Editor’s note: This is one of a series of occasional personal articles from CNN employees and contributors.
Thanks to her prolific songwriting and curated eras, the world got an intimate look at a young woman who grew up through Taylor Swift’s music.
Her words, speeches, videos, and even her 2020 documentary, “Miss Americana,” told the story of a girl trying to find her place in the world through approval and applause to become a woman who finds a more sustainable source of happiness.
And now with the release of her latest album, “Midnights,” fans of Swift have been invited to peek into the hardships and lessons she’s bringing into the next phase of her life.
I was 12 years old when I started listening to Swift music. I cried all the time because Drew never saw her fake smile in the halls of high school. I enjoyed daydreaming of acne. I processed old relationship heartbreak with her, finding out where we may or may not be wrong. It wrestled with the truth and fiction behind the reputation.
Over the 16 years she’s been in the spotlight, I was one of those little girls who felt that Swift—through her stumbles and triumphs—was totally singing to her. During that time, here’s what I learned from Taylor Swift about living better.
(Note to fellow Swifties: I know I missed a few things. Don’t blame me – the editor has imposed a word limit.)
Take Swift’s music video for “Anti-hero,” a track from her latest album “Midnights,” as an example, although it’s not the first time she’s addressed her fears and flaws head on.
“That’s me. Hey. I’m the problem, it’s me,” Swift sings over a scene where two versions of herself meet—which can be imagined as the private and public versions.
They enjoy taking shots until they get sick, escaping the ghosts of people I’ve kept in the shadows, smashing guitars as they dance and even meeting a third (giant) version who highlights her fears of being what she calls “a monster on the hill too big to hang around.”
The play and the chaos ends with the three Taylors coming together to share a bottle of wine and meditate as the sun sets.
There is peace when her different personalities come together, and the things she might not like about one of them are complemented by the other. I can be quick to focus on the parts I don’t like about myself, but for me, this scene has completely captured the goal I’m pursuing: accepting the many aspects of myself.
“There are always some standards of beauty that don’t meet,” Swift said in her documentary “Miss Americana.” “If you are thin enough, you will not have that ** that everyone wants. But if you have enough weight to get **, your stomach is not flat enough.”
Noting this hypocrisy, Swift describes her evolving relationship with her body and his troubled eating history in the film. Amid a barrage of body images and comments in tabloids and on social media, she spoke of a period when she exercised heavily and slowly starved herself for the ideal.
The Anti-hero video also touches on this where Swift looks down on a scale with no numbers, just the word “fat”. The photo sparked a conversation among viewers, with some finding it awful for fat while others saw it as a look at her intrusive thoughts that come with a history of eating disorders.
“I’ve learned over the years, it’s not a good idea for me to see pictures of myself every day,” she said. “Now I realize, if you eat food, you have energy and you get stronger, you can do all these performances and not feel like it.”
“I’m much happier with who I am now,” Swift said in the documentary. “It’s just something that makes my life better – the fact that I’m a size 6 instead of a size 00.”
When the man who allegedly assaulted her in 2013 sued her in 2015, she ran for a dollar (and won). When I had a problem with how streaming services would pay artists, I took off all of their music. When she got into a dispute over the ownership of her music, she turned her re-recording of her business into a highly anticipated series of events. When “Taylor Swift Canceled” was popular on Twitter, she turned the experience into an album.
Swift has a history of showing how to build a palace on the ruins of a devastating blow. Yes, she’s a very powerful celebrity with a lot more resources than the average person, but I felt empowered to watch her stand up for herself – and often others who face similar situations with less privilege.
Even with the time she’s taken out of sight in recent years to protect her privacy with her lover Joe Alwyn, she offers examples that it’s okay to find ways to protect yourself and, where possible, fend off.
Entering the political conversation is a choice that Swift painted as difficult.
She kept a long silence about her stances, a seemingly neutral stance that garnered much praise from public figures. In her documentary, she said that Silence sought to be seen as a “good girl”.
But in her music now, she wonders if she’s too good. Although there has been criticism that her activism came too late, we’ve gotten Taylor Swift more powerful in recent years — one who supports candidates, promotes LGBTQ organizations and uses her platform to increase voter turnout.
Tears welled up in her eyes in the documentary that showed her telling her team that she was going to speak in public for the first time. Its confidence has clearly grown in the field since then – the Swift we see today responding to the backlash for its political message is much more inclusive and relaxed.
Her most heart-wrenching songs allude to feeling like an outsider, not knowing who she will talk to at school, and falling short of traditional fantasy patterns.
Meanwhile, the happiest Taylor is the one who evades “what should”. Her perpetual happiness is her lonely husband: As the public eagerly awaits a marriage between Swift and Alwyn, she celebrates what she describes as their committed but special love in a new song “Lavender Haze.”
“Recently, I’ve been focusing less on doing what they say I can’t do and more on doing what the hell I want,” she said in her 2019 Billboard Woman of the Decade award acceptance speech.
I’m also often reminded of laughing at yourself a little, as one of the world’s biggest artists does when comics depict themselves chasing men or dedicate an entire music video to not being able to dance. I’ve learned from Swift not to take life too seriously and to be the first to laugh at my blunders.
It can be dangerous to worship celebrities as infallible and limited to the dimension we see in the public domain, but I think we can learn from them without painting them as ideal. Many of the guys who grew up alongside Taylor Swift have learned a lot as she shares her growth with us.
#Taylor #Swift #Taught #Living #CNN