How Taylor Swift Sharing Her Eating Disorder Story Healed My Inner Child

Following the premiere of her Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, Taylor Swift spoke to Variety about her past battle with an eating disorder and body image. After reading Taylor's words and learning what she went through, and learning of the obstacles she still faces daily, I couldn't stop thinking about what I read. Her words hit me very hard, both as a lifelong Taylor Swift fan and as someone who also suffers with an eating disorder.
I became a Taylor Swift fan at the age of just nine and, ever since then, she has been Wonder-woman in my eyes. Since I was a little girl, I have absolutely revered her talent, her work ethic, her generosity, how good she is with people, how she unapologetically stands her ground, her storytelling ability through song and her courage in sharing her feelings, something I now admire even more as she took the brave step to open up about her darkest moments.

Speaking about your private struggles, particularly where mental health is concerned, isn't easy at the best of times, but when you live your life like a forum, where everyone has an opinion, where millions of eyes are constantly watching you and your life feels like one big performance, even when you are not on stage, speaking about what you've experienced behind closed doors can only be unimaginably terrifying and draining. It doesn't matter how much privilege you have or how rich you are, mental health is a serious thing, and seeking help isn't made any easier by fame or fortune.

Eating disorders naturally come with so much shame and secrecy. For years, mine has been just that, mine, a thing I have kept to myself, behaviours I acted out behind closed doors and thoughts I never vocalised. Sharing my own story and admitting I needed help was the most difficult thing I've ever had to do, even though it was the right one.

Speaking of how her conflict with her body began, Taylor said, "I remember how, when I was 18, that was the first time I was on the cover of a magazine, 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 completely relate to how Taylor internalised these thought patterns and what was said to her, of course, my life is nowhere near on the scale hers is, however, we all live in the same diet culture, the same society that glorifies thinness in women and encourages under eating. Every time someone has complimented me on being thin, I have used that as ammunition to continue starving myself because, to me, getting those compliments was validation, they made me feel more accepted and as though I was doing something right by wishing my body into nothingness. I took compliments on my size as indications of my worth and continuously seeked secondary gratification from others by shrinking myself and walking the tightrope of wanting people to notice enough to congratulate me on my body size, but not notice enough that they worried and thought I was doing something unhealthy.

Living in the diet culture we do, it's almost impossible not to absorb the messages we are fed constantly about how our bodies should look, especially as women - that shit is EVERYWHERE. TV adverts, social media posts, sponsorships from celebrities, magazine articles, conversations with family members, weight loss company promotions... the list is endless of forces pushing their rhetoric onto us that to be small is to be beautiful, and that thinness is the gateway to social acceptance, success and happiness. No one ever actually tells you that pursuing thinness in such an aggressive, obsessive way can actually lead you straight down the path towards eating disorder hell and a lifetime of mental health struggle.

I first became aware of my weight as my class in school had to weigh ourselves as part of a science experiment one day. I was seven years old. And then, living in a world where I was being sent endless signals that my sole purpose was to be skinny, took its toll on me and put me where I am today, attending weekly appointments at my hospital's eating disorder clinic.

“It’s not good for me to see pictures of myself every day," Taylor said, and I can only imagine what it's like to be photographed, 99% of the time against your will, every day of your life, having no control over where or how those photos are taken or where they end up, then being constantly reminded of them in magazines or online, with strangers' making comments on your appearance in the comments section of every article.

Seeing old photos of myself is something I, personally, find really difficult. Actually, it breaks my heart if we're being completely transparent here. Because not only am I reminded of childhood innocence and the enjoyment that used to fill my life before adulthood stresses took over, but I'm reminded of my life before my eating disorder, a life of food freedom, body neutrality, being able to exist without restrictions or caring what anyone thought. My eating disorder sucked all the colour and vibrancy out of my life until I became a shell of a human being, and I now no longer recognise the girl in my old family photos. This illness has taken so much from me, and having tangible reminders of what I've been through is so damaging for my mental health.

Speaking of her disordered eating, Taylor bravely admitted, "It’s only happened a few times, and I’m not in any way proud of it, I've seen 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.”

“I thought that I was supposed to feel like I was going to pass out at the end of a show, or in the middle of it,” she continues, “Now I realise, no, if you eat food, have energy, get stronger, you can do all these shows and not feel enervated)."

