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On Taylor Swift's Scalegate
Everyone thinks Taylor's problematic, and she agrees.
In her new music video for “Anti-Hero,” Regular Taylor Swift steps onto a scale that reads “FAT” as Bad Girl Smoky Eye Taylor Swift looks on disapprovingly.
Some people called for blood. The Swifties armed their defense. Same as it ever was.
A few things. Lambasting this scene for being fatphobic, as if to suggest that Taylor’s fatphobia is a big bad secret she’s been hiding until now, exemplifies how “fatphobic” has become a gotcha—good people aren’t, bad people are, and if you are, to the bowels of hell you go.
Once again, fat activist Marylin Wann in “The Fat Studies Reader”:
“Every person who lives in a fat-hating culture inevitably absorbs anti-fat beliefs, assumptions, and stereotypes, and also inevitably comes to occupy a position in relation to power arrangements that are based on weight. None of us can ever hope to be completely free of such training or completely disentangled from the power grid.”
Everyone in American society harbors a degree of fatphobia. The question is what you do with it or about it once you understand you have it—is it malicious and something you weaponize against yourself and others, or do you recognize it as inevitable, investigate it, and try to mitigate its potential harms?
I take the point that Taylor might have used a different word to convey her message. Considering her history with disordered eating (clearly what the scene is about), I think “wrong” could have worked—in that headspace there is no weight or body size that is “right.” But she used the word “fat” because that’s actually how she saw herself, even if we find that offensive, off-putting, or cringe. Authentic creative expression is often ugly. Tove Lo’s song “Grapefruit,” which pissed off no one, has lyrics like, “Counting all the calories / three, four, lose more / I don’t like my measurements.” It’s about fear of calories, weight gain, body fat—we all know what she’s talking about. Why is it only explosively offensive when that fear is represented by a word on a scale?
People are willfully ignoring the scale scene’s inherent context (Taylor is an American millennial celebrity woman whose body has been privy to public scrutiny since she was 15) and history (her disordered eating and body dysmorphia, which is not an excuse for her mindset, but is a factor). My read is that she’s recognizing her fatphobia as inevitable and investigating it, and people are upset she didn’t go far enough to mitigate the potential harmful optics of that investigation. But I don’t believe the people who are angry would have been satisfied by any word on that scale or Taylor’s take on this topic at all, because Taylor’s not fat. I think a lot of people just plain don’t like it when people whose bodies hover around the top of the hierarchy of social acceptability speak on bodily insecurity and shame.
As someone who did live in a fat body from around age 13 to 23, I find it unreasonable to go scorched-earth on not-fat people who admit they’ve felt bad about “feeling fat” or for being told they were fat. This doesn’t necessarily indicate they’re a fat-hating bigot. It indicates their lived experience in a society that cultivates and perpetuates anti-fatness and makes little girls start hating their bodies when they’re 8 years old. This reality is why the fat acceptance and liberation movements exist, after all.
I believe the scene is an admission that Taylor too is a product of an anti-fat society, that she is problematic—the lyrics are literally, “I’m the problem,” the song is called “Anti-Hero,” the “bad” Taylor is the disapproving-of-fatness one—for fearing fatness.
Anyway, the real thorn in my side in this discourse is this tweet:
Shira is an eating disorder therapist and clinical social worker. Critiquing a mega-celebrity is not the same as engaging with a client in a health care setting, but when a therapist takes to the internet to criticize a not-fat person for how they express body image struggles and to make those struggles about themselves and their body, it calls into question how that therapist would provide compassionate care to a not-fat patient who has fatphobic beliefs, as we all do.
I would not want to feel I had to do body image thoughts “correctly” in eating disorder recovery. I would not want a therapist to center their preoccupation with whether I want to look like them in considerations about my health. [Also: We do not have to want to look like someone to recognize their humanity and treat them with respect.] I would not want to feel I have to be a perfect, non-problematic patient to get quality care.
Honestly? I mostly think everyone—including me, including very online health care professionals—needs to get the hell off the internet for a while. The problem is us.
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