Okay, I’m going to ahead and post a nice big disclaimer right here that the following post is about Twilight (to an extent). So those of you who are vehemently opposed to, y’know, that, probably won’t be that interested. Hokay!
So, with my unnatural obsession with all things Vampire Diaries should leave none of you surprised that I have read, watched, and relatively enjoyed the Twilight books and movies. Granted, it’s in a bit of a hide-my-head-in-the-sand kind of way, but generally I’m open about my guilty pleasure relationship with the series.
It’s a guilty pleasure for a reason, of course. Let’s face it: Bella Swan, the “heroine” of the Twilight Saga, is hardly an epic role model. She is accidentally, unassumingly desired by every guy in her class for absolutely no reason (as The Oatmeal so lovingly put it, she has about as much distinctiveness and personality as a pair of pants, hahaha). She knowingly puts herself in danger by being with a guy she knows is bad for her, for no real reason other than she’s curious about him (because it’s definitely normal to think that a boy you don’t know sneaking into your bedroom to watch you sleep at night before you even know him is totes romantic, right?). Her dependency on her boyfriend reaches the point where she loses all motivation for life when he breaks up with her; she is literally willing to die to be with him.
Despite all of this, I’ve still read the books (okay, okay, multiple times), and I do own the movies. Sometimes bad can be good, y’know? A viewing of the first movie with Ai Rei last night, however, pointed out some alarming facts about movie-version Bella Swan that even our mutual devotion to supernatural romance just can’t ignore: the subliminal portrayal of an eating disorder.
Now, before you guys all write me off as reading too much into the movie and being overly critical (Let it be known that I am hardly ever critical at all, let alone overly so), let’s look at the facts. Also, please note that I really am just referring to the movie here, as it’s been a long time since I’ve read the book, so I’m not equipped to discuss what her relationship with food is like in the text.
Despite being in at least SIX scenes where there is food present, Bella literally takes one single bite of actual food throughout the course of the entire movie:
— There is a scene where she is shown at school during lunch, holding a piece of celery up to her mouth but never eating it.
— She goes to the diner with her dad and orders a garden burger & fries, but doesn’t eat it.
— Edward comes up and talks to her as she’s putting together a bowl of veggies at the salad bar, but she just plays with it.
— She is shown with Twizzlers in the car with Angela at La Push; it does appear that she takes a tiny bite in the wide angle shot, though it’s hard to tell, and then when everyone else gathers around she stops eating and offers her candy to everyone else instead.
— She orders mushroom ravioli at the restaurant with Edward but is so captivated by his OMG!telepathy that she forgets to eat or something.
— The second time she’s at the diner, she eats half of a single raw snowpea off of her undressed spinach salad. Finally, sustenance!
Bella actually gets talked about AS food more than she EATS any food!
Other things that gave me pause as I began thinking about them:
She plays with her food, paws at it, and arranges it but doesn’t actually eat it. I’m sure the director (and probably Kristen Stewart herself) thought that this was just Bella being awkward, but those are common practices utilized by people with eating disorders. Examples:
— She makes “edible art” with the salad bar in the cafeteria.
— She holds the celery stalk up to her lips but never puts it in her mouth.
— She pours ketchup onto her plate at the diner and takes a long time doing so, emphasizing the action unnecessarily, but doesn’t actually dip any fries into it.
— When she goes to the Cullens’ house and they are all prepping food especially for her (“Italiano!”), she looks uncomfortable and Edwards tells them she already ate.
— When she finally does eat the single vegetable off her salad, she’s eating with her hands, which still reads as playing with her food.
Despite not being a vegetarian in the book, she is in the movie for no real reason. A quick Google search revealed that it’s allegedly because K.Stew is veggie, but that really shouldn’t have mattered since the actress didn’t have to actually EAT anything. Plus, it’s very clear later in the books that she is not a vegetarian (there’s a semi-important scene involving fried chicken in the fourth book). It’s common for girls with EDs to use veganism or vegetarianism as an excuse not to eat a lot/in public/out at restaurants.
Eating disorders are even mentioned by Bella while in the cafeteria with her friends, and they just all look around awkwardly until she changes the subject, which is a moment I never really understood, even outside of my current critique.
And another thing that is not exactly directly food-related, but kind of falls into the general “Bella is a bad role model” category is the way that she is portrayed as increasingly more and more attractive and feminine as Edward pays more attention to her and their relationship blossoms. Her clothing gets more fitted and flattering, her hair gets wavier and more defined, her skin gets less pasty and her makeup gets better. In general, she gets more attractive as Edward becomes more ingratiated in her life. It might be a bit of a stretch, but I bet you could even argue that her lack of food intake also informs her subtle makeover, which is a warped and worrying message.
Yes, you could probably make the argument that just because we never SEE Bella eat, it’s implied that she’s eating, and it would have taken away from the film or something to show her doing so. I would normally agree, except it’s not like we never see ANYBODY eating. Her father is shown taking a bite of steak, her friend Angela is shown eating an apple. The only additional impled eating that we ever even see for Bella is that, at one point, a waitress clears a cup of soup from the table before dropping off the ravioli. And there’s no way to tell if the cup is actually empty, or if it’s just more food that she’s failed to consume in the name of Edward-induced distraction.
I’m not saying that this was a conscious choice on the part of the director. I doubt it was even noticed when the movie was cut together; it’s not that important, in the grand scheme of things. And while that may be true, I just think that considering how many young girls already wish they could model their lives after darling Bella, it’s not a very good message that comes across. Plus, once you actually start paying attention, it’s EVERYWHERE. It’s not oblique, it’s just there, lurking in the background, which I feel is more dangerous. Writers, directors, actors, and really anyone who creates something with this much influence have a responsibility to consider all the implications of what they create.
I had a similar issue (among many, many, MANY others) when reading 50 Shades of Grey. The main character in that book, Anastasia, rarely eats. She loses her appetite when she’s sad, when she’s angry, when she’s excited, when she’s turned on. She always “forgets” to eat. It isn’t a normal human reaction to push aside hunger just because it’s inconvenient! If you’re legitimately depressed or something, then sure, I can sort of understand how food gets pushed to the wayside. (For me, of course, it’s always been the exact opposite. My mind is like, “FILL THE VOID IN YOUR SOUL WITH DELICIOUS FOOD!”) But seriously.
Okay, so there’s my little rant about it. It’s food for thought, at any rate. (Haha… ha?) Thanks to Ai Rei for helping pinpoint the scenes that I discussed and… yeah. I guess the bottom-line message is this: don’t let your daughters think of Bella Swan as a role model, she doesn’t eat enough.