Pop phenomenon Britney Spears' bizarre stop at a salon to cut her own hair off, following reports she left a rehab center after just one day, are signs she may be having trouble reconciling her superstar persona and her own damaged self-image, two experts tell TODAY.
"I think we really should be concerned because this is an extreme, impulsive action that she took," psychotherapist Robin Ludwig told TODAY host Meredith Vieira during an interview Monday. "She's basically saying to the world, 'I want everybody to see how I really feel. I don't want to cover it up and identify myself with this Hollywood, glitzy side. This is how I'm feeling on the inside — damaged and sick.' "
Spears, 25, shocked the owner of Esther’s Haircutting Studio in Los Angeles on Friday night by grabbing shears and shaving her own head. Esther Tognozzi said she refused to help Spears, telling reporters she feared being sued if she were to help the clearly troubled singer ruin her public image.
"If it is a cry for help, and some people believe it is, why shave her head?" Vieira asked another guest, psychiatrist and talk-show host Dr. Keith Ablow. "There are a lot of ways you can announce to the world, 'I need help.' "
"There are a lot of ways," Ablow agreed. "We just saw the death of one icon in America, Anna Nicole [Smith]. I think it is not lost on any of us that we tend to consume these celebrities until there is nothing left of them ... This feels to be like a deconstruction, rather than a re-invention — meaning a sort of falling out of one's self-image."
Spears, who burst on the pop music world in 1999, has been in and out of the news in recent years for erratic behavior, including a 55-hour marriage to a childhood friend that was annulled, and her pending divorce from Kevin Federline, the father of her two children. Her representatives have denied reports that Spears left a Caribbean rehab center, but the beauty salon episode on Friday continues to fuel fears that she's close to a nervous breakdown.
Ludwig speculated that Spears is looking for herself in the midst of her widely watched divorce proceedings and is having difficulty with relationships with controlling men in her life — whoever they may be. "I think she's basically saying, 'I can't protect myself anymore. Let's see who really likes me for me," Ludwig said. "And maybe she's trying to say, 'Maybe I need to stay away from men a little while, and maybe being bald will help me do that.' "
Spears, who reportedly became teary-eyed when she realized that her mother probably would not approve of her new look, may feel alone despite being adored by millions and being surrounded by the large supporting cast that accompanies stardom. Ablow believes she needs her family now more than ever, and shaving her hair off and getting two small tattoos may be a sign she feels she cannot relate directly to loved ones.
"My concern is: What's next? This is a very graphic symbol, inscribing your wrist and shaving your head," Ablow said. "At the end, there's a very human footnote in this. She asks for her mom ... The question is: Who is there for her? Who loves her? Who can be a sort of source of nurturing at this point?"
"She needs something, obviously," Vieira agreed.
— John Springer, contributor for TODAY