Thursday, January 28, 2010

Monstrous Musings: Why are there no fat vampires?

This is a guest post from Natalie Wilson

I am a literature and women’s studies scholar and author of the blogs Professor, what if…? and Seduced by Twilight. I am currently writing a book examining the Twilight cultural phenomenon from a feminist perspective. My interest in vampires and werewolves dates back to my childhood fascination with all types of monsters.

(Or:  Only hetero white males need apply…)

I have long been interested in which types of bodies count as “beautiful” and “normal” in our world. Perhaps it stems from my thin-obsessed older sister dubbing me “chub” (and labelling me as such in family photo albums). Or, perhaps is it do to living inside a female body, that type of body Aristotle long ago labelled defective and that has been allied with monstrosity/excess ever since. In any case, the image below caught my body aware-eye and got me thinking, are there any fat vampires?

image Here, in an image that is supposed to be funny, the vampire-hunk Edward has morphed into a fat twinkie-fanatic. Interestingly, his body is markedly feminized in this fat rendering of his corporal form – he has what are colloquially known as “bitch tits” (now there’s a hateful phrase if ever there was one) and the saggy belly associated with females who have “let themselves go”and are “in need” of a tummy tuck (or a “mom job”).

In the image, Bella and James look on in judgement, as if to say “Oh, Edward, what have you done to yourself?” Edward looks none too happy – apparently those twinkies are not satisfying his hunger. (Which brings up another fat-hating stereotype this image draws on: fat people only eat junk.) Edward of course can’t possibly be happy with his fat body – that would go against the “thou shalt be thin” commandment.

As Melissa McEwen of Shakesville writes,

“It remains a radical act to be fat and happy in America… If you're fat, you're not only meant to be unhappy, but deeply ashamed of yourself, projecting at all times an apologetic nature, indicative of your everlasting remorse for having wrought your monstrous self upon the world.”

Here, using the phrase “monstrous self,” McEwen hits on an enduring link between fatness and monstrosity. To be fat is to somehow fail at being fully human in our body policing society; it results in being judged as lazy, greedy, unhealthy and endless other negative presumptions. Fat bodies are decried for taking up too much space, for eating too much, for assaulting the eyeballs of those of “normal” weight. Many movies code fat as monstrous (think Wall*E, Monster House, Shallow Hall, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape to name a few…)

Fat-hating comments and actions still function as “acceptable prejudices” with a general disdain for fatness dominating popular culture. And, although we feign to be living in an era that celebrates diversity, the range of what counts as a “normal body” is thin indeed. The explosive growth of plastic surgery, anorexia nervosa, and exercise fanaticism all attest that we are policing our bodies perhaps more than ever before.

So, how does the vampire craze fit into all of this? Well, I have never checked into the “nutrition facts” for a blood only diet, but I am guessing it might accord to the Atkins/BellyFatDiet/SouthBeach diet crazes. I am assuming blood would be low in carbohydrates (and those dreaded sugar carbs) and high in protein… Could one be fat on a blood only diet? According to textual depictions of vampires, it seems the consensus is no.

However, a fellow vampire addict alerted me to Fat White Vampire Blues, which Booklist describes as follows: “Poor Jules Duchon. It isn't easy being a vampire in New Orleans. Potential victims' blood is filled with fat from the rich local cuisine, and so Jules is a whopping 463 pounds. He would like to diet, but, really, his life isn't too bad--until he walks into his house and finds tough-talking black vampire Malice X waiting for him. Annoyed that Jules has been feeding off black victims, Malice tells him to stick to his own kind. Shaken, Jules turns to his stripper ex, Maureen, the vampire who made him. She is as overweight as Jules and can't bear to have him around because he reminds her of her own heft.”

WTF? Judging by words such as “whopping” and “heft” I doubt this is a fat-positive depiction. And if this brief description is any indication, seems like there might be some interesting white privilege/racism issues to examine. I might have to read this one…

I asked around amongst other vampire aficionados, and no one could think of many well known (let alone obscure) fat vampire characters. To the contrary, most vampires are represented as thin in the extreme – and those currently in vogue (Edward, Alice, Rosalie, Stefan, Damon, Eric, Bill) are no exception. Vamps have often been depicted as attractive monsters – perhaps the most attractive - so their representation as muscular and thin is in keeping with cultural norms of the body beautiful. Yet, must all those they bite, turn, or fall in love with be thin as well? It seems so. Mina Harker was hardly curvaceous, Sookie Stackhouse is a size 8, Elena Gilbert is skinny as all get out, and Bella Swan is whisper thin, weighing in at 108.  Perhaps vampires stay thin by only supping on thin women? Perhaps this is why Raaachem of WTForks?! posted Step away from the food with this image

image

Ah, there is it again, the notion fat people eat junk and only thin is sexy. Bella Swan, vampire it-girl extraordinaire, seems to agree – throughout the Twilight series she repeatedly refuses food and insists she is not hungry. Her love for Edward, as riffed on in this, my TwiKidTrio Halloween skit, fills her up. Who needs food when you’ve got Mr. Golden Eyes?

Seeing as fatness is still so culturally loathed, I am in hopes there is a fat-positive vampire somewhere. This question seems to dog the imagination of others with many questions posted at Yahoo Answers such as “Why are there no fat vampires”If a fat person was turned into a vampire would they stay fat forever? and  “if u turn a fat person in to a vampire do they still stay fat and just turn beautiful?  However, the comment threads are filled with fat-hating comments like “People are chosen to be bitten by their sex appeal. It explains everything.” Yeah, cuz fat = zero sex appeal. Right.  (Sadly, ruminations on Stephanie Meyer’s weight are also widespread on the internet– most of them insulting. “How dare she, the creator of beautiful vampires, be fat,” the comments imply.)

As recently reported at CNN, fat discrimination is more damaging to one’s health than fat itself! (For many great posts on fat-hatred and even more fat-positive messages, see Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose blog).

Why do fat vampires matter? Or, more to the point, why does it matter that almost all vampires are thin in the extreme? For the same reason it matters that they are also generally male, white, heterosexual, moneyed, able-bodied, etc. Popular culture matters – and currently vampires are having another major vogue – how they are represented shapes how we think of the world and ourselves. And if the most beautiful monsters are never fat, or never WOC*, what does this say about our “post-racial” supposedly diversity-loving society? It says that fat-hatred or sizism (and all the other nasty isms) are unfortunately undead.

*(I am nearly finished with The Gilda Stories, a novel that features a black female vampire protagonist, and will be posting on this soon!)