What’s Up with the Super Skinny Demonic Pregnancy in “Breaking Dawn”?

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By Sayantani DasGupta

If you have been, say, living in outer space, in some kind of a no-media cult, or simply in possession of particularly discriminating taste, and have not seen the Twilight films, or read Stephanie Meyer’s books, then, before you read this post, I respectfully send you to these superlative examples of feline scholarship otherwise known as the LOL cat reviews of the Twilight films.

For the rest of the population, read on.

A gender studies professor and a religious studies scholar went into a darkened movie theater earlier this fall and saw a film about pseudo-Mormon vampire families, oral demonic C-sections, and baby-werewolf imprinting. No, that’s not a joke, although by the time the film ended, my religious studies professor friend and I kind of wished it was, too. (Now, if you know about Twilight but haven’t seen Breaking Dawn (part 1), or have seen it, but blocked it out with a self-inflicted lobotomy – excellent choice btw, I respectfully send you to this naughty but oh-so-clevah summary of the movie at g4tv.)

Now, plenty has been written about the Mormon influences in the Twilight books, including the juxtaposition of the ‘white and delightsome’ sparkly vampire Cullen family with the indigenous “savage werewolves in need of vampire colonization.” (At the very least, that Jacob kid needs someone to buy him a shirt, already.) And there’s been an equal amount written about Bella as swooning anti-feminist heroine, whose ‘choices’ are more often than not the ‘choice’ to be passive and, um, whiney. (As the LOL cats would say, “Uh-oh. my only raison for to lives, gones. *Mope so sad. I jes stare out windo for thfree monz.”)

Now that Breaking Dawn (parte uno) has finally brought the clumsy but deliciously ensangrinated human Bella (that’s like, something European for ‘beautiful’, did you know that?) and breathtakingly glowy vampire dude Edward (a 107-year-old un-dead guy as your high school biology lab partner, no that’s not creepy at all) to the altar, nuptial bed, and super-disturbing at-home baby delivery table, there has been some wonderful feminist analyses of the essentially anti-choice ‘choice’ rhetoric peppered through the film.

After Bella gets pregnant (‘natch) like the second she says, “I do,” she embraces the “choice” to give birth to her demon spawn – despite Edward, Alice, and every other thinking person in the audience’s urgings to have an abortion. In fact, she employs grumpy blonde Cullen sister Rosalie to serve as a sort of anti-abortion protester cum bodyguard – protecting Bella’s rapidly swelling body from the (sensible) pro-choice machinations of, um, everybody else. Despite looking like she’s a hunger striker with a strapped on baby bump that she stole from the dressing room of “A Pea in the Pod,” Bella is determined to play the dutiful mother-to-be who “loves” her fetal monstrosity far more than herself (even when that love involves delicately sipping human blood through a non-environmentally friendly Styrofoam cup + straw).

Now, the grotesque pregnancy and birth scenes in Breaking Dawn are consistent with recent cultural obsessions with horrible images of pregnancy and birth on television.  Bella’s bun is also consistent with historical notions of “monstrous pregnancies” caused by overworkings of the maternal imagination, as well as the “pregnancy/birth pornography” indulged in by many recent dramas about historical figures. In the words of Bitch Magazine blogger Katherine Don:

Nothing instills a fear of pregnancy more than watching childbirth scenes that take place during the Medieval period… or the Renaissance… or during the Enlightenment… or any time, really, before the twentieth century. Screaming mistresses/courtesans/queens/princesses lay flushed in their canopied doily beds as frantic women flutter about the room, dipping cloths in hot water…

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not downplaying the potential dangers of childbirth. But exaggerating, fetishizing and sexualizing these dangers for entertainment purposes amounts, in my opinion, to some form of pornographication.

But I knew all this before I went to the movie theater. And yet, although I might have come for the reproductive politics, I ended up staying for the messed up body image shizz. As the “Ryan Gosling Reads YA… and sometimes cries” meme would say, it was super messed up to watch a young girl wake up from her wedding night covered in bruises – and then watch her be okay with it. But that too I knew going in, as I knew that there would be a homebirth scene from hell in which Edward actually BITES OUT the baby from bloody Bella’s belly (that scene was so gross, yo, I totally earned that alliteration.)

