CULTURE

On Taylor Swift's "Eating Disorder": What the Media Got Wrong About "Miss Americana"

Misrepresenting "eating disorders" makes the underlying causes more difficult to understand and articulate, not to mention ask for help.

Somewhere between debuting as a 16-year-old, wholesome, big-haired country singer and becoming the world's top-earning artist and the Artist of the Decade at age 30, Taylor Swift grew up–in the process of doing so, she sort of divided America.

In a string of self-reinventions, her bouncing blond curls and dreamy love songs transformed into blood red lipstick and vengeful heartbreak, before most recently turning into glitter hearts and pastel rainbows. To her admirers (85.5 million of which follow her on Twitter, with 125 million more on Instagram), these seemingly contradictory stages of her career embody the flirty, furious experience of coming of age in America. Strident critics, however, attack her whole brand as poison bubble gum, calling her initial refusal to comment on politics an attempt to profit from her former (unwitting) status as an alt-right icon and deriding her as a shallow white feminist who defines herself by playing the victim. They don't like her singing, either.

Now we've met a new iteration of Taylor Swift, with her Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, billed as an uncharacteristically revealing look behind her highly cultivated image. Helmed by Emmy Award-winning director Lana Wilson, the documentary includes Swift's introspective voiceovers, including an intimate segment in which she opens up about her unhealthy relationships with food, weight, and beauty standards in a society that expected her to be a "polite young lady."

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Praise and Punishment: The American Dream

After Miss Americana premiered at Sundance on Thursday, it seems every news outlet jumped at the chance to commend the singer for "Overcoming Struggle with Eating Disorder." Among Swift's revealing commentary, she shares "how unhealthy that's been for me—my relationship with food and all that over the years." Swift says in the documentary that she'd "go into a real shame/hate spiral" when it came to her body image and eating patterns. She says, "It's not good for me to see pictures of myself every day… [I]t's only happened a few times, and I'm not in any way proud of it, [but] whether it's a picture of me where I feel like I looked like my tummy was too big or someone said that I looked pregnant... That'll trigger me to just starve a little bit—just stop eating."

She elaborated in an exclusive interview with Variety, who ran the aforementioned headline: "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 yet, in dressing rooms for photo shoots, Swift would be praised for her slenderness. "[S]omebody 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."

Swift goes on to describe some of the distorted thinking patterns and preoccupations with food and weight that are, indeed, common warning signs of an eating disorder. During her 1989 album tour in 2015, her behaviors affected her stamina to perform. "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 says in Miss Americana. She'd keep lists of everything she ate, exercise excessively, and, perhaps most insidiously, she found herself locked in rigid, dichotomous thought patterns whereby everything was labeled as either "good" or "bad"–including her. Swift says, "My relationship with food was exactly the same psychology that I applied to everything else in my life: If I was given a pat on the head, I registered that as good. If I was given a punishment, I registered that as bad."

Taylor Swift

Diet Culture, the DSM-5, and Disordered Eating

Wilson, a director known for her work on fraught social issues like abortion or suicide, seemed moved by Swift's candor, saying, "That's one of my favorite sequences of the film. I was surprised, of course. But I love how she's kind of thinking out loud about it. And every woman will see themselves in that sequence. I just have no doubt." Wilson's remarks ring all too true, considering that at least 30 million Americans have an eating disorder, at least one person dies as a direct result of eating disorder complications every 62 minutes, and eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD).

However, there's a difference between an "eating disorder" and a general pattern of disordered eating. Based on all reports of her commentary, Swift's experiences are best described as the latter, despite widespread press coverage lauding her honesty about her "eating disorder" (the only exception found, as of this writing, was Vice, who exclusively used "history of disordered eating" to describe Swift's struggles).

The painful experience of a clinical "eating disorder" lies at the end of a broad spectrum of unhealthy eating patterns; disordered eating can take many forms. As Cleveland Clinic points out, "Disordered eating covers a broad range of conditions, including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. But there's a much larger percentage of people (5 to 20%) who struggle with symptoms that do not meet the full criteria of a problematic eating pattern." In other words, all individuals with "eating disorders" have disordered eating, but not all individuals with disordered eating have (or will develop) an "eating disorder." The distinction, according to mental health professionals, hinges on the "level of obsession around eating disorder thoughts and behaviors" and the degree to which disordered eating impairs one's ability to function in their daily lives. Or, as Dr. Carrie Gottlieb, a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, says, "It is all about degree. An individual with disordered eating is often engaged in some of the same behavior as those with eating disorders but at a lesser frequency or lower level of severity."

