Taylor Swift’s highly anticipated documentary Miss Americana dropped on Netflix last week, and for me, it has hit a nerve I didn’t expect it to. Throughout the documentary, Taylor opens up about her experience with disordered eating.
One scene in particular shows a montage of negative press about the singer’s physical appearance, ranging from headlines speculating pregnancy, to “she’s too skinny. It bothers me.”
Admitting it has “only happened a few times and [that she’s] not in any way proud of it,” Swift discussed how seeing “a picture of me where I feel like I looked like my tummy was too big, or… someone said that I looked pregnant … and that’ll just trigger me to just starve a little bit — just stop eating.”
While promoting her documentary, Swift delved further into this subject with Variety, further solidifying why we need to talk about this.
“I remember how, when I was 18, that was the first time I was on the cover of a magazine,” she said. “And the headline was like ‘Pregnant at 18?’ And it was because I had worn something that made my lower stomach look not flat.
“So I just registered that as a punishment. And then I’d walk into a photo shoot and be in the dressing room and somebody who worked at a magazine would say, ‘Oh, wow, this is so amazing that you can fit into the sample sizes. Usually we have to make alterations to the dresses, but we can take them right off the runway and put them on you!’
“And I looked at that as a pat on the head. You register that enough times, and you just start to accommodate everything towards praise and punishment, including your own body.”
I haven’t been able to confirm whether or not Taylor Swift has actually been diagnosed with anorexia or body dysmorphia by a doctor, but I think that’s why this is so important to talk about. Because not all disordered eating is diagnosed by a doctor.
I’m not someone who has ever particularly related to Taylor Swift, but as someone who has always been “skinny” by society’s standards, a huge portion of my self worth has been, like Taylor, tied into the number on the scale – how flat my stomach looks, or frankly whether I can fit into size 6 jeans.
For me, disordered eating is mentally calculating the calories of every item I consume. Whether I’m restricting my calories, or enjoying a dinner out with friends, my brain is unable to separate the food I’m consuming from its calorific content.
It also rears its head in the slight sense of satisfaction I feel when I’m mildly starved, you know, the feeling of your body slowly eating away at itself. Not healthy. Not good. But despite knowing how unhealthy these techniques are, I also can’t turn it off.
It’s the little happy dance in my head when somebody compliments how “good” I look after losing 5kg in one month. It’s the endorphin-boost that I feel when somebody drops a fire emoji when I post a gym selfie on Instagram. It’s completely unhealthy, but I’m sure I’m not the only person struggling with it.
So many people, particularly young women, struggle with this exact issue and there’s not enough discussion or support out there for those people. That’s why Taylor Swift’s story is so important.
During my teenage years, I witnessed multiple friends hospitalised for eating disorders. And if I’m being honest, it convinced me that I didn’t have a problem. But that’s exactly the problem. Normalising calorie counting, flat tummy teas, detoxing and #fitspo has conditioned us to think that you only have a sickness when you’ve got a diagnosis to accompany it.
Just because you don’t suffer from an eating disorder doesn’t mean you don’t have disordered eating. And you don’t need a diagnosis to seek help.
Maybe it’s “punishing” yourself for a tasty dinner by intentionally eating 800 calories the next day. Or maybe it’s skipping breakfast because your friend pointed out that you’ve packed on a few kilos (a very real thing that was said to me recently). But maybe it rears it’s head in a less-obvious way, like how you feel after a metaphorical “pat on the head”, like Taylor discussed when she fit into a sample-sized dress.
Say what you will about Taylor Swift, but this is a conversation that we absolutely need to be having, and hearing it from wildly-successful celebrities is a step in the right direction to helping normalise these struggles.
“When a celebrity like Taylor Swift brings attention not to just eating disorders but body shaming and self-image, it has a huge positive ripple effect,” mental health expert Roseann Capanna-Hodge told Healthline.
According to a 2017 study by The Butterfly Foundation, 73% of respondents said they wished they could change the way they looked. Seventy-three percent. The same survey also showed that more than half of the participants rarely (or never) spoke positively about their body. The statistics on this speak for themselves, really.
Despite those mind blowing statistics, only 5% of the total population are actually living with a diagnosed eating disorder. But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t still have unhealthy or potentially disordered eating habits.
Even if you don’t want to watch the whole documentary, I urge you to really listen to what she’s saying here.
Take a look at your eating habits, your relationship with food and the way you view your body. The idea of an eating disorder may seem terrifying, but if your eating habits or body image is starting to look a little unhealthy, it’s okay to seek help.
Not everyone will feel comfortable sharing their story, but I assure you, you’re not alone.
If you struggle with disordered eating, there is help. Contact The Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673, or Lifeline on 13 11 14.Image: Getty Images / Axelle / Bauer Griffin