Let me be the first to tell you that I own every song Taylor Swift has ever released. There, I said it … moving on now.

It’s December 2007 and much of my extended family has flown in from Minnesota to spend Christmas at my home in Michigan. I’m about to descend the stairs from my bedroom where I have carefully crafted my outfit — a jean skirt and pastel sweater — when my cousin Becca stops me. She informs me that I must listen to this new song her friend showed her.

I’m 11 years old and my life is about to be changed forever.

Ok, that may be a bit dramatic, but you get the point. As soon as I heard the opening violin on “Our Song,” I was sold. The combination of pop music with a slight country twang was right up my alley. Taylor has come a long way since that fateful day, and her songs have matured from what played after “Blue” by Crazy Frog at my junior high dances to anthems that have taken the entire world by storm.

For the past seven years, I’ve grown up alongside Taylor Swift, and despite all of the criticism she receives, she continues to remain a positive and growing force in the music industry. She’s evolved from a heartbroken girl singing in a prom dress on her bed to an empowered and shamelessly independent young woman. Yes, her dancing at awards shows is somewhat awkward and her cat pictures take up a large portion of her Instagram, but that’s what makes her human. Think about it — when is the last time you saw a celebrity baking cookies or sending Christmas gifts to her fans?

These pop idols and superstars are placed on such high pedestals that it’s hard to imagine them walking their dogs or eating breakfast. (Seriously, does Beyoncé even have time to eat breakfast?) It’s refreshing to feel a connection to the elusive world that is populated by icons like Lady Gaga and Kanye West. Some of her new songs on 1989 may be about Harry Styles, but no one was outraged when Sam Smith sang about his ex on “Stay With Me” or when Katy Perry wrote songs about her ex-husband, Russell Brand. The double standard that surrounds Taylor is unfair and, frankly, overused. It’s not outrageous that she sings about actual experiences that happen to her in her actual life — it’s what everyone does. Even after embracing all the stereotypes that surround her, she still receives disapproval.

My memories of Taylor Swift don’t include the times she receives mean tweets or when someone makes jokes about her abundance of ex-boyfriends. Her songs are reminders of the time I danced to “Our Song” at Christmas with my cousin, when I blasted “Long Live” while getting ready for my first homecoming dance or sang to “Shake It Off” in the car during my senior year of high school. While taking Buzzfeed quizzes, I still pick Taylor to be my celebrity best friend. My love for her has not diminished — it has simply matured, and I suspect that I’ll always squeal a little when I hear she is releasing a new album. An entire generation has grown up alongside Taylor Swift and I suspect she’s just getting started. So keep shaking it off, Taylor, and the haters are gonna hate, but I’m rooting for you.

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