Taylor Swift recently opened up to Variety on her relationship to both food and her body, (hyperlink sentence) after comments on her body ranged from mildly aggravating to incredibly damaging. Swift explains how she might see “a picture of me where I feel like I looked like my tummy was too big, or… someone said that I looked pregnant … and that’ll just trigger me to just starve a little bit — just stop eating.” While she doesn’t name it implicitly, Taylor Swift’s description of not eating is characteristic of Anorexia nervosa or avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder— often shortened to anorexia — which is a serious and potentially life-threatening eating disorder.
An eating disorder is a persistent disturbance of eating or eating-related behavior that results in the consumption of food that is not typical or not suitable for the person’s age, circumstances and nutritional needs. An eating disorder is diagnosed when that disturbance impairs physical health or psychological or social functioning. The most common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating and avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder.
Those with Anorexia or avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder often hold themselves to impossible standards of weight, shape, and food intake since their perception of body size is distorted. These perceptions can result in dangerously low body weight and an overwhelming fear or anxiety about gaining weight, which manifest in unhealthy behaviors like extreme food restriction or not eating at all — just as Taylor Swift mentions.
While Taylor Swift doesn’t elaborate at length on how her eating disorder has manifested, she does explain how comments from others — even people she didn’t know — were especially hurtful. Here are a few helpful swaps when discussing food, weight, and body type:
Taylor Swift recounts how people — especially those in the public eye — are held to impossible standards when it comes to what is beautiful, acceptable, or “right.” She explains, “If you’re thin enough, then you don’t have that ass that everybody wants .. but if you have enough weight on you to have an ass, your stomach isn’t flat enough. It’s all just f—ing impossible.”
Being too thin, as in the case of anorexia, can cause serious health problems and in extreme cases, even death. Concerned health professionals, educators and parents are making efforts to increase awareness that the extreme thinness of fashion models sets a twisted and dangerous ideal of beauty.
Fame and fortune doesn’t prevent celebrities like Taylor Swift from eating disorders, and they’re very common among all populations and demographics. At least 9% of the worldwide population is affected by eating disorders, and in the US alone, 28.8 million Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. Eating disorders affect people of all ages, races and socio-economic levels, and 25 percent of these Americans are men. There’s also an abundance of shame associated with weight fluctuations, as Taylor Swift and popular author-lecturer Brené Brown have alluded to.
A survey of 1,000 adults conducted for the National Eating Disorders Association found that 70 percent believe encouraging the media and advertisers to use more average sized people in their advertising campaigns would reduce or prevent eating disorders.
But scientific knowledge, abundance and choice can be overridden by psychological and emotional imprints that cast a shadow over the natural impulse to eat what the body needs to survive and be healthy. This is true for Taylor Swift, who explains, “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…now I realize, no, if you eat food, have energy, get stronger, you can do all these shows and not feel (enervated).”