While Taylor Swift's struggles may not have escalated into a lifelong, full-blown eating disorder ("It's only happened a few times, and I'm not in any way proud of it"), they are no less valid. Cleveland Clinic asserts, "Like full-blown eating disorders, these below-threshold conditions can lead to significant distress, impacting a person's overall health and quality of life." All forms of disordered eating can have life-changing physical and emotional effects, ranging from heart damage and GI complications to depression, self-image distortions, and social isolation, among many others.

The Media Says It's Feminine to Starve

But in order to provide appropriate support, compassion, and resources–precise language matters. Dismissing the difference between an "eating disorder" and disordered eating is lazy, and it has consequences for individuals exhibiting those behaviors, as well as our cultural understanding of their causes. Dr. Holmes, a professor at the University of East Anglia and critic of pop culture media, calls attention to the "long-standing concern about the adequacy of media reporting, and the implications this has for public understandings of EDs [eating disorders]." She critiques, "A number of scholars have noted how such portrayals [of food restriction] are deeply contradictory in their bid to both pathologise and glamourise self-starvation."

In other words, freely labeling every pattern of unhealthy eating as an "eating disorder" not only trivializes the mental illness; it pathologizes those unhealthy behaviors that are not cemented by the same "biological, psychological, and social factors" that underlie eating disorders. Ultimately, this just makes it more difficult to understand and articulate the underlying causes, not to mention ask for help.

From extreme dieting to rejecting food as a way to reject one's own body or society's oppressive control over one's body, there are numerous, deep-seated reasons why people restrict food. Dr. Holmes notes, "Disordered eating may not necessarily be motivated by the drive for pursuit of thinness or any 'distortion' of body image, but rather by wider experiences' of gender expectations and pressures." Aside from the fact that disordered eating is still widely represented as only affecting women (despite the fact that men account for at least 25% of disordered eating cases, and untold greater numbers identify outside the gender binary), disordered eating is often gendered as a feminine activity. Dr. Holmes writes, "Thinness and starvation are seen as rendering femininity small, weak and fragile, whilst the emaciated body has been read as a form of corporeal resistance - the rejection of feminine subjectivity through an escape into a childlike, boyish or 'degendered' form."

Media has an ugly habit of warping restrictive eating to seem delicate rather than violent, like cracked porcelain rather than rubble–and that makes for good headlines. In a twisted way, disordered eating has been depicted as a sexy fall from grace that manages to condemn all the ills of objectified femininity while still profiting from it. So it's understandable why the press would jump to write about Taylor Swift, once America's ingenue, having suffered from an eating disorder.

But when Swift says in the opening of Miss Americana that she always wanted to "be thought of as good," she speaks to the fact that disordered eating is never about food; it's a symptom of being unsettled in one's body, or disoriented about one's place in the world. For Swift, it was a coping mechanism for the high pressures of the entertainment industry as a reward system and measurement of her own value, as both a woman and an entertainer. Generally speaking, equating one's self-worth with one's body's size is always an attempt to cope with overwhelming circumstances, a way to channel mental distress into a seemingly productive action, a way to assert stable control over the self in a chaotic world.

That's not to say social pressure and media's propagation of a thin body type as the ideal form isn't a contributing factor. Swift told Variety, "[W]omen are held to such a ridiculous standard of beauty. 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."

At least the media coverage of Swift's struggles with food created a triumphant story of self-acceptance. She told Variety that she no longer cares about "the fact that I'm a size [X] instead of a size [X]." She's built a healthier relationship with food, partially thanks to other prominent women who speak out against toxic diet culture and spread messages of self-acceptance, like Jameela Jamil and Brené Brown. She says, "The way [Jamil] speaks is like lyrics, and it gets stuck in my head and it calms me down," while Brown helped her realize, "'It's ridiculous to say "I don't care what anyone thinks about me," because that's not possible. But you can decide whose opinions matter more and whose opinions you put more weight on.'" Finally, she concludes, "I don't expect anyone with a pop career to learn how to do that within the first 10 years. But I am actually really happy. Because I pick and choose now, for the most part, what I care deeply about. And I think that's made a huge difference."