I remember vividly through 2014-15 reading DAILY comments on Taylor's body, both the headlines and tweets from other celebrities with twisted ideas on feminism on her being “too skinny” and having an “unrelatable” body. And on the flip side, a couple of years later when she began living a healthier life, the “Could she be pregnant?” articles and weight shaming from trolls. For over a decade, magazines have capitalised on destroying Taylor’s body image as though they have agency over that, to a point where she can‘t win, which perfectly sums up what it's like to exist in this world as a woman. You are either too much for someone on one end of the spectrum, but as soon as you change, even if it's for the better and for the sake of your own life, you are too much on the opposite end. There's never any silence, you can never have any peace when it comes to existing in your body, someone always has something to say, and if they're not saying it, you know they're thinking it. And it forces us into a never ending cycle of self-hatred, initially I guess because we want to fit in, please people and we want to be enough for them, we want to be what they want us to be, but eventually, we stay in this cycle because we convince ourselves it's what we both want and deserve. We stop doing it for the satisfaction of others, and more so because it becomes habit, routine, and all we know. Eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with our bodies trap us.

Taylor goes into further details about how she had defence mechanisms ready to go should anyone question her weight, saying, ‘What are you talking about? Of course I eat... I exercise a lot.’ And I did exercise a lot. But I wasn’t eating.”

Everything Taylor said about her own eating disorder experience is completely true to life, I remember keeping my under eating and overexercising so secret, even from the people who mean the world to me and with whom I share everything, and I would've jumped at the chance to put them in their place should they question anything about my behaviour.

Whilst my own eating disorder recovery is still a long road ahead I have to travel, hearing how Taylor has overcome her struggle fills me with immeasurable hope that I too can do the same, not that she doesn't still have bad thoughts about her body and not that people's opinions don't affect her still, but she's now in a place where those things don't stop her from living her life whereas, when in the thick of an eating disorder, those things become your life and physically stop you from thinking about or focusing on anything else, and the second you try to, you're pulled straight back in.

Weight gain can be an essential part of eating disorder recovery for, not all, but many people, in order to get your body back to the place it is meant to be in order to function fully and keep you alive. Taylor gained weight through her break from public life in 2016, going from a size double zero to a size six, and now she doesn't care so much if someone were to pass comment on that.

Another essential part of eating disorder recovery is recognising that it isn't just about tackling your illness, it's about tackling everything that made you feel that way, getting to the real root of your problem and calling out all the bullshit that ever made you feel like you were unworthy of a decent relationship with food, and seeing how Taylor is doing that now and using her voice to call out the horrific beauty standards women are held to, is empowering.

"Women are held to such a ridiculous standard of beauty," Taylor speaks, "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."

Every day, I find inspiration in the bravery of other people who have fought, and are fighting, eating disorders. Their strength reminds me that I'm not alone, which is so reassuring when the only thing my eating disorder has ever done is isolated me. Hearing Taylor's story really impacted me in a powerful, indescribable way. Since the age of 12, I‘ve struggled with this illness and, through the worst of it, I saw Taylor as a model of my “ideal” body and how I “should” look. I bullied myself because I thought it was easy for her to be “skinny,” and I was useless for not attaining that body. Hearing her now admit that nothing was ever as "perfect" as it seemed and listening to her speak so courageously about her demons has given me closure I never knew I needed and has partly healed the child in me in a way I can’t quite describe.

I have endless admiration for how someone I find comfort in fought their battle and was brave enough to speak out to encourage further conversations on body image. I’m equally as proud to say I now view Taylor’s body as, by far, the least interesting thing about her, and I’m more hopeful that I can recover myself and go on to life a fruitful life where my thoughts about my body are not the driving force behind my aspirations.

I really want Taylor's story to be a reminder to everyone that commenting on someone’s size or making health assumptions based on their appearance is NEVER okay. I also hope it's a reminder that ALL WOMEN struggle. Even the boss babes you think are killing it, even the queens with the mega Instagram feeds and the badass business women who seem to have it all together, which, in turn, highlights the importance of women sticking together to tear down the forces making us feel this awful hatred for ourselves, rather than tearing each other down or viewing one another as competition.

I hate being able to relate to Taylor's pain, but I’m SO happy that she's now doing better doing better. I don't know Taylor personally, and it's unlikely I'll ever meet her, but I'm proud of her.

We need to keep talk like this going, so we can aid those in eating disorder recovery and comfort them with the knowledge that 1) they aren't alone and 2) it can get better, as well as putting out any slight flames of disordered eating behaviour in others, especially young people, before they spread. Taylor will save lives with what she's done here, and I truly hope she knows how much 12 year old me who starved herself every single day and didn't want to exist on Earth, and also 20 year old me who still under eats and has to try really hard not to hate her body, will treasure everything she has said.

Love, Emily

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