Our wholeness suffers when we are required to squeeze into a box of who we think we “should” be. We lose touch with who we truly are as we seek approval and try endlessly to please others. Taylor notes, “I became the person who everyone wanted me to be.” She literally stopped feeding herself in an effort to make herself small enough to fit into the mold of what was expected of her.
Approval from others is a fragile foundation on which to lay our self-worth, because inevitably we will disappoint some people sometimes. Even as Taylor was starving herself, she saw that “there’s always some standard of beauty that you’re not meeting.” There are a number of double binds that are particularly present for women, and they include more than just paradoxical beauty requirements (e.g. be skinny, but also have a big butt). As Dr. Jill Stoddard noted in Be Mighty: A Woman’s Guide to Liberation from Anxiety, Worry & Stress Using Mindfulness and Acceptance Strategies, “we are evaluated as less competent when we are seen as likeable; when we are considered competent, we are more likely to be labeled unlikeable (Heilman et al., 2004; Rudman and Glick, 1999)”. This likability bind is another that Taylor is intimately familiar with. As Taylor states so poignantly,
When you’re living for the approval of strangers, and that is where you derive all of your joy and fulfillment, one bad thing can cause everything to crumble…When people decided I was wicked and evil and conniving and not a good person, that was the one I couldn’t bounce back from because my whole life was centered around it.
It might seem like if we just make ourselves perfect enough, we could avoid rejection or criticism or failure. But even if we could be perfect and avoid all of those things, we then would have to wrestle with the pain of making ourselves smaller to be more acceptable. ACT teaches us that pain is inevitable, and that the problem is not the pain itself but the rigid and inflexible ways we respond to it and the ways we restrict our lives to try to avoid it.
Taylor describes feeling muzzled for most of her career. She says that it was her own doing, which is true to an extent in that she discovered that she could choose to speak up and be true to who she really is. However, it’s also important to note that she was muzzled by a culture and a context that told her in order to be liked, accepted, successful, and safe, she was not allowed to have an authentic voice. It was not her fault that she was muzzled, but it was up to her to break free. And in doing so, she is setting a powerful example for other women, pop star and otherwise, that authenticity and success are not mutually exclusive. She is helping to shift a culture that has muzzled women for centuries.
I want to wear pink and tell you how I feel about politics. And I don’t think that those things have to cancel each other out.
5. Our values can help set us free.
As viewers watch Taylor descend into isolation and depression resulting from others’ negative opinions of her, we also see her begin to change and grow in really powerful ways. She transforms from the stereotypical picture of a “good girl” into a bold, strong, mighty, authentic woman. She is no longer driven by the opinions of others, but grounded in what is important to her: being present with her family and her partner, and using her voice to stand up for what she believes in. She displays a willingness to risk rejection and discomfort in the service of speaking up for women, the LGBTQ+ community, sexual assault survivors, and minorities. She is often advised to stay small and quiet, but chooses instead to be true to who she is.
ACT in ACTion.
In cultivating a willingness to risk pain and rejection, getting present to who and what matters most, and recognizing she is far more than the stories told about her, Taylor is able to make choices in line with her own authentic, personally held values. The documentary finishes with Taylor saying,
I want to still have a sharp pen and a thin skin and an open heart.
This last piece of wisdom is important: the key is not to stop caring, but rather to get grounded in who you are and what you care about. Our pain points us toward our values. It hurts precisely because we care. Vulnerability is a strength, and it is only when we are willing to risk discomfort that we are truly able to connect with what matters.
This content was originally published here.