Regardless of how one feels about Swift, her remarks highlight media's continued misrepresentation of eating disorders and our cultural misunderstanding of them. But if it were framed differently, Taylor Swift's "history of disordered eating" could have a greater impact on more individuals than Lana Wilson or Variety or perhaps even Swift herself realizes. Remember that while an estimated 30 million people (9% of the U.S.) have an eating disorder, up to 65 million (20%) struggle with disordered eating. Many of those people live in a state of tension between sensing that their behaviors are unhealthy and feeling validated by diet culture's positive reinforcement–from feeling rewarded that their behaviors are "good." In that sense, who better to speak to those millions than a pop icon who's always embodied contradictions? If nothing else, Taylor Swift embodies the contradictory messages of growing up (especially as a woman) in America: Be independent but ask for approval, be outspoken but only when asked, be good even if it hurts.

CULTURE

Instagram Bans Dieting Products (Thanks, Jameela Jamil)

Hopefully this is the start of a much larger movement.

Instagram just announced that it will block certain diet products and cosmetic surgery from being advertised to Instagram users under 18.

It will also block ads that promote "miraculous" weight loss products and link to commercial offers. The policy will also extend to Facebook and will allow users to report content that they believe violates the new rules.

The platform's public policy manager, Emma Collins, implied that the policy is part of a larger initiative to improve the often negative side effects of Instagram. "We want Instagram to be a positive place for everyone that uses it," she said, "and this policy is part of our ongoing work to reduce the pressure that people can sometimes feel as a result of social media."

The platform's decision is largely thanks to the efforts of Jameela Jamil, the Good Place star whose vocal criticism of the Kardashians' advertisements of flat tummy teas and similar products sparked widespread backlash against diet advertisements on the whole. "For huge corporations [like Instagram] - who are the main access points for these companies to sell their products to young people over the internet - to say they don't condone this sends out a huge ripple across the earth," Jamil told Elle UK in response to the social media giant's announcement. "It says that if giant corporations are willing to take a stand against this, then it must be really serious."

The policy has already gone into effect, and now, you won't be able to see Kim Kardashian's ad for fit tummy tea unless you're logged into Instagram and registered as someone over 18. It will also affect posts by Cardi B, several Victoria's Secret models, and several thousand influencers.

While this is a move in the right direction, it needs to be the beginning of a much larger cultural shift. The diet industry is currently worth around $70 billion, and it's believed that more than 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. Most of its initiatives have more to do with controlling people (particularly women) and making bank than with any form of health.

While young people are most likely to experience body image issues, people of all ages—not just under 18—shouldn't have to see advertisements for fit teas and other products that have been proven to be ineffective and dangerous. Most fit teas and quick-result diet products are merely laxatives, and if they're used in the long term they can cause serious damage.

So much of diet culture is motivated by the fact that corporations can earn millions off people's insecurities—and as these profit models have shifted to Instagram, they've become even more insidious, worked into the fabric of our everyday lives. These industries make us think that if we do a little more, work a little harder, and even just look a little different, we'll be happy, but of course, this happiness is really a black hole that ends in an empty wallet.

Megan Jayne Crabbe 🐼 on Instagram: “🎨: @lettershoppe 🌻 Friendly reminder that NONE OF US are born hating our bodies. We learn. We are TAUGHT to hate our bodies and we are…”

MUSIC

Remembering Amy Winehouse: 10 of Her Best Lyrics

Amy was a visionary, and her lyrics—always honest, always vulnerable and yet strong—were some of her finest contributions.

Amy Winehouse was a musical visionary, and she left behind an everlasting legacy through her artistic contributions.

Before she died at only 27 years old, she gifted the world with her talents, strength, and open-hearted honesty, which always shone through, particularly during her live performances.

She was exceptional in every sense—her performances, visual aesthetic, and musical compositions all wound together to make her the icon she is today. Through it all, her lyrics were always one of her most powerful tools. She had the ability to cut straight to the heart of extreme emotions with a few searing lines, making her songs the sort that can be played over and over. Here are some of her greatest lyrics.

Image via Udiscovermusic

1. "This face in my dreams seizes my guts / He floods me with dread / Soaked in soul / He swims in my eyes by the bed / Pour myself over him / Moon spilling in / And I wake up alone."

These lyrics, from Back to Black's "Wake Up Alone," showcase Amy's ability to paint pictures with her words. Her lyrics told stories of late nights, private desires, and dreamlike sequences, and that's part of what made her songs feel almost mystical, though they're about relatively ordinary human experiences.

