Hannah Diviney: After a mammoth Year, Taylor Swift's TIME Person Of The Year interview was what I needed

In perhaps the least unsurprising move of the year, TIME magazine has declared Taylor Swift as their 2023 Person of The Year. Debate it as you might, given the state of well, everything, but it does on account of sheer magnitude make sense; she’s been everywhere.

In perhaps the least unsurprising move of the year, TIME magazine has declared Taylor Swift as their 2023 Person of The Year. Debate it as you might, given the state of well, everything, but it does on account of sheer magnitude make sense; she’s been everywhere. As Sam Lansky wrote in his brilliant profile for TIME, “to discuss her movements felt like discussing politics or the weather – a language spoken so widely it needed no context. She became the main character of the world.” It's also worth noting this is the only interview Swift has given in years, wildly open and clear-headed in spite of her self-proclaimed media trust issues).

The woman who’s soundtracked most of my existence is now soundtracking everybody’s, including the people who once made life hell for liking her music at all. She’s held global economies on her shoulders, brought us the most pervasive cultural event of the 21st century with her record-breaking jaw-dropping ‘what the hell did she just do?’ Eras Tour, and spent the year giving a masterclass in the kind of radical self-acceptance that seems as though it might be the key to unlocking your whole life and setting it free.

I’ve watched with my jaw on the floor, desperately hoping that with each grainy livestream, some of her transformational warmth and grace for herself might rub off by osmosis. As Swift says in the TIME profile, when thinking about the idea of ‘cringe’ vs. killing the part of you that cringes; “Every part of you that you’ve ever been, every phase you’ve ever gone through, was you working it out in that moment with the information you had available to you at the time. There’s a lot that I look back at like, ‘Wow, a couple years ago I might have cringed at this.’ You should celebrate who you are now, where you’re going, and where you’ve been.”

It’s something I’m trying to learn. The last two years have been the biggest and most chaotic of my life. It feels like everything has slowly been building in the background only to breathlessly explode and leave me stunned in the embers of 2023. I’ve written and released a book, sharing some of my deepest and darkest feelings and thoughts that are extremely difficult to touch and talk about. I’ve been the female lead in a groundbreaking TV show, challenging expectations about disabled bodies, our pleasure and the place we occupy in the public collective. I’ve also filmed a feature, living away from home for the first time and been in rooms with people I thought I’d only ever dream of. I’ve also had my heart broken, felt sparks of something, been flooded with grief, had to wrestle with the scope of my own ambition, and with the fact that my body and my life will never match anyone else’s over and over again.

I’ve lost friends and gained them, had people let me down and lift me up, most of them unexpected. All of it against a backdrop of disability and mental illness which is dynamic and complex, changing every day and constantly throwing up things I have to work with, let pass, or climb over. In 2023, there’s been an awful lot of feeling like I’m the problem, it’s me, and that yes, I am a monster on the hill, too big to hang out, pierced through the heart but never killed. 

If those last sentences sound familiar, of course they do. They’re only lyrics from the most inescapable song of the year; Swift’s ‘Anti-Hero’. A song that has been mined endlessly for its meme potential and camp relatability but for a handful of us actually cuts chillingly close to the bone. That is how I feel most of the time. It’s been the cloak of my childhood and adolescence and the burning quiet rage of my early twenties. 

So too has the entirety of ‘You’re On Your Own Kid”, a heart-punching throat-closer of a song that made me sob the first time I heard it for how seen I felt by that sentiment. Yes, there are always people around me but no, they don’t always have my back in the ways I would and do theirs. Yes, people are advocates and actors and authors and run global media companies, but not all at once. The only person who has ever done what I’m doing in the way that I am (as far as I know) is me. Admitting that feels scary – a siren call for arrogance and overblow, but I’m doing it anyway because it’s true and it’s lonely and it’s hard. I wouldn’t change it, and I’m not complaining, because at the end of the day everything that’s happened to me is worth using. As Swift tells TIME, “My response to anything that happens, good or bad, is to keep making things. Keep making art.” OK, Taylor I think I can do that.”

