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Taylor might be the anti-hero, but fat people will always be the villain

I’m a Swiftie. I have been a Swiftie since I was fourteen years old and I was dramatically staring out of my bedroom window, pining for a boy with Teardrops On My Guitar as my soundtrack of choice. These past couple of years I have been more into Taylor’s music than ever, so I was beyond excited for the release of her new album.

Ah, of course

When Taylor Swift’s tenth album Midnights came out on the 21st of October, I had been counting down the days. I woke up early to listen to it and immediately crowned Anti-Hero my favourite song. Luckily for me (or so I thought) she would also be releasing the music video for Anti-Hero that same day. I love Taylor’s videos and this song immediately struck a chord with me, so I couldn’t wait to see this one. 2 minutes and 3 seconds into the video, though, my excitement turned into disappointment and sadness.

In the video, there’s a scene where Taylor steps on a scale that immediately shows the word ‘FAT’. While she guiltily stares at the message another, meaner version of her looks at her judgingly. My stomach dropped. Ah yes, I thought. Of course. It was a feeling I knew all too well. Another unambiguous reminder that, to thin people, looking like me is the worst thing that could possibly happen to them. I immediately googled if other people felt the same way, but seeing as the video had only been out a couple of minutes, I couldn’t find anything. And so I started telling myself that I was overreacting. That I had probably become too sensitive to these things. Still, I felt sad and wondered, was this really necessary?

Nightmare scenarios

Eventually I did see fat content creators of colour address the video, so I was relieved to see that I wasn’t the only one who felt triggered by this. But I also saw other posts pop up. Many people clearly didn’t appreciate the criticism. @fatfabfeminist, one of the fat activists who started this conversation, says she received thousands of hateful messages. I even saw people on my own social media who are usually the first ones to preach empathy and inclusion call the people who took offence to this video selfish trolls who are trying to make everything about them.

The video has been out for about a week now, and it’s not even about that scene for me anymore. It’s about the shocking amount of abusive comments directed at fat people. A thin white woman who has never had the experience of living in a fat body, confidently and specifically uses the word ‘fat’ in a scene where she shows the audience her (her own words) ‘nightmare scenarios and intrusive thoughts’, yet people who actually are fat are the villains in this story because they’re genuinely upset about this?

I don’t want to read between the lines

Many people who defended this video claim that we need to ‘read between the lines’. We need to trust that Taylor didn’t mean it that way. They say that she merely wanted to address society’s fucked up beauty standards, the upsetting comments that she has received over the years and her own issues with eating disorders and body image. While that might be true, I didn’t see the scale scene as criticism of fatphobia. Not at all.

What I saw was someone who was referring to a time where she was convinced that she was (too) fat and how miserable this made her. She may have since realised that she’s not actually fat, but that doesn’t mean she has also learnt that there is nothing wrong with being fat in the first place. Maybe she has, but that’s not what I got from this video. I saw the word fat, once again, be used in a negative way. As something upsetting that must be avoided. And that begs the question: How are fat people -to whom the idea of stepping on a scale and being met with disapproving looks is not just an intrusive thought but something they have experienced more times than they can count- supposed to feel about this?

Maybe we shouldn’t?

Taylor Swift is, in my opinion, probably the best songwriter in the world. She’s a lyrical genius. Which is why it baffles me that she nor anyone on her team thought hey, maybe this is sending the wrong message? She could have used a million different words that would have conveyed the same message without hurting fat people in the process. In fact, a couple of days ago the close-up of the scale was removed from the video, and it doesn’t change the meaning at all. Everybody happy, right? Wrong. Many fans don’t agree with this decision and feel that Taylor is being bullied and censored.

Taylor’s experiences are absolutely valid and I applaud her for showing them in her art. My issue is simply with the way the word ‘fat’ is being used by a person who is not, and never has been, even remotely fat. All I know is that if I would have watched this video as a teenager, my main takeaway would have been: ‘If someone as thin as Taylor Swift is so scared of being fat, what does that say about me?’ I would have seen it as yet another reminder that there was something seriously wrong with me.

I’m in a great place right now. My relationship with my body has never been better. I haven’t had those thoughts in years. I was still triggered by the video. So I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that it might have been upsetting for many of her (young) fans.

Fat people’s pain does not matter

Although I’m not surprised, it’s disappointing to see so many people, including people who I have followed for a while, not take fat people’s feelings seriously and even attack them. It shows that fat people’s pain and lived experiences still don’t matter.

We always need to understand that ‘it was not meant that way’. We need to have empathy for other people’s personal struggles and ignore the fact that the things they’re saying are also directly harming us. We have to be okay with there still barely being any fat characters on television. We have to be okay with fat characters either being the daft sidekick or the villain. We have to be okay with music videos being praised for their inclusivity when there’s no one bigger than a size 8 in sight. We have to be okay with constantly being reminded that we are thin people’s worst nightmare.

If we dare to be upset by this we’re the bad guys again, because then we’re selfish, too sensitive or not sensitive enough, and we’re making thin people’s experiences about us. So what exactly do fat people need to do to be heard? I don’t think any of the fat people who spoke up about this wanted to make Taylor Swift’s video about their bodies. I did not want this video to make me think about my body either, but here we are.

Repeat after me: fat is not a feeling

Several of the posts I saw in defence of the video blamed fat people for not validating Taylor’s history with eating disorders. Eating disorders, they said, are a mental illness and not a body type. I couldn’t agree more. But fat is a body type. A body type that is being discriminated against every single day.

Of course you can suffer from body dysmorphia at any size. I’m not trying to minimise the devastating effects this can have on someone’s physical and mental health, but I really wish people would understand that this is different from actually experiencing life in a fat body.

Fat is not a feeling. You’re either fat or you’re not. When you’re not, your size does not make life more difficult for you. Your size is not a reason for people to treat you differently. You don’t get reminded every day that the world is not built for your size. You don’t hear people share tips and tricks on how to avoid ever being your size. You don’t see people literally destroy their bodies because the idea of looking like you disgusts them so much.

We exist. How infuriating.

I’ve lost count of how many times I have tried to share my experiences with people and they brushed me off by saying something like ‘Oh well, we all have our insecurities’ or ‘Don’t worry about it, people will always have something to say.’ Okay, but they sure have got a lot more to say when you exist in a fat body.

A couple of weeks ago Lizzo announced her European tour. Newspapers posted about this on social media, and in the blink of an eye there were thousands and thousands of comments. Not about her going on tour, not about her music, but about her body. Every single comment was absolutely vile. The news of Lizzo’s new tour had nothing to do with her body, yet no matter what this woman does or doesn’t do, everything will always be about her body, just because she has the nerve to live her life in a fat one. But we’re the ones who are making everything about our bodies? Right.

I’m still a Swiftie. I’m also pissed off.

I obviously don’t think that Taylor Swift is a bad person or that she meant to hurt anyone. I think she’s a person who grew up in a fatphobic society, just like the rest of us. I by no means think that Taylor should get hate for this, but I don’t think people should get hate for expressing their disappointment either. Being a fan of someone does not mean excusing everything they do without listening to anyone else’s feelings.

I understand that everyone struggles with diet culture and beauty standards and that we all need to unlearn this, but I’m sick and tired of it always being at the expense of fat people. To us, being fat is not a nightmare scenario or an intrusive thought. It’s our lives. And it’s high time they get respected.

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