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(CNN) My first tremors of discomfort at the Taylor Swift show in Las Vegas hit after the infectious beat faded from “Cruel Summer,” the second song in her oversized set.
Swift walked across the stage in a sequined bodysuit and matching boots. Her cat’s eye was sharp enough to kill a man, as she says.
She thanked the crowd of thousands of cheering fans for their deafening support and as the roars died down she stopped, then yelled the line that undid me – and sent a powerful message about acceptance success to the tens of thousands of women present. .
“You make me feel like the first woman to headline Allegiant Stadium.”
She glanced at her biceps and pumped her arms in victory.
The crowd lost him. My jaw dropped. My stomach clenched and braced for a kick.
I had just heard Swift, a woman, scream her accomplishment, with no qualifier, no, “I did something” and not a single ounce of humility to sweeten the punch.
It was just a shameless and bold statement of his success.
Difficult double standard
When I walked into Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, I expected to be blown away by Swift and the 44 songs she performs live for the “Eras Tour.” But I didn’t expect to feel uncomfortable at his declaration of his unbridled ambition.
The timing of his statement was a little cheeky; it was part of her introduction to the song “The Man,” which draws attention to the gendered double standards women face, including those Swift has fought against in the music industry.
“How does it feel to brag about earning dollars and having bitches and models,” she sang. “If I was out flashing my dollars, I’d be a bitch, not a ballerina.”
When she shouted her accomplishment in Las Vegas, alongside a matching victory dance, I’m sure it was meant to evoke masculinity and underscore the double standard surrounding success, because nothing Taylor Alison Swift does is involuntary. She’s known for leaving an endless trail of Easter eggs for her fans to find and decipher, which reveal clues to things like album releases and the true meaning of a lyric.
She is a mastermind in everything she does, sings and shouts in a football stadium full of fans.
That’s why, while timing was part of her performance around “The Man,” it’s also no coincidence that Swift decided to crown her success that night.
And whether we curled up in our seats, like me, or cheered him on, like me, his words delivered a powerful message.
I’m not sure of my own ambition
The discomfort I felt had nothing to do with Swift or her record performance. My inner cringe was fueled by my own insecurities with female ambition and the social conditioning that taught me to avoid owning my successes. I was projecting my own discomfort onto Swift.
Intellectually, I want ambitious women to take their place in the world, but emotionally I have a deep resistance to the idea, as evidenced by my gut reaction.
Like Swift, who will perform for more than three consecutive hours each night of this 52-stop tour, I am also an endurance athlete. I’m a long-distance trail runner, and while I’m not even close to being the Taylor Swift of ultra running, I’ve had some success in my athletic endeavors – but I can barely talk about it in front of a single nobody, not to mention 70 thousand of them.
Like, when I ran a 50 mile a few summers ago, and friends asked me how I did.
“I had a lot of fun”, I would say. “I felt strong all day.”
I usually waited for my partner or someone else to fill in the void that I had won the race. Or I would just leave that detail aside. I do it often, whether it’s my place at the finish, my pace or my distance.
I don’t want to be ‘that’ woman
I don’t want to brag, or sound arrogant, competitive, or, God forbid, self-promote. That sentence alone sounds dirtier than the floor of a football stadium after a three-hour show.
I’ve seen women vilified for ambition and success ever since I could utter the words “Hillary Clinton.” I know the surest path for a woman is to be humble and modest.
When I decided to attempt a speed record on the 460-mile stretch of the Oregon Pacific Crest Trail, one of the hardest parts of the race was telling people about my goal, which was a requirement for this record.
I didn’t want to come across as a strong, competitive woman who believed I was capable of achieving something big. I certainly didn’t want to look like a success chaser, an ambitious woman with the audacity to be confident. The best story would be to stumble upon an accomplishment, not openly stalk it myself.
In my first draft of this essay, the one I didn’t initially share with my editor, I omitted that I went on to set that record – and break the men’s times as well. (Editor’s note: One of his most notable runs was setting the fastest known time on the Oregon PCT of 460 miles in 7 days, 19 hours, and 23 minutes.)
She had a powerful impact on me
My discomfort in Las Vegas turned to admiration, followed quickly by a “Hell yeah, Taylor”.
By the time I got home to Oregon, I couldn’t help but think how powerful it was that Swift was so bold. It didn’t stop at that one statement – she gave a three-hour masterclass in confidence and pride in what she had accomplished. And I liked that. I think most of us at Allegiant Stadium did. During this tour, millions of women will see her share her success.
At least one of those women in the audience needed to hear it to celebrate their own success (and probably more than I would have guessed from my first reaction).
I watched clips of his performance at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, the following weekend. When the beat of “Cruel Summer” faded, she started again.
“I am the first artist to play three nights in this stadium,” she shouted.
I watched her fidget, her face full of unabashed joy as she shook her hips in front of tens of thousands of people, and this time I didn’t back down. I thought about how I could look a little more like Swift the next time I got it right.