Just “Bad Blood,” or bad body image?
Nude bodices, come-hither poses, and full body scans of a barely clothed body: Taylor Swift’s latest video, “Bad Blood,” is the culmination of her sexual evolution, which we began to see with the release of her album 1989 in 2014.
Sexual, or at least sensual, lyrics trickle through the album (“his hands are in my hair, his clothes are in my room,” for example), but Swift has embraced this side of herself more obviously through the progression of videos for singles from the album.
“Blank Space” prophesied where Swift would be heading with her next few videos: In between images of an elegant Swift wearing ball gowns and jodhpurs were shots of her in sitting in near-lingerie on a bed and writhing on the floor in leopard print.
“Style” was a back-to-nature departure from the stylized glamour of “Blank Space,” but Swift still reeked sensuality with the combination of her red lips and her male costar’s shirtless body. Her choice to make “Bad Blood” her most obviously sexual makes sense, then, as everything has been leading up to this.
Emerging and increasingly open sexuality in a performer – really, in any person – is not a bad thing. What is troublesome is that “Bad Blood” ties sexual attractiveness to female empowerment. Swift’s previous public statements on feminism imply that she would want this to be an empowering video. And, in accordance with her tweet that women “are at our best when we cheer each other on and build each other up,” she employed her ultra-famous girl posse to star in the video – after all, what are best friends for?
These women are portraying strong characters: They’re training to fight. But something is lost when the majority of them are so scantily clad. They’re devalued from being strong warriors to being traditionally sexy females with bodies that exist to be objectified. The only two people who seem to fully understand this in the video are Lena Dunham (Hollywood’s most prominent proselytizer of feminism) and Hailee Steinfeld, both of whom are fully clothed, but are the brains behind the mission.
Sure, athlete-warriors might have toned bodies, but that doesn’t mean they have to march around in lingerie to show off their physical abilities.
The other problem with the “female empowerment” in “Bad Blood” is that the very message of the song undermines Swift’s desire to build other women up. She admitted to Rolling Stone that the song was about being angry at another female artist. Sure, that happens – we’ve probably all been in a catfight or two in our lifetimes, and anger is a real and natural emotion.
But Swift and her posse are enacting an all-out girl-on-girl war, and gone are the days of underdog-Swift hoping the popular guy will ask her to the prom (see “You Belong With Me”). She’s a little more like “The Plastics” from Mean Girls here, a declaration that her posse of beautiful friends is going to win in the end.
While we can’t fault her for growing up and creating art that reveals her life with trademark honesty, we can hope to caution Swift to be more careful with the messages she sends about female worth as she more openly expresses her sexuality and beauty.
Caitlin Lansing graduated from Princeton University in 2014, where she studied American women’s history with a focus on entertainment and beauty culture. A former college cheerleader and dancer, she is no stranger to body image issues, but hopes to use this to encourage women in their pursuits of self-confidence.