Taylor Swift’s ‘Miss Americana’ Netflix documentary reminds me of my body image struggles
One out of a handful
Love her or hate her. Taylor Swift knows the world is divided when it comes to her and the new Taylor—reputation era onwards—doesn’t care. Just like how she no longer cares if people go after her or lose interest if she shares her political views, if she supports the LGBTQ community or if she’s put on weight.
Like a true Swiftie, I couldn’t wait to watch her new Netflix documentary Miss Americana. Like a true Swiftie, I teared up every 13 minutes of the film. While we will probably never have a taste of that celebrity life champagne, there were some parts that we could all relate or empathise with. Some of her stories, her struggles, her 'rites of passage'.
The Miss Americana Netflix documentary reveals a more vulnerable side of Taylor Swift as it summarises the rise, the fall, and rise again of the Lover singer. She shares how she felt and what was racing through her mind when Kanye West stole the mic from her: "I thought they were booing me."
She shares how she went under the radar after the Kim Kardashian and Kanye West fiasco over the song Famous: "Nobody physically saw me for a year, and that was what I thought they wanted."
It details how she argued with her father and management when she wanted to take a political stand and use her voice, her platform to encourage young voters; because there was a female candidate from her home state that, despite being a woman, was actually doing the opposite of standing for women's and gay rights. Said candidate (and Donald Trump) would be taking all those away. In the scene, an associate could be heard saying her decision of going political could cut the upcoming tour's audience by half. Her father adds that he's terrified [for her safety]. "But I can’t change that," she replies, close to tears, referring to coming out against Trump two years prior. "I need to be on the right side of history. … Dad, I need you to forgive me for doing it, because I’m doing it.”
It also touches on her sexual assault case. Although Swift won the court case in the end, she adds that it wasn't victory she felt: "The process is so dehumanising. This is with seven witnesses and a photo. What happens when you get raped and it’s your word against his?”
But perhaps the one that struck me the most was when she spoke of her body image struggles.
“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," she says.
And thus, Swift has stopped looking at photos of herself. Or at least, she tries to. “I tend to get triggered by something, whether it’s a picture of me where I feel like my tummy looked too big, or someone said that I looked pregnant or something."
"And that will trigger me to just starve a little bit, just stop eating.”
Here's my story. First things first, I have never voluntarily stopped eating. There was, however, a time when I led a more stressful, hectic, unhealthy lifestyle. A time of cup noodles, loss of appetite which led to small or absent meals, irregular eating times. And little sleep. Without realising it, I grew scarily thin.
I was never perfectly skinny or 'fat'. I was never underweight or overweight. Just "normal weight". And since I often wear baggy clothes, it wasn't obvious to me until I tried out the 1001-ways-you-can-wear-this-bridesmaid dress where you can't not wrap yourself like a dumpling. But alas, I was one sad ass dumpling.
Fast forward to 2016, I was less stressed out. I slept during the hours that were not godforsaken. I ate three square meals, and perhaps a snack or two in between. But since this job required regular food reviews and #FitnessFridays, I started fleshing out and eventually fell in love with spin classes. Again, without realising it, I became somewhat fitter and better. I was finally just right.
And then I got married.
Sure, I had a number of back-to-back Christmas and Chinese New Year menu reviews (and a crazy final count of 28 yee sangs in 2019) and starting a new life together with my husband meant less time to hit the gym. And soon enough, I had put on that blissful weight. The muscles and abs I had unknowingly worked hard for became mush.
I was fine with it... until the combination of being a little rounder than before and the knowledge that I'm a married woman led to questions like: Are you pregnant?
"Oh you're not drinking wine? *in a hushed voice* Are you pregnant?"
No. I was never a big drinker.
"Oh, you've been wearing baggy clothes - are you pregnant?"
No, I've actually always liked wearing baggy clothes.
These questions came from friends, acquaintances, aunties, you name it. And it came to a point where these questions haunted me.
"Oh, *indicates stomach bump* are we expecting some good news or did you put on weight?"
NO. I'M JUST FAT RIGHT NOW.
"Eh, are you pregnant?"
No, just a food baby, I said, laughing it off.
"Are you sure???"
Yes, it haunted me till the point where I started looking at my stomach in every mirror I see. I spent a longer time getting ready because everything I wore, to me, made me looked pregnant. I fixated on other people's bodies and wondered why I didn't have it too. I started becoming conscious of what I eat and how I look.
One day, it broke me and I broke down to my husband in tears.
What broke me wasn't that I was fat but that I wasn't pregnant and those questions reminded me of that. What was originally a plan of "let's enjoy one year of marital bliss before thinking of having a baby" became "why am I not pregnant?".
I was never one who idolised having a model's body. I was happy with who I was, at peace with my body, and if I wasn't skinny—so what? But being hammered down by such questions, reminding me of my body that was off the ideal skinny-with-flat-stomach type was hurtful. And there's only so many times one can brush it all off. To say the least, it wasn't great for my mental health.
Well, if you're unhappy, then work out more, eat less or healthier—some people might think that. Oh, I plan on that but that's not the point, is it? What gives anyone the right to ask someone if they're pregnant? If fat-shaming is known to be a negative act, why is "are you pregnant" any different?
Must a woman have abs, a flat stomach and skinny arms to be deemed 'normal'?
Must a woman either be fat or pregnant, if they're not 'skinny'?
And have you ever considered the weight of the question "Are you pregnant?" to couples who could possibly be actively trying for a baby but are struggling?
But more importantly, it is none of your business.
The truth is: Your body changes as you age. For women, it happens after you turn 30. I turned 30 last year.
"The amount of lean muscle mass we have is the primary determinant of metabolic rate. In other words, the more muscle mass we have, the more calories we will burn. Our muscle mass naturally begins to decline around age 30, and that process, called sarcopenia, accelerates around age 40. Unless something is done to actively protect and build up that lean muscle mass, our bodies will require fewer calories, our metabolisms will slow, and the lost muscle will be replaced by fat," as Dr. Apovian, the author of The Age-Defying Diet and The Overnight Diet: The Proven Plan for Fast, Permanent Weight Loss, told Women's Day.
Facts are facts. If you want abs, go for it. Just make sure you do it for you, and not to silence the comments out there. You can never please people and if they're toxic for you, consider cutting them out. Or they might go on their own. However, the longest relationship you'll ever have—that does require you to make the person happy—is the one with yourself.
After an entire year of struggling with my body image, I've come to learn to be patient with my body. I've never stopped exercising. I just did it less. And that's okay. Change takes time and rather than starve myself or drag my body to the gym when it's not feeling its best, I give it time to rest first. One of my favourite accounts to follow, if you're looking for some inspiration on body confidence, is @iweigh, started by actor and activist Jameela Jamil. And as Taylor Swift said in her Miss Americana documentary:
“There’s always some standard of beauty that you’re not meeting. Because if you’re thin enough, then you don’t have that ass that everybody wants, but if you have enough weight on you to have an ass, then your stomach isn’t flat enough. It’s all just f*cking impossible.” — Taylor Swift
It really is.
Women do not need to be classified by one body type or shape. There is no ideal body type and if there is, it's the healthy one. Your body works hard each and every day. If you can KonMari your material items, thanking it for its service and giving it "proper space to rest", treat your body the same way. Accept it, be kind to it, love it.