2. "I cheated myself / Like I knew I would, I told you I was trouble / You know that I'm no good."

"You Know I'm No Good" is one of Winehouse's most powerful songs. Its honesty and clarity paints the picture of a conflicted woman, tormented by her demons but at least clear-eyed enough to look them straight on. These lyrics are both strong and vulnerable at the same time, something that could also be said of Winehouse herself.

3. "I can't help ya if you won't help yourself."

These lyrics from the song "Help Yourself" show that some of Winehouse's most searing, powerful lines were her most straightforward. Though she was honest about her vulnerability, she was also perpetually strong and intelligent about her capabilities as a lover and healer.

4. "Over futile odds / And laughed at by the gods / And now the final frame / Love is a losing game."

"Love Is a Losing Game" finds Winehouse coming to terms with her unluckiness in love, comparing relationships to a rigged game. Lyrics such as these have long provided solace and strength to anyone who's found themselves lamenting the difficulty and transience of relationships.

5. "I died a hundred times / You go back to her / And I go back to black."

"Back to Black" is amazingly simple, elegant, and concise, and it showcases Amy's songwriting abilities at their absolute peak. Sassy, whip-sharp, and devastating, "Back to Black" is definitely one of the most iconic songs of the 21st century—in large part thanks to its shatteringly astute lyrics.

6. "Will you still love me tomorrow?"

The 1960 song "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" tells the story of someone finding themselves happy in a relationship, feeling like it's all too good to be true and worrying it could all disappear in the morning. Winehouse delivers one of the best covers in the long history of the beautiful song, lifting up one stunning lyric after another, while always remaining simple and straightforward, tapping into the heart of an all-too-common human fear.

7. "Everything is slowing down / River of no return / You recognize my every sound / There's nothing new to learn."

These lyrics from "In My Bed" showcase the innermost thoughts of a woman who's growing tired or unhappy with her lover, and they express the sadness of the realization that a relationship has run its course.

8. "I cannot play myself again / I should just be my own best friend, not f**k myself in the head with stupid men."

These are words to live by for anyone who's spent too much time in unhealthy relationships. Winehouse's blunt delivery spends no time hiding in metaphor; instead, she shouts her revelations from the rooftops, proclaiming the magic of her own independence.

9. "The lights are on, but no one's home / She's so vacant her soul is taken."

These lyrics from "He Can Only Hold Her" depict a woman halfway in the world and half out of it, lost and detached because of too much hurt, trying to start again but still trapped in the past. It's a heart-wrenching admission of pain from a woman who would eventually lose the fight with her demons, but whose music remains a guiding light for everyone else looking to see that they're not alone.

10. "They tried to make me go to rehab but I said no, no, no / Yes, I been black / But when I come back, you'll know, know, know."

"Rehab" finds Winehouse's wit piercing through, changing a dark subject into an upbeat, joyful proclamation of independence. Amy never let anyone control her—if anything, she was too wild and free, but it was always on her terms. This song is the definition of bittersweet, as its lyrics are joyful and devastating at the same time.

BONUS: "Her name is Cherry. We've just met / But already she knows me better than you / She understands me / After eighteen years / And you still don't see me like you ought to do."

Nobody knows exactly who this early track is addressed to—some think it's Amy's mother, an early lover, her father or the general public—but "Cherry" definitely refers to Winehouse's beloved guitar. Any musician or artist can understand the feeling that your guitar or other instrument understands and knows you far better than any human being ever has. Winehouse may have struggled in her relationships with people, but she certainly was a master of her art, and she managed to connect to millions through her solitary relationship with her guitars and her lyrics. Because of that, she'll live on forever as one of music's most beloved sirens, and as an icon of heartbreak and of power.

CULTURE

America's Going to S**t So I Guess We're Focusing on Jason Momoa's Body?

Jason Momoa's abs are a great channel for all our fears about our country falling apart.

BREAKING NEWS, everyone! Come on down to the ol' Internet watering hole where we're all talking about Jason Momoa's lack of ab definition in one vacation picture—for some reason.

This is real news, guys, and you heard it here last. This controversy is crazy! Recently, celebrity "magazine" (and sometimes emergency toilet paper) Us Weekly posted a candid photo of Aquaman star Jason Momoa poolside while on vacation with his family. He's in fantastic shape, but his abs aren't as chiseled as they were in the Aquaman movie because, as anyone who's ever seen the inside of a gym knows, ab definition like that takes constant maintenance.

