Swift’s ‘Anti-Hero’ music video controversy should be part of a larger conversation about weight stigmatization

Melina Khan, Editor-in-Chief

As a massive Taylor Swift fan, when her tenth studio album alongside the music video for one of the album’s tracks, “Anti-Hero,” dropped Oct. 21, I felt my serotonin levels almost instantaneously increase. Since then, I’ve been shuffling the album any chance I get, but I’ve found myself with complicated feelings after recent conversations around the aforementioned music video.

In “Anti-Hero,” Swift is describing her stream of critical internal thoughts, repeating an all-too-familiar sentiment for all the overthinkers out there, the idea that “I’m the problem.”

The music video brings all those thoughts to life “The Parent Trap” style, with two Swifts personifying the two sides of her inner monologue.

What’s caused some controversy, though, is a scene that aimed to address Swift’s eating disorder. In a 10-second clip, Swift stepped on a scale that promptly reads “fat.” After Swift turned to the antihero version of herself, the latter shook her head left to right, the universal indicator for “not good.”

The insinuation that being fat is not okay has led some to label the scene as fatphobic.

According to Boston Medical Center, fatphobia is “the implicit and explicit bias of overweight individuals that is rooted in a sense of blame and presumed moral failing.”

On the flip side, some say the scene is aiming to address the struggle of battling an eating disorder.

After the inclusion of the scale scene began to cause controversy, the scene was edited to remove the word “fat” from the video on Apple Music and YouTube on Oct. 26. Swift has not commented publicly on the conversation to date.

I think the situation is much more complicated than just “OK” or “not OK.”

An artist should use their platform to open up about their personal struggles in a way that feels meaningful to them. As Swift directed and wrote the music video, the scale scene was how she chose to portray her eating disorder.

The fear of gaining weight, or obesophobia, is a symptom for many who struggle with eating disorders, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This means that a fear of fatness could very likely be something that Swift faces in her eating disorder, and calling that unacceptable as many have in the context of the scale scene invalidates a condition that is faced by many.

As someone with an eating disorder, I understand the fear of gaining weight is a deeply personal one, and I empathized with Swift when I first saw the scene.

However, someone who has a massive audience like Swift (whose “Anti-Hero” video has racked up more than 44 million views as of publication), must also consider the responsibility to open up about their struggles in a way that does not cause harm to others. The scene is still impactful without the inclusion of the word “fat” on the scale, as it now appears.

The argument that we should not villainize fat people for simply existing is a valid one. However, it’s important to consider why the perception that fatness is not OK exists in the first place.

American women idealize thinness at a higher rate than women in other countries, according to a 2018 study. In a thin-ideal culture, images of pro-thinness are perpetuated in the media, therefore spreading the message that it is not OK to be fat.

For example, a 1998 study found that after Western media and television was introduced in Fiji, 74% of Fijian girls and women reported feeling too fat. Prior to this media shift, slim Fijian women were seen as “weak,” a Fijian beauty queen told researchers.

Hence, the larger cultural emphasis on thinness needs to be a more significant conversation than the fear of fatness.

Swift has openly spoken about her eating disorder in the past, such as in her 2020 Netflix documentary “Miss Americana.” In the film, Swift said the influx of photos and criticism about her physical appearance in the media triggered her disordered eating.

In a 2020 interview with Variety, Swift said she is “not as articulate as (she) should be,” about her eating disorder.

“There are so many people who could talk about it in a better way. But all I know is my own experience,” Swift said at the time.

Seeing Swift be more open about her struggles has led me to reevaluate my perception of celebrities, especially ones as private as Swift. Though people in the public eye often seem to have problems that differ vastly from those of regular people, they struggle with issues like mental health just like the rest of us.

Swift’s use of her platform to discuss her mental health is important to increase awareness and break down stigmatization. A 2020 study in the Academic Psychiatry journal found that discussion of mental illness by celebrities in the media increases awareness of and normalizes these issues.

I understand the all-consuming toll an eating disorder can take on one’s mental health, so I appreciate Swift’s vulnerability in sharing her experience. After all, the song is about self-criticism, which is more pervasive in individuals with eating disorders than those without, according to a 2017 study by The British Psychological Society.

As a public figure and artist, there is significant value in Swift opening up about her eating disorder, and though cliche, portraying herself stepping on a scale is how she chose to do it.

While the conversations around whether the scene perpetuates fatphobia are important ones, the fear of gaining weight and feeling fat is unfortunately not unfamiliar for those struggling with eating disorders. The controversy around Swift’s video is part of an important discussion on the stigmatization of fatness in our culture.