This is the story of how Taylor Swift changed my life, which is a sentence that sounds super dramatic and ridiculous and I am fully aware of that.
So, my friends all know that 1989 was a really important album to me, but I don’t know if I’ve ever explained why. I genuinely have no idea who cares about this, but here we go.
I’ve spent basically my entire life making what should be choices of personal preference based on everything other than personal preference. Yes, yes, even after writing my post railing against judgey music hipsters, I still made choices based on things other than what I actually liked. This controlled every part of my life: instead of basing food choices on what I enjoyed, I chose food based on carb content or “clean”-ness or because eating candy for breakfast has somehow morphed from maybe-not-the-greatest-idea to totally-endearing-and-relatable due to Instagram or whatever; I chose clothing based either on my horrendous body image and need to feel small or on the styles of my friends because I prefer neutrals and neutrals are boring or something (or — as in high school — I chose clothing based on both what would make me feel small and on its Quirkiness Level. I mean…I routinely wore my brother’s camo cargo shorts with a Sesame Street t-shirt. I do not suggest this method of choosing a personal style.); I tried to shift my personality around in order to please friends (who absolutely did not require this of me) and whatever crush I had at the time (who probably thought I was being weird as a result of this) because I am loud and opinionated and decidedly not cute or delicate in the way I wanted to be (there’s a reason Sarah Jaffe’s “Clementine” used to make me cry all the time).
Anyway, I spent a lot of time not enjoying things I actually enjoyed because I needed to put a certain personality that I’d deemed as the Ideal Chelsea out there. Even when I allowed myself to enjoy things that didn’t meet my standards, I did it in secret and rarely admitted to liking certain things to friends (with a sense of shame every single time). This was freaking exhausting because I held myself to impossibly high and incredibly weird standards.
Included in my weird standards was the idea that I couldn’t like Top 40 music because I had to be quirky and unique and exude Natalie Portman’s character from Garden State 24/7. This was a constant, ridiculous mental battle because I legitimately love “Raise Your Glass” by Pink, which basically voids any attempts I may have made to avoid Top 40 music. I also judged other people hardcore if they liked things that were considered popular. In fact, despite the fact that I admitted my love for every Taylor Swift song I’d heard to that point in the 2012 blog post I mentioned above, I continued to both judge Swifties and feel a little ashamed of myself for liking her music.
Looking back I realize that Taylor’s music has seen me through a lot. Not in a she’s-what-gave-me-hope way, but just in a she-gave-me-something-to-smile-about-during-a-rough-patch way. I fell in love with a mash-up of “Love Story” and “Viva la Vida” back during my crazy/detrimental Bible school experience; when I was absolutely miserable in college back in 2011, one of the few things I looked forward to every school day was hearing “Mine” on the radio while I was driving; and, I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that “We Are Never Getting Back Together” and “Trouble” were both released as singles at an extremely convenient time.
Fast forward to fall of 2014. I’d just had just taken a three-month ride on the Eating Disorder Relapse Express and was finally buckling down on eating carbs again. I was super self-conscious because I’d gained weight as a result. I was terrified of liking food lest I would lose control somehow and dedicate my entire life to eating pie. I was borderline suicidal due to a lot of issues, and was depressed to the point of not being excited about anything (one of my favorite ways of describing my state of mind was: “I would react the exact same way emotionally to someone throwing me a surprise party and someone impaling my foot with a nail gun” or something to that effect).
I was still trying to hold myself together by not allowing myself to like things that didn’t fit the personality ideal I’d created for myself, which, once again, is exhausting and has an ROI of negative a million.
I was really active in the eating disorder recovery community on Tumblr at this time and happened to start following a college student named Sarah who’d written a poem that I really like. Sarah also happens to be, in my personal estimation, the World’s Biggest Taylor Swift fan. By following her blog, I was inundated with Taylor gifs and videos and news every single day. I began to see posts about how Taylor treated her fans and about her music and marketing. I was impressed in a way I hadn’t expected to be.
The night before 1989 was released, I heard several of the songs via Sarah’s blog and sort of fell in love, particularly with “Clean”. I knew that I wanted to buy the album, but I felt legitimately conflicted, like I was going to somehow lose some (incredibly silly and judgmental) part of myself by admitting defeat and actually paying for an entire Taylor Swift album.
Despite all of that, the next day (one year ago on this very date) I went to Target on my lunch break (I needed the physical album because I obviously needed the Polaroids duh), feeling incredibly silly, and bought the CD. I put it in my car’s CD player and it didn’t leave its spot there for about three months.
I remember feeling so goofy and — for the first time in a long while — genuinely excited about something. Even though it was something small. Even though I’d broken a thousand of my personal rules (Don’t Like Mainstream Music, Don’t Jump on a Bandwagon Late in the Game, etc.). It felt like this insanely huge victory because I’d made a choice based on what I liked rather than on what that Ideal Chelsea that I carried with me everywhere would like. I actually remember telling my counselor about it because it seemed like such a huge accomplishment at the time.
Anyway, since then, I’ve become an unapologetic fan of Taylor. I saw her perform in Arlington, Texas a few weeks ago and danced and sang and yelled and had a grand ol’ time. I’ve become comfortable with a lot of what I enjoy (in recent months, I’ve come to terms with the facts that I love cream gravy, taking selfies, and running despite previous judgey-judgerson thoughts I’d previously had about those who enjoy such things). I’ve really started to allow myself to enjoy the things I enjoy with no weird, self-imposed shame involved.
I’m not foolish; I know Taylor Swift didn’t solve my problems. I know that a lot of growth has been a result of the Lord placing a good counselor and pastor and great friends in my life who’ve all helped me get through my depression. I know that being on a mood stabilizer has helped me tremendously. But, the way I see it, 1989 was a bit of a turning point for me. I was finally letting myself like things based on my personal preferences rather than rules, and that’s kind of important.
Anyway, that’s my apparently very long story that took an entire lunch break to write.
Happy birthday, 1989! I have so enjoyed your existence for the past year! And I feel incredibly silly writing to an inanimate object but whatever!