Twilight: White Frogs and Racism

Twilight Recap: Bella Swan has moved in with her estranged father in order to provide space for her newly re-married mother. The move threatens to be a stressful one as Bella is forced to adapt to a new high school in the middle of her junior year. This small town school will almost certainly be a drastic change from her big city school, and Bella worries whether her "translucent" skin tone will help or hurt her attempts to fit in.

Twilight, Chapter 1: First Sight

When we last left our heroine, Bella was fretting about her upcoming first day of school: how could she possibly hope to fit in at a school populated with only 300-something Forks natives, especially when she just doesn't look like a stereotypical Phoenix cheerleader?

   Maybe, if I looked like a girl from Phoenix should, I could work this to my advantage. But physically, I’d never fit in anywhere. I should be tan, sporty, blond - a volleyball player, or a cheerleader, perhaps - all the things that go with living in the valley of the sun.
   Instead, I was ivory-skinned, without even the excuse of blue eyes or red hair... My skin could be pretty - it was very clear, almost translucent-looking - but it all depended on color. I had no color here.

One of my first paid jobs as a teenager was at a Christian bookstore chain. We specialized in books and music, but we also carried a good deal of educational paraphernalia - everything from mainstream supplies like stickers and butcher paper to homeschooling texts for the local homeschooling community. My own family had homeschooled me for a fair chunk of my high school years, and so I was placed with the Education Department to help answer questions for customers and because I was one of the few people who found sorting the 1,000+ varieties of sticker packs (always a huge mess in the wake of enthusiastic children) to be relaxing.

On the counter of the Education Department, where we kept our phone and order catalog, was Bob. Bob was a Grow-A-Frog frog, and he was a hit with all our customers. About as long as a quarter and as thick as my thumb, Bob was a source of fascination to everyone; a cute little frog-pet that swam endless happy circles in his bowl. Somewhat overwhelmed to be earning "serious" money for the first time in my life, I went home with a Grow-A-Frog kit determined to have my own Bob.

This turned out to be a mistake - my first two frogs were delightfully cute and green and lovely, but almost immediately fell prey to the rather feral cat we kept on the premises as well as my own ignorance as to how full to keep the tank. (Answer: Not so full that the frog can jump out and die on the carpet while you're at work.) I was nothing if not persistent, though, so when it came time for Grow-A-Frog #3, I cracked open the catalog and my eye fell on this line:

Very rare.
White Grow-a-frogs are the same as any other Grow-a-frog. They are just white. They will play and interact with other white frogs and all other Grow-a-frogs with no problem at all.

My god. A white froglet. Very rare. Given that at this point in my life, I was also an avid player of Pokemon, you can well believe me when I say had to collect them all. From a fashion standpoint, white went with everything; from a practical standpoint, a creamy white frog would have a harder time hiding from me among the green slimy rocks when it was time to clean his bowl. Excited, I sent off my shipping and handling money, and counted down the days until my very rare white froglet would arrive in the mail.

Of course, cynical parents and savvy readers will have noticed by now that the Grow-A-Frog website doesn't exactly sport color pictures of these rare white froglets - customers are expected to use their imaginations to fill in the blanks. It's because of this little detail that when when my new Bob arrived in the mail, I was shocked and horrified to see that he looked less like a creamy white-chocolate confection and more like this.

Bob wasn't white; Bob was transparent. You could see his internal organs. You could see his internal organs moving. I'm sure for another child it would have been very cool and educational; for me it was incredibly traumatic and terrifying.

I did my best to love Bob. It wasn't fair, I knew, for me to treat him any differently from his predecessors. But I was never comfortable with my new pet and I was always terrified to handle him - somehow I never quite believed that the thin, translucent skin that kept his organs in would continue to function for much longer. When Bob met the same tragic fate as his predecessors at the paws of kitty, I packed up the frog tank; I was quietly relieved to be done with frogs.

All of that is a very long way of saying that whenever I see Bella talk about her "translucent" skin, I can't help but think of Bob.

What is odd to me is that at first glance this passage would seem to indicate that Bella considers darker skin attractive - until we look at the whole passage in context. Bella isn't wishing for a tan because she thinks it would be pretty; she already thinks her "translucent" skin is lovely as is, at least under the 'right' light. No, she's wishing for a tan because she believes that if she somehow fit the 'sunny Phoenix girl' stereotype, then her new classmates might find her more exotic and therefore be more welcoming.

This seems like an odd thing to think. By being "translucent" and pale, Bella no doubt looks very much like her sun-starved classmates - if Forks receives more rain than any other part of the country, we can probably assume that most of the residents don't get a lot of fun-in-the-sun. Bella seems to be thinking that if only she stood out more as an obvious outsider and was more exotically unusual, then she might have an easier time blending into her new high school environment, and frankly I'm not sure how that works.

Presumably, Bella is basing these "how to be accepted" assumptions on some kind of previous experience, and presumably she's also basing her "what Phoenix people look like" statements on her last 16+ years of living there, so I can only take this to deduce that (a) Bella was the only non-tan person at her previous school, (b) she was universally lauded for being different from everyone else, and (c) she's now wishing that she could recreate the same situation at her new school but with a palette swap. Only this theory falls down almost immediately because we're told in the text that Bella didn't stand out in her old school and the boys didn't take much notice of her. So I'm still not able to follow the logic here.

Now, what is and isn't beautiful is ultimately a matter of personal preference; I'm not going to say that Bella's "translucent" skin isn't pretty to someone somewhere any more than I would say the same about any other color of skin. But what distresses me about Twilight as I read is how often attractiveness and skin color are mentioned in the same breath - almost as if the two are fundamentally linked. Of course, attractiveness and skin color have something in common: they're both aspects of someone's physical description. But when the two are linked over and over again, a more direct relationship starts to be implied - as if the one has some kind of bearing on the other.

I'm not the first and I won't be the last to bring up the concept of Unfortunate Implications in Twilight with regards to skin color and racism. Edward and his beautiful family of beautiful vampires are all beautiful and stunning and gorgeous - and this point is almost always made alongside descriptions of their lily-white, breathtakingly-pale, marble-statuesque skin. So far as I've read, they're never chalky or corpse-white - valid descriptions that obviously carry extremely different connotations.

On the other hand, Jacob, the sexy Native American boy that ended up being such a dark horse (no pun intended) in the novels until he suffered what many fans saw as a Character Derailment, coincidentally has dark skin - something that Stephenie Meyer's Mormon church has traditionally had a significant problem with. Jacob serves as a foil to Edward - hot-blooded, impetuous, passionate, and forceful - but these traits all worryingly line up with stereotypes of dark-skinned people being more animal than human.

I've never lived in a society where my skin color could put me at a disadvantage; as such, I feel less comfortable discussing racism in a deconstruction than, for example, sexism. And yet, I don't want to skip over the subject entirely and pretend that passages that make me uncomfortable don't exist in the text. Maybe I'm reading too much into the text, but there's only so many times I can read about Bella's "pretty translucent skin" and Edward's "perfect pale face" before I start to get the uncomfortable impressing that we're supposed to consider Bella and Edward attractive because they lack any trace of color.


Anonymous said...

I love your Twilight deconstructions! I read them all in one go this evening. Please continue!


--Nenya from Slacktivist (The Slacktiverse??)

AnaMardoll said...


Thank you so much! I'm just thrilled that you liked the posts. I sent a message to the TeaBAT at the Slacktiverse volunteering my Twilight posts for new content on the site, and they seemed very open to the consideration. Hopefully you'll see me posting there soon. :)

Now I suppose I should ask them whether they'd like to re-post the older posts or just drop all the Slactivists into the middle of Chapter 1 with no warning.....

J. D. Montague said...

Every time Meyer described the vampires' features, I kept imagining a crack fiend. To me, no matter how beautiful they were said to be, I just saw cold, hard, and lifeless. The same with Bella's own description of herself.

And I considered Jacob to be the epitome of life, warmth, and comfort. I never truly considered Jacob to be feral (even when he turned into a wolf, he was still fairly tame, and I thought of him more as the family pet). Overall, I preferred his warmth over Edward's coldness (until he was turned into an unwitting pedophile, which is another discussion in its own right).

I think the race theme goes beyond pale = beautiful/tame and dark = less beautiful/wild. I believe the colors connote personalities, which can readily be found in nature. For instance, Spring/Summer (naturally known for bright jubilant colors) are usually associated with life and activity whereas Autumn/Winter (naturally associated with dull colors, grey, and white) are usually associated with stillness and passing. Even though Bella often attaches attracgiveness to skin color, she also makes it clear that she finds Jacob attractive (moreso in the second book when he's had a chance to *develop*).

In that vein, I'm not too sure the racial implications are *that* unfortunate; Meyer was painting with broud strokes. Jacob = Spring/Summer, Edward = Autmumn/Winter. It ultimately came down to what Bella preferred, like how some people prefer the stillness of Winter whereas other people prefer the excitement of Summer. It's not necessarily that Bella finds one more attractive than the other. But, then again, maybe I'm not reading enough into it.

Teli (who is not to be confused with a TwiHard)

Tangential: You should consider opening comments. I personally don't have a Blogger, LJ,, or OpenID account (and don't want them), and I suspect some of your other readers don't either. I'd much rather just list my name and blog when commenting. If it's to guard against spam, I think G has CAPTCHAs which should help curtail the problem. Just a thought. :)

J. D. Montague said...

Mental note: Proofread before submitting comments. *facepalm*

Sorry for the errors strewn throughout.