Yet, what I found most disturbing of all – among many, many other disturbing things including Jacob falling in love with Bella’s newborn baby Renesmee  (yeah, really, both the wacky name and the falling in love with an infant bit)– was the visual image of Bella as anorexic pregnant waif queen. As Alex Cranz at FemPop notes, skeenay Kristin Stewart could have given Christian Bale a run for his money with her degree of emaciated-ness and poking out bones in this film. I knew, from reading the books, that Bella’s ravenous half-vampire fetus devours her from the inside out, yet, the image of a young actress looking that haggard on screen was downright shocking (and I’m sure triggering for those in the audience suffering from disordered eating). For a minute I actually got confused, and thought that maybe I was watching a film version of Laurie Halsie Anderson’s novel about anorexia, Wintergirls (Kristin Stewart acts in the film version of Anderson’s Speak.)

Feminist scholar/rock star Judith Butler has asserted that gender is performance, not an innate state of being but a set of repeated, stylized acts. With that in mind, we can also assert that pregnancy is a type of ‘performance.’ We only have to think of different ways that pregnancy is publicly enacted in different cultures, or think of the different ways that pregnancy has been presented historically (hidden utterly, infantilized – remember those maternity dresses with the big goofy bows? – and most recently, made Hollywood sexy) to realize that pregnancy is not solely a biological condition of being, but fundamentally socioculturally constructed.

Yet, although the ‘belly bump’ has become a greatly desired accountremont for celebrities in the last few decades, this has not relieved these women from adhering to and promoting unrealistic and unattainable body standards. Indeed, the ‘celebrification’ of pregnancy has in fact brought the gestating body further under the exacting gaze of feminine body image expectations. Actress and model mothers are regularly photographed with bellies that seem practically glued on, raving about the diet and exercise regimen they will embark on to regain their ‘pre-baby bikini bodies’ as soon as possible. Recently, Mariah Carey famously hid her “rancid” pregnant body from her husband – even in the bathtub – and quickly became the newest Jenny Craig spokesperson after delivering. And it’s not just pregnant celebrities in on the head trip. We’ve all read about adult women who have had their teenage bouts with anorexia re-triggered by the inevitable (and healthy) weight gain and body changes of pregnancy. Sensationally called “pregorexia’ – such women are unable to reconcile the disordered body image expectations of our society with the necessities of pregnancy, and starve, exercise, and otherwise abuse their pregnant bodies to the detriment of their own and their fetus’ health.

Kristin Stewart’s performance of pregnancy is inevitably also a performance of “pregorexia” – adding one more image of extreme thinness to our cultural stockpile of such images. Demon-baby or no, ultrathin pregnant bodies are culturally unhealthy, images that devour us all from the inside out.

Other Pregnancy Related Posts on Adios Barbie:

Newest Diet Fad Offers False Positive

The Skinny on Pregnancy Weight Gain

“Pregorexia”: Are Celebrities Really to Blame?

 

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Comments

  1. I’m going to have to disagree with this entire article. Not only do I disagree with it, but I am actually rather appalled by it. I’m not sure if the author realizes what pro-choice means, but it’s all in the name… Pro-CHOICE. I’ll spell it out for you if you still don’t understand: Pro-choice is the idea that women should be able to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

    Read that again: Pro-choice is the idea that women should be able to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

    This does not mean all women should choose abortions. This does not mean that choosing to have a child is “wrong.” This does not mean that choosing to have a child is “anti-choice propaganda.” It simply means that women should have the CHOICE of whether or not to have an abortion.

    And Bella chose not to. Even after constant pressure from multiple people to get an abortion, she still wanted to keep the kid. I mean, if this was the other way around, with everyone pressuring her to have the child and she eventually chose to have an abortion in the end, you would be spouting about how amazing and powerful Bella is. But instead, she made the “wrong” choice in your eyes, the “weaker” choice. That, to me, is EXTREMELY disturbing and hypocritical.

    Not to mention how you mock Bella for being “determined to play the dutiful mother-to-be who ‘loves’ her fetal monstrosity far more than herself.” As if there is something wrong with wanting to play the mother role, or as if there is something wrong with Bella loving her unborn child more than herself. Who are you to judge?

    And you know what, don’t get me wrong. I’m the most feminist person I know, and the most pro-choice person I know. I don’t like Twilight (I read the first book and watched the first movie and didn’t like either of them). I know that Bella is the complete opposite of a feminist throughout 99% of the series, based on what I have heard. I know Stephanie Meyer is a strict Mormon. But you know what, this is probably the one point in the entire series where Bella makes the feminist choice – to do what SHE wants, even through all the harassment she has endured from other people trying to pressure her into making a decision that she doesn’t want.

