New public images are being drawn as Britney Spears and Kevin Federline battle for custody of sons Sean, 1, and Jayden, 3 months.
Both need to convey conflicting personas, says New York divorce lawyer Sheila Riesel. So, it's good parent vs. hip entertainer. USA TODAY looks at how the images are playing:
As soon as divorce papers were filed Nov. 7, Federline's hard-partying ways faded from the spotlight, replaced with steps that reflect a family man. Photos of Federline spending Thanksgiving with Shar Jackson, the mother of his two older children, Kori, 4, and Kaleb, 2, hit the Web. His camp released a Nov. 28 photo of Federline and lawyer Mark Kaplan having dinner together, including a press release noting Federline's dinner jacket (sans hip-hop chains and ubiquitous cigarette). This month, Federline hit Disneyland for a photo op with Kori.
Spears unveiled a slimmed down look on the Late Show With David Letterman hours before she filed divorce papers and followed up with ice skating in Manhattan. Ten days later, she surfaced in Las Vegas. Soon, photos of Spears partying on the West Coast in skin-baring outfits and without panties overshadowed pictures from her birthday outing to the zoo with Sean. Following an apologetic explanation on her website Dec. 7, she surfaced exhibiting some temperance (she wore panties). This week, Spears shifted to family outings: lunch with mom and a Lakers game with little sis Jamie Lynn (who was also in tow when Spears had a star tattooed on her hand.)
"Clothes really do make the man, and the change speaks volumes about how seriously he is taking this," says Amanda Sanders of New York Image Consultant. "I don't know if the public will necessarily buy it, but it does show that he's intelligent enough to follow the advice of others. Obviously, his original image wasn't working."
Her partying image has gone on too long, says Sanders, who believes a few hot nights with Paris Hilton would have been enough of a boost to Spears' youthful appeal. "She's become really frowned upon, and I don't think it's an act anymore. It's a complete change, and when it makes the cover of major newspapers, it has to have some kind of effect."
Potential legal impact
"He's trying to remake himself and influence the outcome of the case by presenting an image that is a substantial change from the life the two of them actually led," says Riesel. "My assumption is that she has an arsenal to dispute the legitimacy of this newfound Father Knows Best image."
Judges do read, says Riesel, and Spears' panty-free clubbing spree "could color an evaluation." But the singer "has got to be concerned about her career, and the impact the divorce can have on how the public views her. But we, as a society, have certain images of how a young woman and mother should behave. She's got a lot on the line here."
Aspiring rapper Federline is getting into the ring with World Wrestling Entertainment star John Cena in Miami on New Year's Eve.
Spears is planning to host a party (no performance) at Pure Nightclub in Las Vegas on New Year's Eve.