Shortly after Taylor Swift released her music video for ‘Anti-Hero,’ the lead single from her new album ‘Midnights,’ she was slammed on social media for a visual that people considered fatphobic. In the scene, Swift’s two selves (the real her and her “anti-hero” persona) are both in the bathroom when her real selves are standing on a ladder. His “anti-hero” persona leans down to judge the number on the scale, but instead of numbers, a close-up reveals the word “FAT” – or he did. Earlier this week, Swift quietly removed this brief visual from the video on Apple Music and YouTube.
Showing the scale with “FAT” on it, Swift boldly demonstrated the damage the rhetoric of valuing thinness and demonizing larger bodies had done to her.
There are many offensive images and lyrics that artists post today that deserve to be pushed back, but this one wasn’t one of them.
I still remember when I found out that Swift had an eating disorder. It was early 2020 and I was watching her Netflix documentary “Miss Americana”. I was shocked when she explained how she had fallen so far down the rabbit hole of body dysmorphia – where what you see of yourself doesn’t match reality – she chose to starve herself.
Immediately, I burst into tears. How could this woman whose art got me through my own body image struggles, which felt unbreakable, become a victim of the same nasty, retrograde thought complex that I had had for several years? It didn’t seem real.
This same opening was present in the now-deleted scene from “Anti-Hero.” And not only was it about her personal experience, but it was also a commentary on the ridiculous standard of beauty that women of all generations are often held to.
When I saw that she took down the clip which I thought was brave, I couldn’t help but feel upset. Why did Swift once again let criticism control her actions? Didn’t she keep the review she was doing with that specific scene and the song and the music video together?
By pointing to the scale with “FAT” on it, Swift was boldly demonstrating the damage the rhetoric of valuing thinness and demonizing larger bodies had done to her. It’s not an easy thing to unlearn. I’m still unlearning it. Thousands of people of all genders still don’t learn it.
With the body positivity movement gaining traction, there has been progress in how women’s bodies in particular are viewed and discussed in the media and in everyday life. But cultural watchers have noted how that momentum could wane as “the re-emerging supremacy of thinness” comes back into the zeitgeist. Regardless of where society stands in its perception of bodies, Swift’s experiments should be respected.
The singer opened up about how much easier it is for her to manage and map her emotions through her art, primarily songwriting. “I’m not as articulate as I should be on this subject because there are so many people who could talk about it in a better way. But all I know is my own experience,” Swift told Variety in 2020.
And the thing is, the experiences she writes and sings about resonate with people and hold the power to make someone struggling confront current or past issues.
For example, on “Midnights,” Swift sings as candidly as ever about her eating disorder in the song “You’re on Your Own, Kid.” When I heard the line “I threw parties / And starved my body”, I couldn’t help but start crying remembering when I hurt my body the same way. way. Likewise, when Swift visually depicted the illogical process of body dysmorphia in the “Anti-Hero” scale scene, it validated how hard I still have weighing myself or even looking at myself in the mirror.
That’s not to say that I don’t understand how and why that moment in the video could have been triggering and insensitive. Using the word “fat” in a negative context can perpetuate the narrative that obesity is bad and can further stigmatize people with larger bodies. Swift may feel fat or perceive her body as bigger than it actually is, but that doesn’t mean she understands the complexities of the lived experience of being fat. While I don’t think she was trying to make that claim, that doesn’t mean people weren’t rightly hurt by it.
But the problem is not how people felt. This is Swift’s reaction. With this situation, she had the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about fatphobia and why she persists with fans and critics who may have misinterpreted her artistic direction. She could have heard what her detractors had to say instead of silently removing the clip. She also had the opportunity to further discuss her body image issues and explain her purpose with the scene. I’m sad that she chose not to take it, especially given her platform and impact.
Unfortunately, while Swift sings in her 2020 song “Peace,” she “never has the courage of her convictions.” It’s a frustrating reality to face as a fan of hers. And she knows it, as she also sings, “it must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero” in “Anti-Hero.” It is, Taylor, it really is.