By now it’s old news that Taylor Swift’s video for the song Anti-Hero contained the word “fat” in a derogatory way. Or at least the fat liberation world (me included) felt it was derogatory. I want to explain why, and why it’s okay to criticize this.
I had an instant ick moment the minute the scene flashed by. At this point I was just watching the video and I had not heard of any controversy. I sighed and turned off the video. I was done being reminded that fat bodies are everyone’s worst nightmare for the day.
The next day I saw this brilliant article. Yes! Someone else saw that “fat” on the scale! I wasn’t the only one who felt deflated after seeing it!
I posted the article to Facebook. Many of the comments were in agreement – there was a better way to illustrate how Taylor thought about herself and her body without throwing fat people under the bus.
Being fat is many people’s reality. We now know that without a doubt, body size is not a choice and not permanently alterable for the majority of people.
But as expected, not everyone agreed with this point of view. Some folks were upset that someone was criticizing Taylor’s efforts at an autobiographical song. These folks felt that because the song was personal, it was beyond criticism.
Except once you write, record and release a song for sale, it’s no longer personal. It’s commerce. And it’s okay to criticize art and anything else for sale. So, like others already have, I’m going to criticize this tiny little part of a video because I feel it upholds harmful ideas about body size in a very obvious way. (just as people have every right to criticize what I am saying here)
I know that many people with eating disorders see themselves as “fat” even when they aren’t. And in treatment, I want people to speak freely in the words that are theirs, without worrying about hurting my feelings.
But when working with my clients in treatment for their eating disorders and disordered eating, I also have the chance to go deeper with people. To explore what “fat” actually means to them, to deconstruct fat-as-bad, to get someone to name the real feelings they are really experiencing (fear of rejection, humiliation, shame, etc.) and to discuss the very real problem of weight stigma and discrimination. And it’s not public.
The video (in its original form) for “Anti-Hero” isn’t therapy and doesn’t allow for any of that exploration. We’re just quickly told that being fat is Taylor’s worst nightmare. We get why, because weight stigma is real.
But many of Taylor’s fans are fat and will be informed that their bodies are the nightmare. Was that the intention of this scene? Probably not.
(Ironically the song itself has no mention of weight fears although her history of having an eating disorder is well-known.)
And then…the video was changed (at least in one place so far). Based on one Twitter thread and one Facebook post I saw, many people are very angry about this. Sometimes change makes people unhappy.
I don’t know if she should have changed it. I don’t think we should go back and erase all the stuff that we’ve moved on from as a culture. We need to see where we’ve come from. I appreciate the ability to critique and discuss why it’s shitty to fat people because my interest is in changing the culture. And we can critique artists and institutions when we feel they’ve done something to uphold ideas that continue to hurt many people.
And she didn’t have to change it – she’d still be just as popular if she hadn’t. That was completely her (or her team’s) choice based on the goal of the video (marketing and promotion vs art). Whether she did or didn’t is beside the point.
The bigger point is that we need to change the culture so we stop seeing fat bodies as the worst thing someone can be, and we do that through critique and speaking out.
Cultural mores do change over time, sometimes because people rattle cages and then others change how they think as a result. Many fat people are tired of being the punchline at best and discriminated against at worst, and we’re speaking up. Everyone has the right to criticize and those criticized have the right to respond however they want to. That’s how a free society works.
We are also still allowed to like Taylor Swift even if we feel she’s made a mistake. And I still do!
You may enjoy this TikTok which articulates both sides so well. I’m with the “girl-with-laptop” on this one. Were we supposed to feel uncomfortable?
Welcome to food freedom! Dare to Not Diet LLC is owned by Glenys Oyston, Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Therapist and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. It's time to feel good about eating, your body, and your health.