    I’m trying not to be rude here, but it’s articles like these that make me embarrassed to be a feminist. Articles that claim that abortion is always the right choice, and anyone who makes the choice to have a child has made the “wrong” decision and is full of anti-choice propaganda. Articles that insinuite that there is something “wrong” with being “determined to play the dutiful mother-to-be.” What is wrong with wanting to be a dutiful mother? Is that “anti-feminist”? Is it wrong to want to stay in the kitchen and be a stay-at-home mom? Last time I checked, feminism is about CHOICE, and you seemed to have forgotten that.

  2. Thanks Anjali and everyone for your comments – @SocialWrkGirl and Cindy Brown – I agree the books and movies are enjoyable absolutely – but to me half of the enjoyment if the awareness of some of the really wacky stuff in it. I hope that the post’s enthusiasm (and length, sorry!) and silliness emphasized that yes, I’m critiquing it, but I’m also just having fun doing so!

  3. Thought provoking write up!
    Of course this is a fantastical film based on a fantasy novel, and though theoretically this should absolve it of perhaps influencing girls in the real world, in the real world it does not. However do film makers and novelists have a responsibility to the story they want to tell, or to the society they are telling it in? Is getting influenced ultimately the responsibility of overly impressionable young women? As silly as this film is, I would not want film makers or novelists to censor themselves…Rather the audience should decide if there if they want to watch/read such things…Apparently they do.

  4. We girls in this house are Twilight fans. We’re also Christians. Liberal Christians, obviously. Now, let me say that we have liked the other films, but this one was a bit dead in the water for us. Even my teen/tween girls were put off by Bella’s appearance, I thought the story was very slow to start and unbelievable (her parents find out she’s getting married when they receive invitations… really?) and the whole thing with the baby was not right, giving epileptics seizures with the bright lights flashing sequence and all. However, I do disagree with you on one point. Jacob does NOT need a shirt! Oh myyyyyyy… I feel like a dirty old woman saying that and I don’t care. That boy is hawt! HOT, I say ;0)

    The only redeeming factor is that I did leave wanting to see how it’s all finished out in the next movie. I didn’t enjoy this one very much, but I’m looking forward to the next one, so I suppose they’ve done their job.

    I enjoyed your post, even though it was almost as long as the movie, LOL! Keep up the humor – as a fellow humor writer, I like it!

  5. SocialWrkGirl says:

    As a self pro-fessed Twi-hard (well, medium? I’d shy from “hard”) I have to say the feminist over-analysis of this series as DV, stalking, anorexia, etc removed all of the idea of FANTASY FICTION and starts to look at it as something attainable and real.

    What really gets me is all this “Jacob falls in love with a baby” business:

    (1) Imprinting and falling in love are different. Imprinting is explained that depending on the age of the girl/woman the werewolf imprints upon is like having a super protective big brother feelings for someone. If the person you imprint on doesn’t “love you back” you do whatever she wants. Basically, they are enslaved to ensure the happiness and protection of this person. There’s no sick, pedifile inclination. It is REPEATEDLY discussed because Bella is PISSED (wait for part two when she’s strong and learns about this if you didn’t READ THE BOOKS LIKE MOST CRITICS). Edward, as a mindreader discusses at length that Jacob has more of a big brother/Uncle sort of view of the baby.

    (2) Yes, Bella has bruises. Can’t good rough sex with a consentual partner do that? End of story. I’m sick of this one. I’ve have more banged up bruises from falling, slamming into walls, etc. NONE of WHICH I REGRET :)

    (3) If the woman in question is pregnant with a demon…we can’t really talk about pregorexia in reality. Because, um… people in REAL LIFE don’t get pregnant with demons.

    (4) I know that chioce is extremely important, but isn’t it also a choice to continue a pregnancy that others don’t want you to have?

    Most important…. How on earth can this possibly be REAL? There are vampires, warewolves, etc. What needs to be discussed is how parents, educators, and others in these young womens lives can discuss the difference between fantasy and reality. Between biological fact and S.Meyers fiction. Instead of dissecting this series for all that you can find wrong with it, why not create something for a better conversation? One that validates the readers interest and dissects their ability to separate fact and fiction, their understanding of the two and allows them to walk away and STILL ENJOY THE BOOK/MOVIE. It’s entertainment.

  6. Great post, disturbing images. I have not seen the movie, and after this post, I don’t really want to. I have to wonder if it was healthier for society in the days where pregnant women weren’t even photographed– as opposed to now when pregnant women are portrayed as supermodel thin with cute little basketballs under their clothes. At least then, pregnant women didn’t feel they needed to imitate unhealthy images.

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