This led a few morons to body-shame him in the comments, saying he had a "dad bod" even though he's in better shape than 99% of Earth's population. Then everyone and their mother jumped to his defense because, obviously, those body-shamers are idiots.

I agree. Nobody should be body-shaming anyone else, super hot celebrity men included.

BUT...

While like three salty people are body-shaming Jason Momoa on Instagram, here's something else that's happening:

America is completely going to s**t.

Billionaire hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein has been charged with sex trafficking children on American soil. He was finally caught in possession of child pornography after years of being openly shielded by powerful friends including former US president Bill Clinton and current US president Donald Trump.

trump and epstein "Alleged" child rapist Jeffrey Epstein with his good pal, US President Donald TrumpDavidoff Studios / Getty

Let's be crystal clear here: Two US presidents, across the aisle, kept company with a known child rapist, engaging in shady activities together, such as Trump and Epstein hosting a private party for themselves and 28 women. This should not be a partisan issue (CHILD RAPE IS NOT PARTISAN). People should not be hoping Clinton gets pinned and Trump walks away scot-free or vice versa. We should all be demanding that every single person potentially involved in Epstein's child sex trafficking circle gets thoroughly investigated and perhaps dies in prison if guilty––Democrat or Republican.

Also, did you know that Trump-appointed Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta––the same guy who brokered an extremely lenient plea deal for Epstein––tried to defund the US's anti-trafficking program? It's almost like all the conspiracy theorists are right about there actually being an elite child sex trafficking ring, but their partisan bias is just too strong to realize that the people they like are almost definitely involved.

acosta epstein Alex Acosta, the guy who gave Jeffery Epstein a phat plea deal and then tried to defunds US anti-trafficking measures that combat child sex slaveryReuters

But wait, there's more!

Global warming is reaching a point of irreversibility. This is cool, because our planet will be uninhabitable within only a few generations. If we don't convert from fossil fuels to renewable energy by roughly 2035, we will literally be ending the f**king world. And for any of you anti-science goofs who don't believe in global warming despite the fact that 97 percent of the scientific community is in agreement, which you can see on the actual NASA website, global warming also means no more sports fishin'. But, hey, if it doesn't affect you directly and it makes dying oil barons happy, why not destroy the world, right?

ice cap melting The ice caps are literally melting.

By the way!

We currently have children in concentration camps on US soil. But let's not get wrapped up in terminology. Heck, we can call them internment camps if you prefer. The point is, human rights violations are okay with a staggering portion of the American populace, just so long as the people they're happening to are brown and you can pretend "illegal" and "asylum seeker" are interchangeable terms. Again, let's be crystal, crystal clear. If you ever played that hypothetical "what would I do if I were a citizen of Germany before the Holocaust" game, and you're okay with what's happening on the US border, CONGRATULATIONS, THAT'S YOUR ANSWER.

US border camps If you think this is okay, congrats, you're a monster.Office of the Inspector General for the US Department of Homeland Security

Oh, and also the entire Seth Rich conspiracy was planted by Russian trolls and widely spread by Fox News' own 180 pound sentient dump, Sean Hannity. This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that information warfare is real and that the American people are willing conspirators. But hey, keep shouting fake news at well-sourced articles you don't like LOL!

sean hannity The aftermath of a late night Chipotle bender. Nicholas Kamm/ AFP via Getty Images

But I digress. All these news stories are horrifying and upsetting and so, so, so draining. We're in the midst of a cultural cold war, and the future of America––and really the entire world––hangs in the balance.

At times like these, it's important we come together and channel our energy into something that really matters...

Jason Momoa's abs.

jason momoa abs MMMMMMMMMMMMM MOMOA ABS.MEGA / AMA

Look, I GET IT. Our cultural landscape is really, really perilous right now. In a lot of ways, focusing on dumb entertainment news and celebrity gossip offers an escape from the sheer awfulness of everything else. Spending all your time thinking about children in cages, global doom, and which politician maybe won't destroy the country from the inside-out can be mind-shattering. Some controversy about something someone somewhere said about a hot guy's abs? That's easier. You're one person who can only do so much. So fine, as long as you're going out to vote consistently, it's okay to turn your brain off and dream about Jason Momoa's tummy.

Cuz dang, those are some fine abs, toned or not. How dare anybody say otherwise.