Twilight ED

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.

0 Comments

  1. Interesting take! I’ve never read the books or seen the movies (vampires just aren’t my cup of tea … especially lovestruck, teenaged vampires), but I do know enough about the characters and the story to see that you definitely have some valid points. I do agree with you that it could be a bit of a stretch to say they purposely wanted to show Bella depriving herself in a brooding, Edward-obsessed manner. From my perceptive, someone who has never seen the series or read it, it seems like her lack of appetite or general weirdness (my goodness, she is just a pale, awkward girl), might be the director’s attempt at showing her depression or distress? Doesn’t she live only with her father? Did her mom pass away or disappear? I mean, I clearly don’t know, but I watched the first 10 minutes of the first movie (before falling asleep)and I got the impression that she was just a sad girl because of her family situation … I dunno. Either way, I can definitely agree that she’s NOT who I’d want my own daughter emulating. Then again, are there any teeny boppers out there that you would want your children looking up to? They seem hard to find these days …

  2. Sarasays:

    Just keep this in mind – it’s not often in movies or TV shows that we see characters go to the bathroom, either, yet we assume (and hope!) that they go and not just when they have a comical ‘relief’. 🙂

    • This argument really only makes sense if nobody is shown doing the action in question. If there were no scenes that included people eating, we would just naturally assume that people ate normally and that we just didn’t see it. But the choice to put food into the movie and have the main character eat nothing is different. It’s hard to say who was responsible for the decision–maybe K. Stewart just never ate the food when acting (eating in scenes can be exhausting if there are multiple takes), maybe the director had this vision of her not eating, or maybe it happened in editing (either on purpose to add something to the film or by accident).

      Whether intentional or not, the point is that people do notice these things. There are tons of girls who could see that movie and think, “Wow, she’s so healthy because she’s vegetarian! I want to be like that!”

      That being said, I don’t think movies have an obligation to portray only characters who make good role models. Hopefully the person seeing the movie has been taught enough about ethics and society and whatnot to evaluate something without just automatically absorbing it and doing whatever is portrayed. But as we see all too often nowadays, this isn’t always the case.

  3. I loved this! Also VERY MUCH agree with your assessment of eating in 50 shades, she doesn’t eat often! Why is that cool? I remember reading an interview somewhere (like years ago) with Sarah Jessica Parker complaining that women are never shown eating in movies or tv, but men always are. So, when they started making the show Sex and the City they wanted to actually show women eating, getting together to eat and putting food in their mouths and chewing. Hahaha, that was one of the reasons critics said it was ground breaking! Because it was showing women eating food!

  4. Elizabethsays:

    These are some really interesting points! I don’t remember if her lack of eating is emphasized quite so much in the books either…but, whether the not eating in the movie is intentional or not, I think it’s a bit telling that Bella’s goal for most of the series (book and movie) is to become a vampire, a.k.a. someone who NEVER eats and is permanently young and unrealistically attractive. Probably a bit of my cynicism on Twilight coming through there, but still… 🙂

  5. Kimsays:

    I think this is the food (or lack of eating it) is more prevalent in the movie – which I just rewatched with my fiance (on his request) with the Riff Trax commentary (think mystery science theater 3000 http://www.rifftrax.com/rifftrax/twilight) – hilarious, by the way, I highly recommended it. The food scenes struck me as really disturbing, as well, especially the cafeteria scenes where she should be eating like everyone else (minus the Cullens, of course). I think she does eat more in the books. It’s been a while, but I remember Edward making a big deal about her eating after the Port Angeles incident and her downing two or three Cokes with her meal. I suspect it was a way to make her look more awkward in the movie without anyone closely considering the message it sent. The second book and movie definitely pick up the not eating thing when Edward leaves and her life basically stops – oh teenage drama. I also agree that there is some really weird issues with food in 50 Shades. I just finished reading the first book, and Ana’s inability or disinterest in eating, in addition to the no snacking except fruit stipulation in the contract rubbed me the wrong way. Food can be such a sticky issue, especially for women and girls, that it seems a little irresponsible not to be sending this kind of message.

  6. Gretchen, great observations! This was a fun and insightful read and warmed my old English major’s heart. I can’t really comment otherwise because I haven’t read the books OR seen the movies, although of course I’ve read a lot about them.

  7. Jamiesays:

    I never noticed that in Twilight but I definitely did in 50 Shades. I am honestly mad at myself for wasting time reading those. I cannot believe they are so popular and are now getting made into a movie! Seriously, horrible books in my opinion.

  8. Ashley B.says:

    I noticed the food thing when I first watched the movies, and it really bothered me. In the books she’s portrayed as a care-giver, especially as a provider of food. She grocery shops, thinks about and prepares meal, eats real food (a granola bar, lasagna), and enjoys food (she liked the ravioli). It’s normal to be nervous and lose your appetite around a new love interest–teens are hyper aware of themselves, and who wants to worry about accidentally belching or having food stuck in their teeth–but in general, book Bella has a very healthy relationship with food.

  9. Ahahah! This is funny and not funny at the same time. I never noticed any of those behaviors and awkward scenes. But I can see how a teen who already has an eating disorder would subtly find validity in mimicking Bella’s behaviors. This was kinda a deep post, but I read on because it’s Twilight related and I am also obessesed with Le Diaries. Thanks for letting me indulge!

