Dear Stephenie Meyer,
I’m a big fan of teen lit. As a future teacher, I like to see that an entire genre is dedicated to this amorphous, weird, awkward, but important time in a person’s life. Because of this, I’m very careful about what I plan to recommend for my students. And so I have to ask you about Young Adult Fiction’s newest icon: Miss Isabella Swan, alias Bella.
I just don’t get Twilight. I mean, yeah – I get that it’s about your average girl who finds herself caught in this intense and beautiful romance with some achingly gorgeous vampire who simply cannot resist her for her… smell.
But what it’s really about is a girl who feels like she has no worth, and who subjects herself to an emotionally abusive man.
I don’t understand – are you intentionally instilling this damaging ideal of love and identity? Are you unaware of the impact that this destructive outlook will have on the very impressionable teenage girls for whom you are writing? I can’t bring myself to believe that you are purposefully advocating all of these completely insensible and harmful notions of how a young girl behaves and lives.
But that seems to be the unfortunate truth.
If you’re not sure what I mean, let’s talk about Bella. As a model for young girls to follow and connect with, I’m incredibly disappointed. In her, you’ve romanticized this idea that a girl can follow whatever impulses she feels, and do what she pleases, without regard for consequence. That she can immerse herself entirely in another person. That being in love with a man is the only part of life worth experiencing.
When Bella and Edward become involved, suddenly it’s as though no other person in the world really exists outside of him. Her entire being is focused toward being with him, thinking about him, feeling incomplete without him. I understand the effect of love, but this is not it – this is obsession. She is engulfed in him, and she gives herself over completely to him and his whims, leaving no room for herself to grow or even to develop a personality of her own. Her very happiness is contingent on how much of Edward she sees, how happy he seems. This tells the girl who is reading the book, the girl who is at a critical point in her life when it comes to learning how to form healthy relationships with the people around her, that it’s perfectly acceptable to throw herself at a man and forsake any other form of human contact.
For Bella, no one else has a chance. Not her mother, who misses her and worries for her — Bella finds it a burden to even send her emails, because it takes precious time from being with Edward. Not her father, who is sweet and helpless — he keeps her from being alone with Edward. Not her friends, who bore her in comparison with Edward. It’s a never-ending exercise in frustration, having to suffer through her utter disregard for any indication that she’s actually a living person. She doesn’t even seem to have any interests, besides Edward.
A resultant disdain for the ‘normal’ is particularly irritating. She treats her friends as though they are entirely beneath her, concerned with the unimportant parts of life, caught up in the superficial nonsense of it all. I have to ask, what is so wrong with having a balanced life? So they enjoy going to the movies and talking about who’s dating whom. Suddenly they become plebeians unworthy of any attention, because they’re just not dramatic enough – their lives aren’t in constant danger, they don’t encounter mortal peril on a daily basis. Well, they must be empty shells of real human beings. This sends the message that if you take the time to enjoy the little things, you are inferior. How is this supposed to make the girl who likes her friends and her mother feel, when Bella is saying that what’s normal is essentially lame?
And she’s so down on herself. Over and over again, she questions what Edward could possibly see in her. She tells herself that’s she not worthy of him, that he deserves some glam goddess to match his perfect self. Her total self-deprecation, and this indulgence in her own self-pity, worries me. What does that say to the girl who’s already insecure about herself, who needs to validate her self-worth, whose self-esteem is shaky at best? This sends the message that if you’re somewhere in the middle, as most of us are, you’re not going to find real happiness, and if you do find it, you don’t deserve it. It ruins any real chance of a girl finding confidence in herself, and affirming that she is worth something.
And being convinced that she doesn’t deserve him is why she allows his emotional abuse. He treats her like a play-thing, a form of amusement. He finds her human tendencies charming, but if not for that weird smell factor, and the fact that he can’t read her mind (convenient), would he be interested in her at all? I doubt it. And when he just picks up and leaves, he treats her like a pet that he’s giving away because he doesn’t want it anymore. He gives no indication of caring about her, and she thinks it’s acceptable to let him jerk her around. She falls into a haze of despair, convinced that it’s her fault he’s left. Stephenie, you’re letting the teenage woman think that however a guy treats her is okay, that he can be mean and lie and leave her, but that he’ll be welcomed back with open arms. If Bella had a shred of self-respect she would realize that this is no way to be treated.
Outside of all that is the idea that it’s okay, even a virtue, to be manipulative (leading Jacob on), selfish (ditching her friends when someone better comes along), and under-handed (acting as though she’s interested in her friends so that she doesn’t have to be alone, lying about her feelings, and countless other examples).
I don’t know, Stephenie. A heroine that young women can all look up to and learn from? You can do better.