[Editor’s note: Taylor Swift removed the scene in question from her ‘Anti-Hero’ video on Apple Music after this essay was published.]
First things first: If you’ve never been fat, this isn’t your conversation to have. If you’ve never been fat, this is your time to listen. Period.
Taylor Swift released her much-anticipated new album, Midnights, last week. Along with the album, she released multiple music videos to visually accompany her new songs. And while the album is an instant fan-favorite, her music video for the song “Anti-Hero” has been making headlines for its anti-fat imagery. Many fans are expressing their disappointment in the perpetuation of fatphobia in one scene in particular.
In it, Swift is seen standing on a scale as the word “fat” appears in place of actual numbers while she sings. And it’s true that Taylor Swift has suffered from disordered eating, sharing her personal struggles with restriction and over-dieting in her Netflix documentary “Miss Americana.”
Before I go further, here’s the crux of this whole thing: We can have empathy for her struggles with disordered eating without excusing the lack of empathy shown for fat people (and her fat fans) in this video.
I “self-identify” as fat. I wasn’t always fat. In fact, I was an extremely scrawny child and didn’t even get boobs until my senior year of high school. I became fat due to having polycystic ovarian syndrome—an insulin-resistant condition—and my own lifelong battle with disordered eating.
Being fat doesn’t bother me, for the most part. Mostly because I know there is so much more to me than my body, and my weight is the least interesting thing about me. And partly because if having a societally-acceptable body size means starving or depriving myself, I’m not interested in doing that to my body or my mental health, and I’m absolutely not going to set that example for my two daughters.
Here’s what does bother me. When people who are thin express their fear of fatness. Their fear of looking like me. Like Taylor Swift did in this music video, like women do to other women every day because we’re all conditioned by society and the patriarchy to take up less space—physically and otherwise.
These microaggressions against fat people pop up in any number of ways, time and time again. When a thin acquaintance sighs and says, “I feel so fat today.” Or when my mother would lambast a pair of pants for making her look “hippy.” The same pants I was also wearing, in a size much larger than her own.
Or, when a millionaire music artist with one of the most massive fan bases in the world and a whole team of professionals dedicated to making her look good and keeping her scandal-free, decides to make her fat fans feel like crap by essentially saying “being fat is my biggest fear and I’ve struggled with it my whole life.”
I’m not calling her out for having that fear. I used to fear it, too. Assumably many women have feared fatness for some or all of their lives.
Thin people can, of course, feel insecure about their bodies. That’s not the problem. The problem isn’t even that she expressed this fear artistically. The problem is that, instead of addressing the toxicity of diet culture and how it impacted her—something all of her fans would find relatable and feel empathetic toward—she perpetuated the notion that THIN = GOOD.
Because what’s the first thing everyone says when someone who is thin complains of feeling or looking fat? “You are NOT fat.” (A vast majority of people still see “fat” as a “bad word,” too.)
And that’s the first thing anyone would say to Taylor to make her feel better about her fear of fatness, right? You bet it is. The opposite of fat, in Taylor’s artistic interpretation, is beautiful. Good. THIN. Whether she intended that to be the message or not is moot. The impact of that imagery has been keenly felt by her fat fans around the world, myself included.
After seeing that one-second image in that one single video, I no longer wanted to listen to any of the other songs on the album. And because of that, I’m alienated from the overall excitement and collective positive discourse surrounding the album. Because I’m not thin. While it’s certainly not the most pressing issue of my life, it doesn’t feel good.
And for what it’s worth, I’m not a Taylor Swift hater. In fact, most of my morning drop-offs and afternoon pick-ups with my kids involve the blasting of “1989” or “Red” from the speakers of my car as we all sing our favorite lyrics together.
I know writing about this makes me susceptible to Swifties and trolls who will insist on fat-splaining fatness to me and will somehow feel entitled to answer on Taylor’s behalf of what she “really meant” by the scale image. People will assume I can’t read and will feel compelled to tell me that she’s singing about being “the problem” anyway, so why am I so upset?
If you do this to me, that’s fine. I’m great at ignoring the void and am practically an expert at not engaging with the willfully ignorant. But please, I beg you, don’t do this to the fat people in your life. Don’t expect them to put forth the labor of something so emotionally heavy for the very small chance you will be able to empathize after hearing their feelings.
Thin people defending Taylor Swift, in this instance, is like an anti-fat bat signal and honestly…we don’t need to answer it.
She could have used that moment in “Anti-Hero” to highlight her struggles with her own eating disorder, but instead she chose to perpetuate anti-fatness and fatphobia. It showed us that “fat” is the worst thing she feels she could become.
If you can’t understand how hurtful and harmful that is, I can’t help you.