  10. I TOTALLY had the same thought whilst guiltily reading 50 Shades of Grey. I didn’t pay close enough attention to Twilight to notice it, but, man. Now that you point it out, it’s creepy obvious.

  11. VERY interesting observations- and so true! I never even noticed that.
    I have never read the Twilight books, but have seen all of the movies. I watched them all within a month- because I didn’t even watch the first one until this winter. Stumbling through Forks, WA on our honeymoon last year made me want to see them (I had no desire to up until that point)- I didn’t even know that Twilight supposedly took place there. The town is a dump. Twilight gift shops and not much else.

  12. Interesting post, I just recently read the books and have seen the first three movies. I didnt notice the lack of eating but I was a bit confused as to why they made her a vegetarian in the movies. I also noticed in the movies that the only time she ate with her dad was in the diner when in the books she cooked all the time. I’m a pretty firm believer that books are always better than the movies and Hollywood always has to screw up something about the story.

  13. Katesays:

    I thought this post was brilliant. I haven’t read twilight or watched the movies recently, but the points you make are so interesting. It’s bad enough young girls think a creepy stalker guy who watches you sleep is the hight of romance, but you throw this into the mix and it’s a wonder any young girls survive their teens unscathed. And the lack of eating was very present in the 50 Shades books. It added to my dislike of Ana, who I already thought was a waste of a character. You have a private chef at your disposal and you go to all these great restaurants, and yet you don’t eat. Though of course she always had room to drink. So much eyerolling.

  14. I hate to even suggest it, but I wonder if Kristen Stewart unconsciously used these mannerisms. I doubt that the ED mannerisms you mention were written into the script. I wonder if Kristen Stewart has had ED issues in the past? I haven’t seen the movie, but based on your description it sure does sound prevalent.

  15. Lizsays:

    Dude, this has bugged the heck out of me for years. I actually didn’t notice it in the movies, which I didn’t pay that much attention to, but it caught my attention in the books. There’s a lot of emphasis on her preparing food for her dad, but not as much for herself – and there are a number of scenes where she’s too upset/distracted to eat, like you said about 50 Shades. I can’t relate to that at all . . . do most people get that way when they’re distraught? I’m glad I’m not the only person bothered by this.

  16. Amazing post, Gretchen. I totally noticed that but never really analyzed it in depth like you have here.

    & I just started reading 50 shades, so I will have to pay attention to that!

    Thanks for the insight! 🙂

  17. Lisa Nidasays:

    I think Bella is a poor role model for a plethora of reasons.

  18. What an interesting analysis, Gretchen. Never thought of it but you make total sense. I’ve noticed that so much in “50” and I’m like…seriously, in one scene is Wednesday afternoon and Ana has not eaten since Saturday — it literally SAYS that! I’m like I’m sorry but no person could go that long accidentally. Anyway, enjoyed reading this and agree on all counts!

    • RIGHT?! Ugh, it is SO infuriating. Or the time when she goes for like 2 days on nothing but yogurt. I’m sorry, but NOBODY does that unless they are doing it on purpose (i.e. anorexic). Especially when you consider how much sex they’re having, too! Wouldn’t you think that people who are basically banging nonstop for three books would be ravenously hungry the rest of the time? Hahahaha.

  19. I’m catching up on your blog but in counterpoint to Twilight I present the Ocean’s series (Ocean’s 11 etc) where Brad Pitt is eating in pretty much every scene.

  20. Veronica perezsays:

    I know this post is kind of old, but I’m currently rereading the books and I think she definitely has an eating disorder…brought on by Edward. She’s constantly “losing her appetite” due to various excuses that are pretty lame (similar to 50 shades which, let’s face it, is basically “sex” Twilight). I never noticed it when I read the Saga in high school but now that I’m older I find it odd and irritating that she hardly ever eats…

  21. PERNILLE JUHL HUSUMsays:

    I Just started to re-read the books agian, and i have to agree that there are signs of eating disorder, just a couple of 100 pages in the first book you hear how she sometimes make up exuses for not eating, and semingly trying to avoid eating dinner. And she is very observant on what she is when she does it. But i dont think she does it beacuse of edward or to loose weaight. I also noticed how her thoughts are very depressing, and how much low-self esteme she has.

  22. Julietsays:

    In the books, Bella does a lot of (seemingly disordered) food avoidance, too!! I haven’t seen the movies, but I am always struck in the books with how often they specifically note to her not eating and how seldom they show her hungry or eating. Although she is often preparing food for others–the displacement/fixation on food (while not getting enough yourself) is also a sign of disorder. Bella skips so many meals and makes plenty of excuses not to eat or ignore her hunger in the books. There’s a lot of fixation on her fragility, small size, and lack of self-care which, while not necessarily being symptoms of ED, lend credence to a disordered aesthetic which I would argue the books promote. It’s also portrayed as charming that Bella lacks self-esteem, is overly-critical of her physical appearance, and has no awareness of her own attractive qualities; body dysmorphia, anyone? I think the subliminal messaging through all of these unnecessary tropes is pretty whack–ESPECIALLY considering the target audience for the twilight series. Young women have already had enough exposure to harmful relationships with food!

  23. Elizabethsays:

    This is very thought out. I know that in the books she forgets to eat a lot.

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