Call Me, Miss Americana

It's a new decade, the new Roaring Twenties, you could say. Social media is currently obsessed with the "Ten Year Challenge", where one posts a picture of their current selves alongside a picture taken a decade ago. The point is for your followers to marvel at your glow up and shower you in compliments. Ten years ago, I was a twelve-year-old who hated pretty much everything about her life, with even more fury than your usual case of teenage-angst.

I hated my school, even though it was an objectively lovely dark red building with two floors, ample and clean classroom space, a nurse’s office with the same nurse everyday (many Chicago schools do not), and a rollerblading unit for Phys Ed., amidst other fine luxuries that only superfluous funding can allow. I was the child of working class immigrants, and my classmates were amazingly xenophobic. I have an ethnically Ukrainian name, and girls in my class wanted me to change it from Marta Lesya “to something prettier, like Martina”. I didn’t have braces yet, so those same girls offered to sucker punch me until my teeth were straight. I didn’t have UGG boots, because those were expensive, so those same girls would hide my non-UGG winter boots inside a maze of Phys Ed lockers. There was also this one girl who had a bad redecorating habit, something that not even HGTV could fix. She loved to snatch my things and dispose of them at an empty table in an empty corner, ordering people to not sit by me, or else face her wrath. All I wanted was to have friends and play volleyball on the school team, but that was too much to ask.

The point is, my self-esteem was on near-constant low-battery mode. Starting from age 8, I would frequently throw the contents of my lunch bag - sometimes in its entirety - away in the garbage bin. The frequency would only increase in severity as I navigated my Junior High hallways. 

I mostly coped by listening to a lot of Taylor Swift’s music. I decided that someday, I truly would be living in a big ol’ city, and that all they would ever be is mean.  

Not everything went perfectly according to plan, but that’s okay. Like, I never played division one college volleyball at Northwestern, but I don’t lose sleep over it.  

(I got into a combined-degree program at DePaul instead; I am getting a MEd)

Curled up alone on a school bus faux leather bench, I would listen to Taylor Swift's music to cope. Whether I was twelve, or a seventeen year old awaiting university admissions’ decisions, I had a Taylor Swift song for it. When it was my freshman year, and I knew I was “gonna be here for the next four years in this town”, and I got nominated for homecoming court as a spoof, I had Taylor. When I felt that I had screwed up big time, there was Innocent. Dear John was for my broken heart, and Enchanted and Speak Now were a wistful romantic fantasy that would happen once I moved at least 50 miles away. Like in The Lucky One, they’d tell the legend of how I disappeared; I’d take my dignity and get the hell out. When people let me down, and the end of high school and our childhood was drawing near, I made a 17 song playlist solely consisting of Clean. I even did my best to imitate Taylor Swift's hairstyle - When the Back To December music video premiered her thick bangs, you better believe I cut my hair to match hers. 1989 brought an era of short, shoulder-length locks with side swept bangs for the both of us. Years later, I would swap “Sixteenth Avenue” for “Fullerton Avenue” for when I dance around my apartment bedroom singing I Think He Knows. I love listening to Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince, because I too was a Miss Americana who, once mistakenly dazzled by lights and sparkle, saw the scoreboard and took a chance to run.  

On Thursday, “Miss Americana” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Yesterday, I read in an interview with Variety that Taylor Swift, like me, struggled with body image and self-loathing. That she hates looking at her photographs, too. Often she felt like she was going to pass out in the middle of a show. Often she dismissed her thinness for, “I exercise a lot”. Often I felt I was going to pass out after a varsity track practice, or from walking up or down a staircase. I am not a doctor, but I am someone who experiences ocular migraines, and the incidence of me experiencing temporary blindness (like the squid creature in Nintendo Mario Kart who splashes your screen for 20 seconds - enough to bump your hero from 1st to 8th place) was a daily occurence when I was at my worst. I think my record is 5 or 6 squids within a single trip down the hallway to get from one classroom to the next. 

When I read the article, sitting in my city-apartment bedroom decorated in Taylor Swift references, all I could do was cry.

My Miss Americana fought through the same rose thorns. 

Currently, I am in the stage of my life that comes after Miss Americana runs through the thorns to save her life. It’s a cross between The Archer, Daylight, and It’s Nice to Have a Friend.

At the end of the article, Taylor is quoted, “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.”

Me too, Taylor. Me too. 

“Miss Americana” comes to Netflix on January 31st. 
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week starts in February.