Like millions of others, I eagerly awaited the release of “Midnights“, Taylor Swift’s latest album. Although I have always loved Taylor’s music, my obsession only really took off with “Folklore” and “Still», his two albums of 2020.
In fact, I combined the two into a playlist I called Everlore. I pre-ordered “Midnights” on vinyl then a lavender version was pre-released at Target and I mean purple is my favorite color and my recently purchased Victrola turntable is lavender so yeah I might have ordered that one too . (Apologies to my husband Thomas for finding out about it this way.)
We’re currently on a big road trip, so I probably won’t listen to it until I get home, but I had to watch the video for the song”Anti-hero” on my phone this morning as soon as I woke up. And I especially loved it! (Taylor bleeds purple glitter pen ink, and I’m here for it.)
As I suspect many of us will, I bonded deeply with these lyrics. “Midnights become my afternoons when my depression works the graveyard shift” just as an example should be my next tattoo. (I won’t, but I deeply feel ― and live ― those words sometimes.)
There is a deep sense of self-loathing and self-doubt in the lyrics of this song. I love that Swift wrote about those feelings, that she’s willing to let people see that you can have what looks like anything you could want, and still feel the insidious whispers of depression.
Depression is not a measure of a happy and fulfilling life. You can have both. You can’t have either. The more people on major platforms talk openly about their mental health issues, the less stigma there will be and the more people will be willing to talk about their own issues and hopefully seek help for them.
Swift has spoken in the past about her body image issues, so it’s no surprise that it shines through in these lyrics, where she sings “I’ll look directly at the sun, but never in the mirror.” Again, I expect this will resonate too well with many of his fans.
Sadly, this is where we take a detour from my love of the music video, because at one point Swift’s “Anti-Hero” version, which clearly represents her worst inner critic, has her step on a bathroom scale. When the real Taylor looks down, the scale reads “FAT.”
Sigh. The worst part of it all is that the moment she hit that scale, I knew it. Before the word appeared, I felt it coming into the pit of what was left of my stomach that I had partially amputated surgically just to make it easier to get an MRI. Because fatphobia is pervasive in our culture.
Taylor Swift is not and never has been fat. In fact, some of the negative criticism she faced regarding body image was about being “too skinny.” Swift admitted it bothered her, but she also opened up about how she saw comments speculating about her pregnancy and how those comments stopped her from eating.
But “fat” isn’t a dirty word (to be clear, neither is skinny). It’s a descriptive word that society has turned into an insult. It took me a long time (therapy, time, support from other fat activists) to be able to use “fat” to describe my body in a neutral way, and I would be lying if I said there is never a day when it doesn’t work it still doesn’t come to mind in exactly the same way as this video means.
The obvious difference is that, unlike Taylor, I’m not just fat; I’m often the fattest person we know. I am “surgras“, and it comes with a lot of luggage that I haven’t packed, but still have to carry. Someone who looks like Taylor will never understand what it’s like to be fat. They may “feel fat,” because our culture has turned body size into feelings, and because even thin women are hurt by our society’s insidious and painful messages about the body, but it’s not the same thing to be fat. There are millions of lived experiences erased by this message, including mine, and it sucks.
There are so many other words this scale could have displayed that would have better conveyed the feelings Swift felt related to body image, not to mention fat — or for that matter, thin. Because to be clear, I wouldn’t support that scale saying “too skinny” either. (But it’s not, and there’s a reason why “fat” is what his brain tells him is the worst word here.)
Alternative words this scale could have displayed: Unworthy. Unlovable. Hated. Terrible. Wrong. This list could go on and on. The point then would be that the scale cannot measure your worth, but if you let it, it will lie to you about your worth. For her millions of fans, I wish it had been a message like, “Your height isn’t what matters.”
Instead, we see a thin woman being told she’s fat by the scale, which sends the dangerous message that even thin people (especially women and women) actually aren’t. quite thin. As I write this from a fat person’s perspective, I want to be clear that this post is harmful to thin people as well. It’s not a maybe, not in a video that already has 16 million views and 1.4 million likes in less than two days.
I’m not trying to “cancel” Taylor Swift. On the contrary, I am very sad that with all his success and talent, weight gain is still one of his worst fears. But it’s not hard for me to understand.
She was only 15 when she became famous. (At age 15, I was hospitalized for my eating disorder for seven weeks.) She literally lived more than half her life, starting as a young, impressionable teenager in the spotlight. She grew up in an industry where she’s blessed to still have the great career she does, especially as a woman, because so many young artists don’t maintain that level of success for that long.
I’m not sure there is anyone who can live (let alone grow) in their world without absorbing these messages on a deep level. Getting fat could literally end your career – because that’s how insidious fatphobia is in the world at large, forget the entertainment industry. Let that sink in for a moment.
However, that’s exactly why I would love nothing more than Taylor to change that scene in the video. Edit it or change the word. Either works. There’s a responsibility that comes with a platform of its size, and given how many of its fans are young, sometimes second-generation Swifties, it really is something that could have a powerful and positive impact. But as it stands, it’s deeply negative, especially for her big fans of all ages. It also allows her industry to perpetuate the very attitudes that made her feel that way.
When Lizzo was recently called for using a word in her lyrics that is an insult to many disabled fans, she changed the lyrics. Beyonce used that same word, and also changed. It was amazing to see. These two bright and talented women listened to fans and didn’t just respond. They acted.
Given that most people view obesity as a choice, I don’t expect much outrage, if any, over this moment in the video, at least outside of the big activism community who tried to start a dialogue on this scene. But if it did…well, it would send a very powerful message to millions of people.
I don’t want anyone with erectile dysfunction, but fat people have eating disorders too, including anorexia. We are already struggling to get treatment for these life-threatening conditions – our cries for help are inaudible, lost in the clamor of voices screaming how sick our fat itself is. We’re celebrated for losing weight, even if we’re — as Taylor put it — actually starving ourselves, skipping meals, or engaging in other harmful behaviors. We are supposed to try to be thin, at all costs… even if it kills us little by little, the even though it kills our thin counterparts. That’s why it’s so important.
I won’t be awake at midnight obsessing over or expecting this scene to be edited or deleted… but I will always dream that it might happen.
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