On the surface, Taylor Swift seems to have everything she could ever want. But, even celebrities have real life stories to tell, stories we can all relate to.
The book for this particular story is “Miss Americana,” a new documentary about Taylor Swift. The film premiered last week at Sundance Film Festival and is scheduled to air on Netflix on January 31st. In the film, the award-winning artist opens up for the first time about her struggles with body image and disordered eating. Her story is a sobering reminder of the negative influence of unsolicited comments on body image. Her story is also a reminder that none of us are alone – not even celebrities.
Many of us who have struggled with disordered eating can relate to Taylor Swift’s reflections on her relationship with food:
“My relationship with food was exactly the same psychology that I applied to everything else in my life: If I was given a pat on the head, I registered that as good. If I was given a punishment, I registered that as bad.”
Swift describes how she constantly internalized feelings of praise and punishment based on the feedback she received from others, in particular when it came to her relationship with food and her body. She speaks frankly about how comments from others about her body were enough to make her just “stop eating.” It wasn’t just criticism that drove her into disordered eating patterns. Sometimes it was compliments – the “pats on the head” as she puts it – that fueled her choices and mindset. Though her story is shocking, it’s also familiar. Perhaps you’ve experienced the same feelings, or know someone else who has.
As Taylor’s story reminds us, words hurt. Passing comments or seemingly innocuous compliments can be far more impactful than we think. We must be mindful of the comments we make, and how those comments might be internalized in a negative way.
But just as words can wound, words can heal. Taylor used the power of her words to share her story. Hopefully, her story will help those living with an eating disorder to feel a little less alone. She reopened an important conversation about how and why we talk about other people’s size and shape, and the pressures that come with living in a society where body-commentary happens all the time. She used her platform to be a role model for her fans, to tell us that it is, in fact, not normal to starve yourself or to feel exhausted all the time due to malnourishment. Through her story, Taylor Swift reminds us that we are not alone.
The funny thing about stories is: they build upon one another. Taylor’s story build upon those she has heard before, and no doubt gave her strength and courage to share her own voice. In fact, Swift made a point of highlighting Jameela Jamil for bringing voice to body image and eating disorder issues.
“The way she speaks about body image, it’s almost like she speaks in a hook. If you read her quotes about women and body image and aging and the way that women are treated in our industry and portrayed in the media, I swear the way she speaks is like lyrics, and it gets stuck in my head and it calms me down. Because women are held to such a ridiculous standard of beauty. We’re seeing so much on social media that makes us feel like we are less than, or we’re not what we should be, that you kind of need a mantra to repeat in your head when you start to have harmful or unhealthy thoughts. So she’s one of the people who, when I read what she says, it sticks with me and it helps me.”
Taylor’s courageous voice builds upon Jameela’s. Even our role models have role models. And inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places.
So, my question to you is: how are you sharing the power of your story? We don’t all have to be famous actresses or musicians to make a difference. Every story matters – and the ripple effect of your story might be felt many miles away, by someone you don’t even know.
If you have a story to share – a story of awareness, a story of strength, a story of struggle, a story of resiliency – I urge you to share it. Your voice and your words have the power to heal and to inspire. Who knows? Your words could be the mantra to light someone else’s hope.