Margaret Valenti writes about how Taylor Swift’s new documentary reveals her struggles with an eating disorder and the role the media, fashion, and entertainment industries played in her “sickness”.
In a new documentary, Miss Americana, which premiered on Netflix on January 31st, 2020, Taylor Swift talks openly about having an eating disorder. Swift takes aim at the Hollywood industry media and the world of fashion and entertainment for allowing her, at age eighteen, to feel as if she was too large. It all started when a magazine published a headline that read “Pregnant at 18?” simply because the dress she wore made her “lower stomach not look flat”. Swift, who was just starting her career in music, took the comments to heart, and not only did she begin a rigorous workout routine, she also stopped eating.
When people would ask her about her weight, or overall body image, she would deny the allegations that she was not eating, simply attributing her slim figure to her exercise routine. The fashion industry reinforced her need to be slim when stylists would tell her “[Swift paraphrasing] this is so amazing that you can fit into the sample sizes. Usually, we must make alterations to the dresses, but we can take them right off the runway and put them on you”. Swift developed a “praise and punishment” complex for how she dealt with her relationship with food on a day to day basis. Now, Swift is in a better space, telling herself that she would rather be “fat” than be “sick”, as she was before.
The problems with the media and the fashion and entertainment industries’ portrayal of women and what beauty is, continues to be a conversation as it has been for years. No matter how many times the world puts them “on blast”, they still fall short in many ways, not only in their portrayal of diversity but their reinforcement of the rigid figures that women must adhere to. In the 21st century, most of the women seen on magazine covers that are not well-known celebrities are a combination of faces put together to produce “perfection”.
Taylor Swift is not the only one to take on the fashion and entertainment industries for their portrayal of women. As a British actor on The Good Place, writer, model, radio presenter, and activist Jameela Jamil tackles problematic portrayals of women and fights stereotypes that encourage certain body types and appearances from women. She also struggled with an eating disorder throughout her life and now her @i_weigh community Instagram account promotes body positivity and diversity of voice without shame. Jamil and Swift are certainly not the only people calling out the ridiculous stereotypes perpetuated by the media, fashion, and entertainment industries, but they are two of the most outspoken and well-known in recent history.
While brands such as Aerie try to include a more diverse spectrum of models and body types, the representation is still not where it should be for the thirty million people in the U.S. who suffer from some form of eating disorder. These disorders usually stem from varying degrees of body dysmorphia, where one cannot stop seeing defects in their own body. Negative stereotypes reinforce body dysmorphia, and people look or behave a certain way, or want to; then when, or if, they fail, people see themselves in a negative light. It happens to everyone connected to media in the 21st century.
Eating disorders are on the rise, and their prominence is only growing. Estimates say that every sixty-two minutes, someone in the U.S. dies from an eating disorder. They have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and yet there only seems to be a growing amount of media encouraging certain unhealthy body types and little to counteract the negative effects, despite a multitude of efforts. It is those who reinforce those stereotypes — those who encourage people to achieve a certain body type that is unhealthy — that need to correct their behavior. Eating disorders need to become a talked about issue.
It is in every ad people see on TV, every billboard, every poster, in the way people communicate with each other, or every actor or model forced to achieve a certain body type to be who they want to become. Of course, there are those who overcome this way of thinking and build their bodies to be exactly the way they want them, what makes them the happiest. That is the type of behavior that the media, fashion, and entertainment industries need to encourage; “be what makes you happy, unless you’re hurting people”.
There should be clothing options that accommodate every body type. While a diversity of body types enters the mainstream of actors and models, more still needs to happen if there is ever going to be a way to combat the way thirty million people feel about themselves who try to use eating disorders to fix it. It is not about what sells anymore, it is about what can save lives — or it should be.
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