By Julia Kemp
Topping the charts for the past month, Taylor Swift’s latest single, “Anti-Hero,” is receiving an unprecedented amount of attention. The legendary pop hit has faced negative criticism from those questioning Swift’s lyricism—particularly in one stand-out line. “Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby,” reveals Taylor, “and I’m a monster on the hill.” Swift feels as though she isn’t emotionally and physically small enough to make people comfortable. Though I, admittedly, felt confused and humored during my first listen of “Anti-Hero,” I discovered a deep and revealing truth in that vulnerable line: women must morph into an infantilized version of themselves in order to fit in with the male gaze.
A stereotypical man’s depiction of a perfect woman might go like this: not too tall, skinny, soft-spoken, never gets mad, fair, helpless, hairless, small enough to hold. While all of these traits may be possible for a ten-year-old girl, most full-grown women aren’t built like children. However, because social norms and beauty standards rule the world for women, they are forced to adapt. Take tall women, for example. Tall women are exponentially more likely to slouch, attempting fruitlessly to appear as small and child-like as possible, and many develop long-lasting back pain as a result. Essentially, appealing to the beauty standards of most men ultimately leads to attempts to appear hyper-youthful and small (waxing, dieting, slouching, smiling—just to name a few).
As a tall pop singer long past the age of a perfectly infantile woman, Taylor Swift feels as though she does not fit the mold of that “sexy baby” that men seem to want. In her darkest thoughts, she’s stumbling in, unwanted and disgusting, as her monster of a body intrudes on the lives of the sexy babies and their husbands. A 5’11 woman with a history of disordered eating, Swift has openly shared her rocky relationship with body image. In her Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, Swift reveals, when “I feel like I looked like my tummy was too big, (…) that’ll just trigger me to just starve a little bit—just stop eating.” Taylor is not alone; according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1.6 percent of women are diagnosed with an eating disorder, literally killing themselves to look as little as possible.
Bred to adhere to the youth-promoting beauty standards, women try everything to be small—to not take up too much space, or make too much noise. Forcing us to enslave our bodies in the quest to be a sexy baby, male-controlled standards influence women to back themselves into a corner, silencing themselves in the name of beauty. Though trends change, beauty norms will always promote the same repressive motif: you can’t be too big, you have to fit that tiny, sexy baby mold.