When I first set forth on this adventure, I issued an invitation to my fellow smartypantses to use my blog as a place to share or test drive their own keen observations on whatever. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce the first post by a guest elitist academic (GEA).
Having recently defended a beautifully-written dissertation on the ways in which women, through cooking, recipes, blogging, novels, and cookbooks, for example, negotiate their relationship to the corporate (aka Big Food) industry, Dr. MKH has generously agreed to share her boatloads of free time, as well as her keen insights on Breaking Dawn, with the elitistacademic. I am particularly grateful, especially since, as she recently pointed out, it was I who mentioned a little book about vampires and wolves to her so many years ago. Dr. MKH is no newbie when it comes to intrepid reporting, spreading the snark, or, as it turns out, bloviating. Check out her blog “My Rubberbandball” (I highly recommend the Salted Caramel Brownies) or follow her on Twitter @boxingoctopus. Most of all, enjoy!
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When I first read Breaking Dawn, it made me really angry. I was fairly incensed about the message for the girls who read it and yearned to live in that world, the way I had felt toward Anne of Green Gables (it’s a sad day when you learn that Gilbert Blythe – and Mr. Darcy and Edward Cullen – only exist in the hallowed halls of imagination). The message, to my mind back in 2008, when I was expecting my second child, was that girls should aim for marriage and motherhood at any cost: education, independence, even her own life.
But I don’t think that’s really what’s going on in Breaking Dawn, part one. Yes, there is the potential of an implicit argument for young folks to either wrap it up or keep their knees together, but I think the anxiety about pregnancy comes from a different place in this movie. This movie is about Bella’s movement from abject to identity, told through a discourse of weight.
You see, when you get pregnant, the thing you worry about most – and I don’t care whether you are thin or plump when you get knocked up – is gaining weight. What you eat and how much of it is the dominant narrative of your gravid months. Every doctor’s appointment is riddled with anxiety, particularly the run-up to those fateful moments when you step on the scale.
This permeates our culture – just look at the gossip magazines and their perpetual bump watches, where the residual bloat of an ice cream binge serves as a harbinger of a Blessed Event. And then, of course, you are meant to have your pre-baby body back no later than 15 minutes after childbirth. Then again, pregnancy is when you have license to “eat for two,” all the tacos and cupcakes and Starburst you want! It’s a tightrope, and it’s far too easy to list too far to one side and topple into the abyss of appetite. The glee you feel from shoveling in a half-gallon of strawberry ice cream at three in the morning is laced with anxiety about how much more padding you’ll add to your baby weight, with a soupçon of self-loathing for having so little control over your own urges.
Which is why I think the very particular narrative of pregnancy and bodily weight in Breaking Dawn is so compelling in that the narrative is reversed: Bella doesn’t have to worry about gaining weight because her fetus is so voracious that Bella’s body struggles to keep both of them alive. When you see Bella, you understand that the body is failing at this effort and Bella is coming out the loser.
There’s a horrific scene in which, near the end of the pregnancy, Bella takes off her robe to get into the bath and we see her (digitally enhanced) protruding bones, her gaunt face appalled as she takes what’s left of herself in. Edward looks on from the doorway, angry and helpless at the sight of his wife’s wasted body, until Rosalie physically shuts him out by sliding the door closed, formalizing the growing emotional disconnection between Bella and Edward.
Add to that the fact that Bella has been drinking blood in order to keep her body alive in order to continue nourishing the baby, and you have the pregnant body as abject. (I suspect that director Bill Condon and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg read up on their Kristeva before making this movie.) Bella, in choosing to continue the pregnancy, exited the symbolic order and became an object of revulsion, disgust, and horror, and it’s in this space that she achieves what she wants and becomes Bella, Herself: wife, mother, gorgeous immortal.
But what interests/concerns me here are those images of Bella’s emaciated body. The minute I saw her drop that robe to reveal that shocking lack, I thought, “Uh-oh. Triggers ahoy!” And when I Googled “bella emaciated trigger,” look what I found: The Ana/Mia Chronicles. A whole conversation about how the sight of Bella sent these girls straight into the revulsion/motivation mindset that plagues the ED mind. Now, this film doesn’t glorify this state, at least not overtly. Everyone is veddy, veddy concerned that Bella looks like hell, that death is imminent and she may not be saved. But then … Bella is saved, and after she endures the trauma of her killer pregnancy and unintentionally hilarious childbirth (I’ll admit that I guffawed during that scene, probably much to the mortification of my friend). So what does that say? You, too, can achieve immortality and physical perfection (and eternal wealth) if you first go on a suicide mission by putting your body through hell. I can’t think of a more accurate definition of “thinspiration.”