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Miss Americana Uncovers the Truth About Stardom — and Womanhood

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northeastern chapter.

    Our generation has grown up alongside Taylor Swift. As someone who has been releasing albums for years on a regular basis and still remains in the public eye, she’s one of the first people that jumps to our minds when we think of a quintessential pop star. Her celebrity feuds and dating life have been the subject of endless media buzz, and even though I was never a “Swiftie” growing up, I always knew what was going on in her life. But sometimes, it’s easy to forget that such prominent figures of stardom are still human in the same way we are. That’s what makes Miss Americana so moving—it features someone who seems so detached from regular life, and it sheds light on how much like us she really is.

    The opening scene features Swift in a loose pink shirt and overalls playing the piano with a kitten by her side. Director Lana Wilson quickly gives us more where that came from, as the documentary moves on to show footage from Swift’s recording demos, backstage moments, home videos, cameos from friends and family, and a voice over narration from Swift herself. It was so fascinating to watch Swift working in the studio, talking to her producers and collaborators, trying to come up with perfect ideas for her music videos. I loved watching her craft a song on the spot or adjust lyrics as was necessary to create the most compelling story. All of this helped give an intimate look as to what happens past the enormous stadiums and glittering outfits that constitute what we think of as “Taylor Swift”. After the opening scenes, it cuts to an interview of Swift saying, “my entire moral code and as a kid and even now is a need to be thought of as good”.  For almost the entirety of her career, Swift tried to maintain a squeaky-clean image with her ‘good girl’ songs and sweet, docile nature. 

    But the need to gain approval from hundreds of millions of strangers can put unspeakable amounts of pressure on someone. As a young woman in the public eye, all facets of Swift’s life are under constant scrutiny—including her body, dating life, and home life. As we see, this can be so incredibly damaging. In a heartbreaking segment, Swift opened up about suffering from an eating disorder, saying that whenever she felt ashamed about her body, usually triggered by some external factor from the media, she would starve herself. She shared, “there’s always some standard of beauty that you’re not meeting— you’re either too skinny or not skinny enough.” This is just one of the many issues that Swift has had to contend with from being a part of the entertainment industry. Over the years, Taylor Swift’s “look” has been changing from album to album. She talks about the struggle of constantly having to reinvent herself in order to stay interesting and relevant; a struggle that only becomes more difficult as she grows older, because as she puts it, “women in entertainment are discarded in an elephant graveyard by the time they’re 35.” On top of all of this, one of the big problems that celebrities face, especially in the age of the internet and Twitter, is cancel culture. In fact, Swift fell victim to this during her famous controversy with Kanye West. After Kim Kardashian released the footage of her phone call with Kanye, #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty began trending, causing Swift to take a long break from the public eye. As a society who is so easily able to cancel people, we never really stop to think about the effect it has on their lives. Seeing Swift, who had spent her entire life trying so hard not to be disliked, suffer from cancel culture definitely made me rethink my stance on the phenomenon.  

taylor image reputation album
Photo by Raphael Lovaski on Unsplash
    I think the best part about this documentary is the way it connected with viewers, especially women, when Swift’s personal struggles with love and dating were revealed. As we know, it’s impossible for a celebrity to have a private love life these days, and since many of Swift’s partners have been famous celebrities themselves, she knows this better than anyone. But what the media chooses to focus on isn’t the content of her relationships or the struggles she’s experienced because of men, but rather the number of men she’s dated. Swift’s had many boyfriends, and as a result, has been slut-shamed by the media and its consumers. Women who’ve had many partners are often subjected to heartless insults and derogatory remarks, whereas men are usually awed for the same situation. 

    Slut-shaming has all sorts of negative consequences, especially when it leads people into thinking girls deserve what they get or are “asking for it.” As we learn in the documentary, Swift is one of many female survivors of sexual assault. Said assault locked her in a heart-wrenching court battle that thankfully led to justice against her perpetrator. However, after winning the case, she revealed that, “you don’t feel any sense of victory when you win, because the process is so dehumanizing”.  Plus, “winning” is hardly the norm, as so survivors more often than not lose their battles, and so many perpetrators get off with no consequences. That fact, along with the Me Too movement, spurred a change in Swift, propelling her towards activism. As we know, she had been warned time and time again against expressing her political views in order to keep up her “good girl” image, but after Rep. Marsha Blackburn started to gain popularity in the Tennessee polls, Swift disregarded all of that. “She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape. She believes businesses have the right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry.” After becoming vocal about her stance on such issues, Swift encouraged young people to get out there and vote. Her efforts didn’t go to waste, as young voter registration increased sevenfold that year. Oftentimes women are not encouraged to express their opinions because they are treated so much worse for doing so then men are, but seeing Swift, after so many years of “feeling muzzled”, speak out against what she thought was wrong was truly inspiring.

    In my opinion, Miss Americana is a must-watch documentary. Not just because it reveals the underbelly of another pop star’s rise to fame, but because it’s also a touching narrative of a woman’s self-growth and discovery throughout the formative years of her life. As Swift reflects on her journey, we see all the ways that, despite the many trials and tribulations she’s faced, she was able to become more accepting of who she was. Because of her growth, she was able to enter a loving relationship, express her political and social voice as a woman, and find true happiness with the life she’s created.  

Dhriti Aiylam

Northeastern '23

Dhriti Aiylam is a first-year behavioral neuroscience major at Northeastern University. From Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, she's pretty local, but is still so excited about Boston and city life. She loves to read, hang out with friends, travel, and watch Netflix.