The sisterhood of the missing pants

If the laws of nature have anything to do with it, Britney Spears’s latest crotch baring antics should put the final nails in the coffin of her public career. But in Hollywood, the normal laws — involving gravity and the like — do not often apply.

But if Spears’s divorce from Kevin Federline has taught us anything — other than the importance of penicillin — it’s that losing 185 pounds of dead weight can do wonders for a girl’s image.

The press seemed to be begging for the couple to split. And since announcing her divorce from Federline earlier this month, Spears has received the most positive press that she has seen since before she met the alleged dancer/proven sperm producer.

The popular gossip blog Perezhilton.com was overjoyed to see the end of their marriage. On November 7, the site’s editor, Mario Lavandeira, declared “Britney Spears has filed for divorce from Kevin Federline. And, MORE IMPORTANTLY….the comeback has begun!!!!!!!!!!”

And in fact, Spears managed to appear in public with her hair brushed and clothes that fit her for at least two days in a row. She seemed to make a breakthrough by showing up on David Letterman in a semi-nice black dress and making appeasement talks with a former publicist. But soon she started spending time with Paris Hilton, and while this new friendship was initially met with joy in the press, she quickly took to some of the heiresses more base habits — namely exposing herself without panties.

Before Thanksgiving, Spears was photographed at a club with her pants off, and soon she was flashing her underwear while exiting a car with the hotel heiress. But Brit wasn’t nearly done yet. In the past week, she has been caught exposing her lack of underwear three times.

Ironically, Hilton looks positively demure in these photos. While Britney’s dresses barely seem to stay on these days, Hilton has been fully covered when in public with the pop star. And during one particularly egregious display of Spears’s lady bits, the heiress is photographed actually trying to close the pop tartlet’s legs.

But as quickly as publications declared that Spears was back, they have begun to decry her pantsless antics. On November 20, a smiling Britney may have graced the cover of People magazine above the declaration “Britney Files for Divorce!” But this week’s issue of US Weekly has a photo of Spears with Hilton and the headline “How Paris Became Britney’s Dangerous New Best Friend — And What It Means for Her Kids.”

Similarly, Lavandeira’s website, which shifts its opinions of celebrities more frequently than the scale in Kirstie Alley’s bathroom, has already tired of the newly single Spears’s antics. A few short weeks ago, the “gossip gangsta” wrote that she was “Reborn. . .finally free. . .yes!” But by November 30, he was simply scrawling “Stop it!” over her photos.

While it would seem that this rash of truly overexposed celebrities could be abated with a quick etiquette lesson on how to exit a vehicle in a ladylike manner, these unfortunate photos seem to be helping the careers of these young girls. Nearly every one of the celebutante crew that is often more famous for their clothing choices than their skills — Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Mischa Barton to name a few — have been caught in up the skirt shots.

The flashes are seldom attractive, and often seem like they would be a better fit for a medical journal than the gossip pages ( Spears’s recent spate of crotch shots are so egregious that they often expose jagged pregnancy scars) but in an increasingly jaded world, this is yet another shameless maneuver that propels the careers of young starlets.

When Hilton’s sex tape was leaked at the same time as her network television debut on “The Simple Life,” there was speculation that she had encouraged the release. Similarly, the sheer number of photos taken during one of Spears’ car exits make it hard to believe that even she would not realize what was going on.

But whether these women realize what they are doing or not, these seemingly embarrassing antics seem to have a counterintuitively positive effect on their career.

Hilton veritably shot to stardom with the release of “One Night in Paris.” And though public opinion does not seem very happy with these recent photos of Spears, they are just one more thing that keeps her name in the press and makes room for her next “comeback.”

Spears has not released an album of new songs since 2003, but she has been in the top 50 terms searched on Lycos.com every week since the search engine went up in 1999. Since announcing her split from Federline, she has been among the top 10 search items.

Though most of the press about her has been negative since she fired her publicists and met Federline, the quick response to her divorce proves how thoroughly America loves a good comeback story.

Today, if a crackhead who has shunned the public eye for a decade can show up to a dinner party in a nice dress, all is forgiven. And if either Whitney Houston or Spears can put together a decent musical album, it seems there will always be a market for them.

But keeping their names in the public sphere — no matter the subject matter — seems a key to their continued success. Just ask Pamela Anderson. She is famous for being hot in the early 1990s, but strange four-month marriages to aging rock stars keep the former Baywatch star in close competition with Spears in the Lycos top 50.

The current rash of celebrity crotch shots is yet more evidence of how what was once private has become public. And since that trend seems to show no signs of stopping, chances are that this strange exhibitionism will continue. But still, who knows? Maybe there are still a few lone starlets who can be saved by the charitable work of watchdog groups like Stopcelebritycrotchshots.com.

Meghan Keane is a Phillips Fellow and a writer living in New York. She is working on a book on scandal and shamelessness in pop culture.

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