Taylor Swift’s music video, fatphobia, and the power of story
Let’s dive into the controversy around a brief moment in one of Swift’s latest music videos.
This week was quite an interesting one for Swiftie fans. Upon the release of her much anticipated 10th album Midnights, in her traditional fashion, Taylor Swift also released a secret set of bonus tracks in her 3am Edition as well as a set of new music videos for some of her catchier songs. One of them for the song “Anti-Hero.”
The song is snappy, including bops similar to Swift’s 1989 album era, with lyrics that instantly get stuck in your head for days on end. “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me,” has been running through my brain persistently for the last week.
Along with the catchy beats, when talking about her third track during an album promo on her Instagram, Swift mentioned how this song is one of the most honest that she’s ever written.
“I don’t think I’ve ever delved this far into my insecurities, in this detail before,” she said. “This song really is a guided tour through all the things I hate about myself. We all hate things about ourselves.”
In her music video for “Anti-Hero,” we see that play out in real-time. We see Taylor as an oversized human at a party, a symbol of how she sometimes “doesn’t feel like a person” and feels “bigger” than she can handle. You see her chased around by ghosts in her house, an homage to her lyric “when my depression works the graveyard shift, all of the people I've ghosted stand there in the room.”
Then, there’s the part where she gets on the scale—and people, of course, had something to say about it.
It’s at the two-minute mark when Swift sings “I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror,” a hint that we have insecurities when we face our physical beings. Swift steps on the scale as an alter ego of herself watches on, criticizing her for whatever the results are.
Now originally in the music video, the shot panned to her feet on the scale, and showed big bold letters that said ‘FAT.’
So…this is where things got sticky. Let’s dive into both sides of the story.
Reclaiming the word “fat” and calling out fatphobia
Quite a few people had a hard time with this particular call out in the music video due to the nature of what being fat means, saying that this moment ended up being fatphobic.
If you’re not familiar, fatphobia does not mean that you are scared of fat, but that you are creating a bias against overweight people, rooted in the belief that if you are fat, you are to blame and you a moral failure.
Because Swift’s alter ego looks at the scale disapprovingly and shakes her head, it does put “fat” in a negative light. It’s also particularly interesting because clearly, as you see, Swift doesn’t struggle with obesity.
So of course, the entire moment created some heated discussion online, resulting in that particular moment of the music video being deleted. You no longer see it on Apple Music as well as YouTube.
Now, I completely understand that we are trying to reframe the language around being fat and fatphobia. Of course, we don’t want to look at overweight people in a negative light—there are so many factors out of our control when it comes to our weight. Genetics, disease, environment, all of these things come into play. But I do think it’s important that we also look at Swift’s side of the story, and why it’s an important one for her to tell.
Swift was being honest about a story we all struggle with
Think about how insecure you were at 15. It’s likely the peak of your insecurity — rolling off those middle school years, maybe still with braces on, but your body is still developing and changing and people are starting to notice. You have curves in places you didn’t. Your clothes have changed to now fit your new body. It’s such an awkward time in your life.
Now imagine having every single facet of yourself scrutinized by mainstream media…and imagine it never stops. That’s the life Taylor Swift has led. She’s an incredible artist and a talented poet; her songs have resonated with millions of people around the world. And yet, we downplay her incredible craft by scrutinizing her body as we do with everyone else. Maybe in a way to make us feel better? To compare ourselves to her? To make us feel a little more successful next to all of her worldwide success?
Maybe you’re reading this and you think “no, I love Taylor, I would die for her,” but admit it…you’ve likely done it to someone else. Maybe a different celebrity, maybe someone in your school growing up, but we all play the comparison game. As Swift said, we all have things we hate about ourselves; typically we hide them by pointing out all of the things that are wrong with others to make ourselves feel better.
Unfortunately, we grew up in a world where being “fat” was bad—or sometimes in Swift’s case, it meant she was pregnant (just look it up, it’s awful). Even if we don’t want to admit it, we’ve all struggled with fatphobia in some way, thinking that if we carry a bit of weight on us we feel the blame is on us, that we are morally not good people, and it’s entirely our fault.
In her 2020 documentary Miss Americana, Swift shares her story about dealing with an eating disorder. I almost cried when I listened to her explaining how she would go on stage feeling exhausted after a show, and soon realizing that she could actually eat food that would energize her and give her body the nourishment it needs to perform well. I think about other celebrities who have really struggled with this, like Demi Lovato. Both of these women are incredible artists, and having their art is such a blessing to all of us. Yet these ideas that the world has perpetrated about ideal body types and this fear around being fat have caused such harm in their lives, and it’s devastating.
We know this — that’s why we’re all here for this newsletter.
Why it’s important to tell our stories
I think Swift was brave in telling her story. She’s such a well-known, successful artist, and to share such vulnerability with your audience is a massive deal. She let us in on a part of her life that she struggles with—an alter ego whispering in her ear telling her she’s not good enough, not beautiful enough, not smart enough, not successful enough, not fun enough. It was heartbreaking to watch, but also telling. Her story is mine. I struggle with these things constantly. And I know I’m not the only one.
This is why it’s important to share stories. When we share stories we connect with others. We reflect on our own experiences. We learn and grow. And, I think most importantly, we don’t let these insecurities have power over us. When we address them and bring them forth, they lose their power. Writing this newsletter, talking with my friends and family, researching nutrition science, all of these things help to give less power to the insecurities I have. They bring reality and compassion to my story. And art like Swift’s “Anti-Hero” are beautiful reminders that I’m not in this alone, that everyone—even an international pop star—is going through the same things that I am.
No, I do not promote fatphobia, that is not what I’m getting at. But I am saying that when we share our stories and experiences, it doesn’t give them the power anymore. It brings us all to a closer understanding of the world and ourselves.