It makes me so proud and quietly confident that Missing Perspectives has become a full-time job (in part because of the ecosystem of personal achievements), and a behemoth of a company, with a much wider appetite and audience than we imagined having at this point in our story. Phoebe and I had told ourselves when we started back in June 2021, that this would be a slow-burn, that we should expect pushback from a world not really sure what to do with two young women so hungry and determined for global social change. Half of that idea was right; we did meet many people who tried to dismiss us, hoodwink us, turn us against each other and make us smaller. There are similarities in every story of successful women, repeatedly, wolves always at our heels. For a second, we considered becoming a charity as that's how women’s storytelling was framed to us. But we held fast, and backed ourselves, sure that women’s storytelling could actually be quite lucrative and successful (enter: Hello Sunshine being sold for just shy of a billion dollars). We are constantly navigating feedback from corners of the internet that tell us to sit down, shut up and play nice. Again, I’m only going to do one of those things. I’ll let my wheelchair help you decide.

But this year, things shifted. We got more confident and sure of ourselves as comes with time, but we also happened to be right at the coalface when the narrative of womanhood had some tentpole plot twists. Yes, we’re talking about the Eras Tour and its celebration of a story built entirely on the back of a young woman’s experience. Every minute of the three-plus hours in the show is because of art she created, a decision she made whether on her own or in defiance, a story she told about something that happened to her. 

But we’re also talking about the Renaissance Tour, an equally formidable spectacle crafted by the Queen Beyonce herself. What an ode to Black womanhood. What a love letter to the rich tapestried history that is often missing and forgotten. What a feast of power and pleasure. Then there’s the Women’s World Cup, our glorious Matildas transforming the way people around the world talked about and interacted with women’s sport. They captured the heart of a nation and changed how little girls will be viewed by themselves and others forever. Rounding us out was of course, Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie’s Barbie, a hilarious and poignant exploration of everything it means to be a woman. What a year. How lucky we are to be telling women’s stories right now when people are finally understanding they matter.

In her interview, Taylor spoke about how women have been taught from a young age that we naturally gravitate toward "girlhood, feelings, love, breakups, analyzing those feelings, talking about them nonstop, glitter, sequins!" She highlighted the foundations upon which patriarchy thrives – ahem, money – and "if we’re going to look at this in the most cynical way possible, feminine ideas becoming lucrative means that more female art will get made".

You’re right, Taylor. It is. And you’re also right about it being cynical. Cynicism and grit, calculation and power are traits beloved in men and frowned upon in women, but they shouldn’t be. They’re the kind of things you need for a revolution. That and joy, imagination, curiosity and yes, self-acceptance. Whole industries including the one in which Taylor operates as a hard-working musician but also a figure of fame and celebrity are built on insecurity. Relevance is its currency. And yet Taylor doesn’t seem afraid of that. Her only focus, as is mine, is the story she tells, the whole person she is and the change she can make. 

Radical self-acceptance is a process. One I’m only at the very beginning of. There’s a lot I have to accept that I’ve been told to do the opposite with. To disappear instead. My disability, its permanence, my body, my ambition, my right to taking up space, my worthiness of love, loyalty and good things. The list is endless and I am sat solidly in therapy about all of it. But if what it takes is blood, sweat, tears, stubbornness, grit, hope, resilience, then I’m in. The stake’s in the ground. The line’s in the sand. I have to face it and me, even all the ugly bits, headfirst fearless. Maybe a decade from now when I’m Taylor’s age, I’ll feel closer to the ‘Mastermind’ stage, because there is a little voice in the back of my mind telling me that’s what I could be. If I let myself. If I trusted myself. If I lived, in all senses of the word. For now, the best I can do is just keep trying. Thanks Taylor for being proof it might all be worth it.