,’ I said, ‘No, you don’t’, she said, ‘Oh yes, I do.’”

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While trying to deal with Spears and her demand, Tognozzi was repeatedly on and off the phone with her brother. Her attention was distracted by a call from him, and when she returned to Spears, the star was up to no good. Tognozzi said, “By the time I came back to her, she had grabbed a buzzer, and she was testing to see how it was going to feel or look to buzz her hair.”

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The hairdresser continued, “So, I tried to talk her out of it and I said, ‘You don’t want to do that, tomorrow is a different day, you’ll feel differently tomorrow, let’s talk about it.’ My phone rang again, so as I’m answering my phone, I realize she went into that other room, sat in that chair and buzzed half her hair off.”

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Tognozzi noticed that Spears’ bodyguards weren’t exactly protecting the singer as she became “Britney Shears.” Quite the opposite: at least one of them was making sure that she was photographed. Indeed, Tognozzi said, “She had two bodyguards, supposedly keeping an eye out to make sure the paparazzi were not getting any pictures, and one of them kept opening the blinds.”

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Tognozzi did her best to snap Spears out of whatever mood had led her into her salon. But nothing that she said was working. She told Channel 5, “What I said to her was, ‘Do you realize what all the young teenagers are going to want to do tomorrow – shave their hair off to look like you?’” But, she added, “She didn’t care.”

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Meanwhile, the bodyguards were acting…shady. Tognozzi asked them, “There’s nobody over there, why do you keep opening up the blind?” She explained exactly why to Channel 5. The hairdresser said, “Well, I found out days later why he was opening the blind because a photographer was hiding there to take pictures.”

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Not that it was particularly shocking, as Rob Shuter, who was once executive editor of the U.S. version of OK! magazine, pointed out. He told Channel 5, “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if people around Britney weren’t getting a kickback. They [the bodyguards] were allowing the paparazzi to take pictures.”

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Indeed, the photographs that were taken of Spears’ shaved head were seen all around the world. Dano Ramos, previously a paparazzo and filmmaker, told U.K. newspaper the Daily Mail that he believed that the agency involved must have made a great deal of money out of the pictures, perhaps even as much as millions of dollars.

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Observers struggled to explain what Spears had done. Pundit Mark Stevens in a 2007 piece in New York magazine believed it was an attempt to “tell the truth.” He said, “She recoiled from celebrity culture by mortifying her own flesh. She stripped herself, publicly, of her sexuality. She presented herself as a grotesque. Few gestures are as symbolically rich as the shaving of a head.”

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Meanwhile, Sam Lutfi, who said that he had become Spears’ manager after the event, told a court that the star had a more pragmatic objective. He claimed that she had allegedly been trying to avoid having her hair tested. Lutfi told the court, “She told me someone had told her that they can scientifically test her hair for a history of drug use so she shaved it off.”

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Apparently, Lutfi claimed that Spears feared a drug test because of her custody battle, which she would later lose. Then on one visit, she refused to return one of the boys, locking herself and her son in a room. This led to her being hospitalized, kept against her will on a psych ward.

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The consequences of this incident were harsh for the singer. A judge gave her father a conservatorship over her. This meant that he would have control of not only her money, but also of her person. She tried to fight the arrangement, but at the time of writing, it was still in operation.

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The conservatorship was aimed at helping her fight against mental illness. Father Jamie Spears’ lawyer told the court that he had gone to “heroic lengths” to save her from her mental health and from substance abuse. And in the end, Spears has survived and thrived on the whole, becoming once more friendly with Federline to the extent that they share care of the boys.

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In fact, Spears has managed to have good times with her boys. She shared a picture on Instagram in 2017, which she captioned, “Found this today and realized I’m a very blessed and lucky mommy #tbt.” And when not busy being a mom, Spears was starring in a Las Vegas residency, her life back in order.

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Spears has also remained the focus of enormous interest, evidenced by Channel 5’s documentary. And in it, the truth about why she shaved her hair off was revealed. It emerged that after she had done it, she then ducked into the tattoo parlor of Emily Wynee-Hughes, and there she’d told all.

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When Spears came into her studio – Body and Soul Tattoo – Wynee-Hughes could not have expected to become a confidante. But something was up with Spears, and she could see what it was straight away. She told Channel 5, “I noticed her hair was gone. I remember asking her, ‘Why did you shave your head?’ And her answer was a bit weird.”

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Wynee-Hughes told Channel 5 that, in fact, Spears had a straightforward reason for shaving off her hair. She said, “It was, you know, ‘I just don’t want anybody, anybody touching my head. I don’t want anyone touching my hair. I’m sick of people touching my hair.’” Well, it was certainly one way of stopping people from touching it.

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Spears hadn’t just come into the tattoo studio to pass time, however. She asked for two tattoos, one of the lips of a woman, the other of a cross. None of her entourage seemed in the least bit concerned. Wynee-Hughes said, “It just didn’t seem like they cared very much. I’ve felt this insane sense of anxiety and energy that felt so negative. It just seemed like everybody was waiting for the crash to happen.”

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Spears seemed to confirm this explanation when interviewed by MTV for 2008 documentary For The Record. She said, “I was going through so much artificial stuff with my kids and Kevin at the time. He’d just left me and I was devastated. People thought that it was me going crazy and stuff like that, but people shave their heads all the time. I was going through a lot, but it was just kind of like me going through a little bit of rebellion, or feeling free, or shedding stuff that had happened, you know?”

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It’s probably not a time Spears looks back on with any great fondness. And at least one other star brought it up rather unkindly. While talking with Ryan Seacrest, Katy Perry mentioned that she had taken a mental health break herself. When he asked her how it had gone, she said, “Fantastic, and I haven’t shaved my head yet.”

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Spears’ tribulations haven’t ended yet. In January 2019 her dad suffered a rupture of his colon that threatened his life. She canceled her residency in Las Vegas, and next thing anyone heard, she was back in hospital. Accusations flew about her forcibly being confined and the residency being canned without her agreement, and questions about the conservatorship were raised.

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Fans have protested the treatment of Spears, claiming that her human rights had been infringed by the conservatorship. Spears alleged in court that she had been detained against her will and had been made to take drugs. Neither of those things are permitted under her conservatorship, which the court put under review. So it seems that years after the head-shaving incident, Spears still has demons to battle and a fight to be happy and in control of her own life.

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