- Taylor Swift discusses her experience dealing with an eating disorder in the upcoming Netflix documentary “Miss Americana.”
- Experts praise Swift and hope that her story will help others seek the help they need with a medical professional.
- Eating disorders can affect people of all sizes, races, and genders.
Whether a new song or political statement, when singer-songwriter Taylor Swift speaks, millions of people listen.
That’s what made her recent revelation that she has dealt with an eating disorder especially notable in its power to erode stigma around the condition.
In the interview with Variety, Swift went on to discuss negative body image issues and how comments about her body — both positive and negative — contributed to her disordered eating. She discusses her experience further in the Netflix documentary “Miss Americana,” which comes out Jan. 31.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), 30 million Americans experience an eating disorder at some point during their lives. Prevailing stigma and stereotypes about who is affected by eating disorders prevents many people from getting the help they need.
“When a celebrity like Taylor Swift brings attention not to just eating disorders but body shaming and self-image, it has a huge positive ripple effect,” Roseann Capanna-Hodge, an integrative mental health expert, told Healthline.
“Taylor Swift is held in such high esteem by girls and young women that when she says, ‘Look, even I feel this way and I developed a clinical problem that I took care of,’ it sends the message that [people with eating disorders] should absolutely get help and can get better,” Capanna-Hodge said.
Can revelations like Swift’s be triggering? It’s possible. But experts agreed that the benefits outweigh the downsides.
“Hopefully — as stressful as it can be — it is a wakeup call to find help from a licensed mental health professional,” Capanna-Hodge said.
Swift said constant comments about her body — both criticism and compliments — led her to view food in relation to her body size rather than for fuel or health, which caused her eating disorder.
“You just start to accommodate everything towards praise and punishment, including your own body,” Swift told Variety.
“Taylor Swift did such a nice job of talking about the inadvertent reinforcement of being really thin,” noted Capanna-Hodge.
“Who doesn’t love to hear good things? But with such an unrealistic focus on extreme thinness — not something a lot of people naturally are — [our society] creates an unrealistic bar that can’t be achieved, and it perpetuates negative self-image,” Capanna-Hodge explained.
Brooke Nicole Smith, PhD, an eating disorder survivor turned mindful eating expert, agreed that a culture of worshipping thinness is at play in Swift’s experience.
“That Taylor Swift was ashamed of her body, and had the relatable experience of being treated differently depending on how her body was perceived, highlights the fact that the body is not the problem — the thin ideal is the problem,” Smith told Healthline.
“Swift’s comment that she thought she was ‘supposed’ to feel like she would pass out [during a performance] highlights the dangerous normalization of some disordered behaviors,” Smith said.
Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, who is also an eating disorder survivor, hopes that Swift’s message helps people with eating disorders realize that their behaviors are unhealthy, which is the first step to getting help.
“It’s hard to always recognize [disordered eating behaviors] when we live in a society that’s saturated in diet culture,” Karges explained.
While Taylor Swift was exposed to a constant stream of commentary on her body, non-celebrities, especially young women, are also exposed to comments about their bodies — both in person and online.
“I can’t even count the number of times we’ve counseled somebody because of extreme cruelty online. Derogative comments, especially toward young women, includes comments about their appearance,” Capanna-Hodge shared.
She doesn’t think it’s wise to comment on other people’s bodies, especially young girls’ bodies.
“There’s already so much commentary on how women look and such a hyper focus on thinness [by society]. People always air on the side of positive commentary — but make it about something other than their bodies,” Capanna-Hodge advised.
Lauren Cadillac, a nutritionist and eating disorder survivor, agrees. “I think we all need to stop commenting on other people’s bodies — whether we’re complimenting or criticizing,” she said.
Someone can be experiencing an eating disorder or illness, so, Cadillac says you don’t know what [behavior] you’re actually complimenting. Praise can make it more difficult to recognize a behavior is a problem.
While Swift’s window into her disordered eating has started a conversation about eating disorders, it could leave the majority of people who need help out of the discussion.
“It can be incredibly helpful [for celebrities to talk about their eating disorders] and at the same time it can reinforce stereotypes with regard to who can have an eating disorder or be engaged in disordered eating,” said Chevese Turner, chief policy and strategy officer at NEDA.
“Celebrities who are profiled with food, exercise, and body image issues tend to be thin, young, white women with anorexia nervosa, which are the minority. The reality is that those affected can be in any size body and of any race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender, or age,” Turner stated.
Karges agrees that focusing on very thin young women when talking about eating disorders doesn’t help decrease stigma for people who don’t fit the stereotype, especially people in larger bodies.
“Sometimes, individuals may believe that they’re not ‘thin’ enough to get help, but it’s important to remember that any eating or body image issues that are causing distress are not normal — regardless of body size,” Karges said.
For more information about treatment options or to speak with a masters-level clinician, contact Eating Recovery Center at 1-877-711-1878 or firstname.lastname@example.org.