Content Warnings: Eating Disorders, Fatphobia
As a Swiftie with a few years of being a Spotify top 1% listener under my belt, when hearing that Taylor’s music video ‘Anti-Hero’ was being labelled as fatphobic, my first reaction was confusion and denial. When the scale scene from the video was highlighted as “problematic,” my next step was to argue, “well, she has been open about her ED, and thus has a right to talk about it.” The music video has since been edited to exclude this scene, but I think it is still worth examining what it dredged up.
A large part of the conversation on this topic has not gone further than this step. Certainly, it is much more click worthy to have headlines such as “Taylor Swift Caves to Idiotic Mob”, or “Taylor Swift Forced to Minimise her Disordered Eating Because People Complained.” Fans love nothing more than the chance to prove their loyalty in defence of their icon, and people want nothing more than to rage and ‘cancel’ artists in the same breath that they complain about how ‘soft’ everyone is nowadays. So, the current conversation seems to stand on: Is Taylor Swift a heartless fatphobe or are her critics heartless hypocrites?
Unsurprisingly, and as with most things, this situation is not as black and white.
Fatphobia seeps into all aspects of every day in a way few other things do, and thus cannot always be recognised. From magazine covers needing to fight for the right to have a fat model on the cover, mid-size models acting as fat representation, doctors ignoring symptoms and the ever-false BMI, all the way to how first impressions work. As a celebrity, it is not surprising that Taylor felt this scrutiny and pressure so intensely. At the same time, as a celebrity, that scrutiny also means having to think about every piece you publish and realising what your platform is being used to promote.
In the past, Taylor Swift has opened up about her struggles with body dysmorphia. She has been plagued by headlines that both criticised her friend groups for being too “model-like” and too “skinny,” and then body-shamed her during her Reputation tour. She has lived in a dichotomy of being body shamed and internalising that experience while remaining to fit under the umbrella of the accepted beauty standard.
So, we have a thin woman who has been criticised for her body which instilled a perception of herself as fat, followed by fear of that lived experience. On the other hand, we have people for whom it is a lived experience every single day. Both of these are true, and both of these are valid. The music video showed Taylor addressing her biggest fears and problems with herself by stepping on a scale that describes her as “fat”. When this is a true, factual description of yourself, it is hard to take it in stride knowing your icon’s biggest fear is looking like you. Nor is an additional reminder that being fat is considered undesirable necessary.
So it is not so much a question of, “Is Taylor Swift fatphobic?” but “How do we address topics around fatphobia?” A scale alone is emblematic enough and can causes anxiety to many who struggle.
One alternative that could have been done (which I saw in a comment under Allyssa Ablon’s TikToks on this subject that I recommend you give a watch) is the scale reading “never enough,” which highlights the real issue Taylor is having, and the truth behind fatphobia and diet culture. It is not so much about a healthy body as arguments would have you believe, but the historical and systematic fatphobia in play, and the need to break apart women in every aspect for their self-worth and role in consumerism.
The fact that this conversation got turned into a simple drama over oversensitivity is disheartening. The fact it is being labeled as ‘censorship’ when the conversation about how to discuss fatphobia is being censored for the sake of sensitivity in itself is ironic.
You can have internalised homophobia and still be harmfully homophobic. You can have an ED and still harm others with your discussion of fatphobia, particularly when you are a thin woman addressing these concerns in front of people for whom it is a real experience. In framing her fear as simply being “fat”, nothing was being done to challenge this discourse (even if her ‘evil’ side is shown encouraging it).
Part of ED recovery is unlearning societal and internalised fatphobia, which was only presented as existing and truthful in this video. Unfortunately, as a celebrity, by sharing your “internalised” struggles, they become externalised and up for the whole world to discuss, as well as a frame of reference for people to use as a widely accepted discourse. This has been shown by the discussion surrounding this video, as people argue “Well, it is only rational to not want to be fat. What is the problem?”
As someone who has not lived under this oppression, I cannot pretend to have all the answers, or be the best person to address this issue. However, it does more of a disservice to the concept that Taylor Swift went astray in addressing to either sweep it under the rug, or shut it down from being addressed at all.