There’s something that stirred within the fifteen-year-old me when I heard Taylor Swift’s soothing voice on my iPod. Love Story played on and I thought of my first love and how we embodied the prince and princess epic tale. Thereon started my affair with Tay-Tay and it has been a bit of a roller-coaster. I loved her album, 1989, and even now listen to her masterpieces like Style and Wonderland on loop. But I’ve got to admit I couldn’t understand where her heart or head was during her sixth album, Reputation.
Taylor is one of those celebrities who people either love or they love to hate and no one has been able to figure out why. In her recent documentary on Netflix, called Miss Americana, we’re introduced to a side of her that she’s kept tightly hidden from the cameras. She gives us a peek into her real life, her struggles with identity, her tussle with her body and her. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that in this new documentary she bares her truth.
She tells us that she knew only one thing as a kid, she needs to be thought of as good. But what does ‘good’ mean? Does ‘good’ mean staying silent when your voice could reshape history, could it mean being thin, could good be not creating a scene even when you’re uncomfortable?
For a female performer, you’re either GOOD or you’re nothing.
Taylor Swift’s entire image was marketed on her likeability: the nice, girl next door, blonde, with ringlets of sweetness framing her face, cowboy boots, babydoll dresses, and a quiet demeanour of a girl who talks only when she is talked to.
Taylor remembers what music executives said to her all the time: nice girls don’t speak their mind, nice girls put up with everything and shut up. They don’t have an opinion, don’t express your opinion, your only job is to smile. According to them, part of being a female artist means not to step out of line.
Executives constantly warned her that if she put forth her opinions she’d end up like the Dixie Chicks, the all-female country group who were almost blacklisted in America over their comments against the Iraq war and then former President George W Bush in 2003. News footage of TV anchors describing them as “callow, foolish women who deserve to be slapped around.” She didn’t want to end up like them, right?
At first, it shocks you to see such blatant misogyny on screen but it all makes us look within ourselves. It’s a reminder that the world of glitz and glamour is starkly different for men and women. And the terrifying thing is that it’s still there, simmering beneath the surface, ingrained so deep within most of us that the process of unlearning is just as needed in us as is a pop star like Taylor Swift.
In the 85-minute long film, which follows her life through a personal transition and war that’s raging within her, we see her journey growing up from an 11-year-old to a 29-year-old.
We also see her walking on David Letterman’s show and tell the audience that she doesn’t express her political opinions openly because it’s not her place to tell other people what to do and there’s a huge round of applause from the crowd and even a fistbump from the host. What we’re telling her here is apparent: we like you shutting up and keeping your head down.
“I’ve learned over the years that it’s not good for me to see pictures of myself every day because I have a tendency, and it’s only happened a few times and I’m not in any way proud of it, but I tend to get triggered by something whether it’s a picture of me where I feel like my tummy was too big or like someone said I looked pregnant or something, and that will just trigger me to starve a little bit. Just stop eating,” she revealed.
“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. I thought that was how it was. But now I realize, no, if you eat food, have energy, get stronger, you can do all these shows and not feel it, which is a really good revelation,” the Love Story singer added.
As a viewer, this was probably the most gut-wrenching part of the documentary for me where she revealed that she developed an eating disorder and it went unnoticed for a long time. And when she felt her stomach didn’t look completely flat, she would not eat for a long time.
What women in and out of the limelight face is very clear here. Meet this standard of beauty or meet that standard of beauty, either way, there will be some fault in you or the other. When you value yourself only by your body measurements, you can even justify starving for a while.
Among other things, Miss Americana details Taylor Swift’s 2017 sexual assault case and how it ultimately led to her speaking out for equal rights. It was in front of hundreds of cameras, on the red carpet and she was a megastar even then, yet it happened. A radio DJ groped Swift and was fired for the same but he along with his male ego and pride sued her for defamation. It was her victory in court that perhaps made her regain some of her lost confidence.
“You walk into the courtroom and there’s this person sitting in a swivel chair, staring at you like you did something to him. The first thing they say to you in court is–why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you react quicker? Why didn’t you stand further away from him?” recounted Taylor.
Now that’s a proof that victim-blaming is real, whether it’s one of us narrating a story about being catcalled on the streets or Taylor Swift with cameras pointing at her and having seven eye-witnesses to prove her case.
She puts forth an important point saying that even after the victory you don’t feel like you’ve won because the entire process is so dehumanising.
Taylor Swift just like all of us went through a process of unlearning. We have to continue to check ourselves and those around us who propagate internalised misogyny. It’s 2020, and feminism is still not a widely accepted word. We’re still made to give a rationale behind our ideology for wanting basic human rights for all genders.
Holding hands, bringing each other up and starting dialogue is the only way we’ll move forward as a society. Together we’re unwilling to sit down, lower our heads and seal our lips. We’re screaming on top of our lungs–we want what we want and we aren’t afraid.
Featured Image: Netflix, Instagram