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: