When I was a teacher, my school’s motto was one I really loved: “Work hard. Be nice.”
I wish people everywhere had that motto.
Since the very first time I heard the song “Tim McGraw” on the country radio station, I’ve been a Taylor Swift fan. Over the years, her honest lyrics have gotten me through crushes gone wrong, guys not noticing me, moments of humiliation, trusting my heart, surviving the worst broken heart I’ve ever experienced, and a number of other situations and emotions that really only her words in the form of songs could make me feel like someone else knows the exact same feelings I was going through at the time.
“Teardrops on My Guitar” was my mantra more than once and played over and over on those nights I was alone when everyone else was out on dates (so, basically every night). I belted “You Belong with Me” (which is also one of my favorite music videos of all time) in front of my mirror on multiple occasions and in my heart every single time I walked by the guy who had captured it. “Fearless” is the tune I sing with the hope of one day being able to experience it as a reality with my perfect person (I really do want to dance in a storm in my best dress in the middle of a parking lot). “Love Story” has been my ring tone since 2008 (no, I’m not kidding), and I’ve performed it so many places (including at multiple weddings and on a boat) that it’s borderline ridiculous. “Red” accurately describes so many emotions a person can feel about another person all at once, and I relate to it so well. “All Too Well” is a beautifully sad story that I feel every single girl can listen to and think about her first love and first broken heart and feel a true sense of comfort.
I could go on and on about every song she’s ever written and how those lyrics have mattered in big ways.
And then I heard her new single “Look What You Made Me Do,” and I saw the music video premier, and there was one emotion I felt that overshadowed any others I might have drawn from the lyrics: sadness.
The song in itself isn’t sorrowful—it’s more vindictive than anything. But what makes me so sad is the cause of it. I don’t know Taylor Swift. I’ve never met her and have no idea what she’s really like without the cameras on her. I like to believe that she’s just as kind and fun and goofy and human as she seems. I like to believe all of the stories I hear about how giving and caring she is to all of her fans. Yes, I’m a fan, so of course I’m going to defend her, but I’m also going to defend what’s right and the way that people should and should not be treated.
I’m about to make what’s probably one of the world’s worst analogies, but I’m going to go with it. When I was in the seventh grade, I went on a ski trip for a long weekend, and it had been gloomy weather back in the Dallas area while I was away. When I came back, though, my face was super red and looked sunburned because I had gotten a really bad case of windburn on the mountains. I was in the worst stage in life ever (i.e., middle school), and I already thought I was super unpretty, so having to go to school with a face the perfect shade of Christmas was the exact opposite of what I wanted to do.
Sure enough, my face didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, two of the more “popular” boys in my grade were in my science class, and they didn’t let me live it down. They kept asking me why my face was so red when there had been no sun in Dallas recently, and then they started calling me “tomato face.” Even after the windburn went away, the not-so-friendly nickname they gave me stuck, and that’s how they referred to me the rest of the year. I’ve mentioned before that I used to have really tough struggles with self-confidence when it came to guys—because I never thought I was pretty enough for them to like me—and being called “tomato face” all year by them sure didn’t help matters in that department much.
And this was merely commentary from two boys at one middle school, which is nothing compared to what celebrities experience, especially now with all of the access to social media. It’s so easy for people to insult others and make judgments, and I just don’t think it’s right, nor do I think it’s fair. I don’t care if that sounds whiny, but I’m so tired of people being so hateful. Haven’t we seen enough of that in life? I realize that people in the spotlight have to learn to deal with negative comments and the haters out there, but I don’t think that makes any form of hatred acceptable—especially when it makes a person feel like the woman she used to be is completely dead because of the reputation she’s been given.
I would hate for anyone to be called “tomato face” and feel hurt because of it, and I hate that so many worse things are said I about so many people all of the time. I saw it far too often when I taught high school, and it broke my heart every single time. I know we’re human and aren’t going to be nice every single second of our lives, and we’re certainly going to make mistakes, but I think it wouldn’t hurt if we all made more concerted efforts to care about other people and what our words and actions can do to them. And I know we’re all capable of it. I saw it every day when I taught high school—you can think whatever you want about teenagers, but some of them sure could teach a lot to adults out there. I saw them care for people. I saw them not let hate take over. I saw them love in big ways.
I don’t like that Taylor Swift feels the way she does, and I really don’t like that there are so many other individuals out there who often feel that way, too—whether they’re famous or not. I wish we could all feel like we’re not tomato faces. I wish that we could all know that it’s OK for us to be the people we are and not change because we feel judged. I wish we could all know something I told my students as often as I possibly could, because I fully believe it with all of my heart.
You are valued. You are loved. And you matter.