Taylor Swift’s impact on fans’ body image attitudes is mostly positive, research shows

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Taylor Swift’s impact on fans’ body image attitudes is mostly positive, research shows

Taylor Swift
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Taylor Swift’s past struggles with body image, disordered eating, and body objectification have had an overall positive influence on her fans’ attitudes on these issues, a new study from University of Vermont (UVM) researchers finds.

The new research, published in journal Social Science & Medicine, analyzed the top 200 TikTok and Reddit posts—including over 8,300 online comments—about Taylor Swift, eating disorders, and body image to determine the impact of Swift’s disclosures about her past eating disorder on her fans.

“Our findings suggest that fans who felt highly connected to Swift were influenced to positively change their behaviors or attitudes around eating or their body image because of Swift’s disclosures and messages in her music,” says Associate Prof. Lizzy Pope of UVM Nutrition and Food Sciences Department, a registered dietitian nutritionist.

“Fans seemed to take inspiration from the fact that Swift had recovered from disordered eating and subsequently appeared to be thriving,” adds Kelsey Rose, a UVM Clinical Assistant Professor and registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in eating disorder treatment.

Analyzing thousands of online comments, researchers identified several positive themes—the biggest being that fans saw Swift as a role model for eating disorder recovery and used Swift’s story or her art to inspire their own recoveries.

Several Swift songs refer to disordered eating or body image pressures. Swift has also talked candidly about her struggles around disordered eating, body image, and body objectification in her 2020 film, “Miss Americana.” These disclosures are unique in that they call into question societal norms that perpetuate diet culture which can be driven by celebrity culture, the researchers say.

Swift’s transparency helped to decrease the stigma around eating disorders among her fans, the researchers say. This is important because other research has shown that stigma-related shame can decrease help-seeking behaviors and negatively impact health outcomes.

However, despite Swift’s overall positive effect, fans often continued to objectify Swift’s body and researchers found conflicted discourse regarding Swift’s artistic decision to display the word “fat” on a scale in her video for “Anti-Hero.”

Even when fans were praising Swift, sometimes they would perpetuate harm around the societal idea of thinness. “Although in ‘Miss Americana,’ Swift says, ‘I’m so sick of being objectified, and it’s driven me to disordered eating,’ the fans were still commenting on her body. Even if it was meant to be positive, fans would still comment, which means that they didn’t completely internalize her message of ‘please do not comment on people’s bodies anymore,'” said Pope.

The authors found that even when fans meant to defend Swift, they often said things such as, “She’s gained weight, she looks so happy and healthy now,” objectifying her further.

Surrounded by students who idolize Swift and are vulnerable to diet culture, Pope and Rose were inspired to explore the influence of Swift’s eating-related disclosures on her fans’ relationships with disordered eating, their own bodies, and diet culture.

The study results show that Swift’s public disclosure of her own struggles with disordered eating and diet culture have empowered her fans, as well as illustrated the limitations of individual disclosures to address broader systemic issues like anti-fat bias. Importantly, fans of all body sizes self-identified in comments reflecting how Swift’s honesty had helped them with their own relationships with food/body. Swift’s Eras Tour currently has a cast of body-diverse dancers, challenging the idea that expert dancers only come in one body size, the researchers say.

The researchers are hopeful their research might encourage Swift and celebrities like her to use their influence on society.

“Taylor Swift can do more to change attitudes with a few sentences than we can do in our entire careers,” said Pope. “So, it’s important to study people that have that kind of impact. There is little doubt that if she chooses to be, Swift can be a powerful voice for health, wellness and more weight-inclusive practices that may move society closer to the idea of body liberation.”

More information:
Lizzy Pope et al, “It’s All Just F*cking Impossible:” The Influence of Taylor Swift on Fans’ Body Image, Disordered Eating, and Rejection of Diet Culture, Social Science & Medicine (2024). DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2024.117100

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