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Miss Americana: Showing Taylor Swift’s Experiences Not Only as an Artist, but as a Woman

By Sophie Fennelly

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Personally, one of the most effecting parts of the film was Swift voicing her experiences growing up in the media and the effect that it had on her mental health. Swift first started performing at age 13, which we can all remember as a time where we were insecure and impressionable. In the documentary she recounts how she began to associate her self-worth with the praise she was receiving from record labels and the media at the time. So, she learnt that her self-worth was defined by how well her performance were received. The documentary then moves to discuss the infamous Kanye West moment during the MTV Video awards in 2009 when Swift, aged 19, wins the award for Best Female Video and is interrupted during her acceptance speech by Kanye West who argues that Beyoncé should have won the award. Swift references this as the moment where things changed for her as everyone started to boo Kanye, but as she did not know the full story, she thought she was being boo-ed. For Swift, this incident seems to have had a massive impact on her confidence, which is understandable as any 19-year-old girl, famous or not, would find that situation difficult to manage. Reflecting on this ten years later we can see a similar narrative with Billie Eilish mouthing ‘Please don’t be me’ before her Grammy win was announced, as she was scared of the backlash she would receive by those claiming that she did not deserve the awards. Of course, many awards are often debated as to whether or not they were ‘deserved’ but there seems to be a running narrative of female artists who become successful at a young age experiencing backlash for winning awards. Perhaps because it is easier to invalidate a young girl’s success than anyone else’s.

Swift also discusses the media’s impact on her body image, stating that she had become so unhealthy, counting the things that she had to eat that day, that she always felt like she was on the edge of passing out when performing. She states that her experiences in Hollywood normalised this to the point where she did not even realise it was happening to her, and that it was only when she returned to performing after her hiatus having put some more weight on during her time out that she truly realised there was a problem. She also recounts the criticism she received over her body, citing Nikki Glaser’s comment that Swift was ‘annoying’ because she was ‘too skinny’. Should we not be offering help and guidance rather than criticising? Swift recounts the work that she has had to do to try and reverse the thought processes that prevent her from eating well in a raw description of the issues that still plague her. Swift also expresses her regret that she was so unaware of her own condition, fearing that she has normalised an unhealthy lifestyle to her fanbase who she says she feels have grown up alongside her, and therefore are susceptible to the same problematic lifestyle choices.

Swift also talks in depth about her experiences during her sexual assault trial, a process she described as ‘dehumanising’ and expresses how she was ‘antagonise[d]’ so much by the opposition’s lawyers that she was made to feel like a fraud, even though there was strong evidence of the assault, and so when she won it did not even feel like a success. Swift links this to her decision to become more political, as she found it difficult to win her lawsuit when she had seven witnesses and a photo of the incident, and so can imagine how difficult it can be for those who do not have material evidence. But it was the Republican Congresswoman Marhsa Blackburn who ran for Tennessee Senate, Swift’s home state, that mobilised her vocalisation of her political views. Swift explains how Blackburn’s policies and voting record ‘appalled’ and ‘terrified’ her, with votes against a bill to protect women from crimes such as stalking, and anti-LGBT policies. The film shows Swift arguing with her father about this decision, with him suggesting that it will have a negative impact on her album and tour sales, but Swift expressing that after her experiences during her sexual assault trial she no longer feels like she can be silent about these issues. The film also explains the history of Country music: in 2003 the Dixie Chicks made a disparaging comment about President Bush and the involvement in Iraq at a concert in London. Whilst this was received positively in Britain, it led to mass boycotts in the US which caused them to be blacklisted by many corporate broadcasting networks for the rest of the Bush years. Swift explained that she became famous in the aftermath of this incident and thus the legacy of it was ingrained into her by record label representatives.

In all, despite having received mixed reviews, I found the film to be emotionally raw and inspiringly open. Many have criticised it for appearing overly managed but having watched the film and listened to the impact the over-involvement of the media in her life, it is not really appropriate to ask for any more openness than she is willing to show us. I give Miss Americana 4 stars.