Print&Features Editor Eleanor Bergin discusses the fatphobia debate surrounding Taylor Swift’s new music video
Despite receiving rave reviews for her new album, Taylor Swift’s music video for her self-deprecating single Anti-Hero has caused a lot of controversy across social media. The video has been altered across YouTube and Apple Music only days after its initial release. In the original version of the video, the singer stands on her bathroom scales and instead of seeing a number, she reads the word ‘fat’. This is whilst receiving a disapproving look from her alter-ego, played by herself. This modification of the music video, which has now removed the close-up of the scale, comes after many criticised Swift for promoting fatphobic messaging and perpetuating the idea that ‘fat’ is inherently bad.
The idea behind the song itself is that Taylor is expressing all of her deep-rooted insecurities, one of which includes anxieties surrounding body image and how she is perceived. Can we accuse Swift of being completely insensitive and missing the mark here? Or has this accusation forced Swift to limit her artistic expression and diminish her own experience of living with an eating disorder?
Fatphobia can be defined as ‘the implicit and explicit bias of overweight individuals that is rooted in a sense of blame and presumed moral failing’ and is often highly stigmatised. Body positivity blogger Shira Rosenbluth spoke out on her feelings towards the video and said that the clip “reiterated yet again that it’s everyone’s worst nightmare to look like us.” The tweet has gained over 40,000 likes, highlighting the apparent anger and disappointment many feel towards this explicit step-backwards by portraying fatness as something to fear. In this way, the anxiety of being called fat is the most obvious example of fatphobia. By equating fat with failure, Swift views this as the worst version of herself.
I often find that Taylor Swift, being the global icon that she is, is placed on a pedestal. As a result, perhaps we feel like she simply cannot be critiqued or knocked down. This is particularly over the course of the last few years with her ever growing popularity. Many fans have rushed to defend her since she has opened up about her disordered eating in the past. Of course, nobody is saying that she isn’t allowed to express her insecurities. Sharing how she deals and reacts to her own lived experience places her in a truly vulnerable position and is very admirable.
In fact, she has often expressed her struggles with body image, particularly in the 2020 Netflix documentary Miss Americana, in which she admitted that she would sometimes starve herself due to the constant public scrutiny she faced in the media. She felt that it was utterly ‘impossible’ to obtain the perfect body – a feeling I’m sure many of us have experienced ourselves. It is vital to have an open conversation about these issues in order to remove the stigma around eating disorders. However, on this occasion, I think it is clear to say that Swift hadn’t dealt with the sensitivities of such a difficult topic in the most thoughtful or empathetic way.
Perhaps this amount of backlash seems unfair as I’m confident that no offence was intended with this video. This is highlighted by the fact that the scene was promptly removed, showing her handling the controversy in a compassionate way. Indeed, when public figures with as much influence as Taylor Swift choose to speak out about an eating disorder, this can hopefully implement positive change and encourage a deeper understanding of such a hard-hitting subject. Yet, when she presents herself as fearing having a body that many people have, it not only denormalises, but also undermines so much of the progress made towards body positivity.
However, all the blame cannot rest on one person when problematic body culture images pervade the media. Instagram is constantly a place of comparison, especially the development in face-changing filters or influencers editing their bodies to an unachievable standard. As these images simply aren’t real, they only perpetuate these issues further and foreground the insecurities felt by many on social media. Striving for a better version of ourselves, in which we feel utterly comfortable in our own bodies may seem like an idealised, too good to be true vision. However, the first step towards this is creating a more inclusive, accepting space on social media. Crucially, a large role needs to be played by those with the most influence.
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