AnaMardoll said...


Hmm, I haven't thought about that, but you may be on to something. Also, of course, there's the wet/cold/white-gray-cloudiness of Forks itself, so maybe Edward is supposed to symbolize that aspects of the town that Bella hates but will grow to like (or, at least, "live" with - if she's going to be a Sparkly Vampire for the rest of her existence).

I hadn't realized that we couldn't edit in comments - I'll see what I can do to open them forum up as you suggest! I understand wanting things to be simple and easy. :D

Ana Mardoll said...


Hmm, I haven't thought about that, but you may be on to something. Also, of course, there's the wet/cold/white-gray-cloudiness of Forks itself, so maybe Edward is supposed to symbolize that aspects of the town that Bella hates but will grow to like (or, at least, "live" with - if she's going to be a Sparkly Vampire for the rest of her existence).

I hadn't realized that we couldn't edit in comments - I'll see what I can do to open them forum up as you suggest! I understand wanting things to be simple and easy. :D

BlogDiva said...

Mental note: Proofread before submitting comments. *facepalm*

Sorry for the errors strewn throughout.

jemand2 said...

Just came from The Slactiverse :)

Was distracted by your discussion of Grow-A-Frogs, as I got one during my homeschooled childhood, and the first one was also eaten by a cat.

However, the next two (I got them at one time as a replacement, and also got a lid with no large holes) are still alive.

Nearing 15 years later. I'm like.... beginning to wonder if they'll out live me or something lol. I actually wonder what a white frog would look like 15 years on, because the color in my frogs skins has definitely increased over the years, I thought they were a tiny bit see-through in the beginning even though they weren't the "white" ones.

Ana Mardoll said...

Jemand2, really?? I'm not the only homeschooler/Grow-a-Frog grower?? I don't even know what to say. I feel like we should start a club or something. *grins*

I can't believe yours have lived 15 years. That seriously boggles my mind. I liked my frogs a lot, don't get me wrong, but that's a pretty long commitment - probably longer than most marriages, haha. 'Course, the Grow-a-Frogs don't hog the remote control when you're trying to watch Food Network. :P

jemand2 said...

I got mine when I was 10, and I'm still astonished they survived the period from when I was, about 11 to 14. I was NOT the most responsible pre-teen (as a number of dead plants and fish can attest), and in any case, I had a lot on my mind at that age lol.

They lived for several years in what Grow-a-Frog refers to as the "Stage Two habitat" (somehow I remember it being called a "clubhouse" when I was a kid, maybe they changed the name). They lived there for SO long the plastic degraded and I broke the container into pieces while moving it.

They lived so long I watched the shell they came with fall to bits, and eventually become indistinguishable from the fine particulates on the bottom of their tank.

They are, however, by this point the epitome of "low key" pet. I feed them only about 2-4 times a week, I clean their half full 10 gallon glass tank every 2-4 months or so, and other than that, they provide a permanent sit-com for my cat. I wonder if they'll end up outliving this cat lol. Actually, I just thought of this, they HAVE outlived the cat that ate their predecessor. I guess this is how the frogs win.

According to this:, which I looked up just now trying to find the brand name for their original habitat, the record holding grow-a-frog lived 15 years lol. Perhaps I need to contact them next year for an update. A few years ago I was researching their species and found the record holder of their kind lived for, I think it was, 31 years, so they could conceivably still be going when I turn 40, which is kind of a scary thought.

Ana Mardoll said...

Jemand2, that completely blows my mind. You seriously should send them an update for their records, ha. A 30-year-old frog could probably outlive at least 2 cats - don't cats usually live to about 12-15 at the maximum? It's the sit-com that keeps on giving, I guess.

Funny enough, I sort of remember the "clubhouse" name, too... I always kept mine in fish tanks, though. Of course, that's how the one was able to jump out. o.O

Mau de Katt said...

Actually, the "beautiful=pale-and-or-white" theme has been postulated to be part of SMeyer's Mormon background, most notably by the deconstruction series Sparkledammerung. (I highly recommend that series, btw; it's one of the funniest things I've read in years. It's very pic-heavy, but the pictures are a huge part of the lulz.) Supposedly it's a reflection of the Mormon doctrines that Nephites (i.e. "righteous") are "fair and delightsome" while Lamanites ("the unrighteous") are dark-skinned.

Mau de Katt said...

I never had Grow-a-Frogs, but I did have Sea Monkeys (aka mutant brine shrimp). They always died when they got big enough to feed them the Sea Monkey food, no matter how much I air-stoned the habitat and cleaned out the detritus on the bottom. I also had those "Prehistoric Pets" or whatever they're called... they look like teeny tiny little horseshoe crabs; I did much better with them. Trouble is, they are highly cannibalistic. So while mine thrived and lived out their full (albeit brief) lifespans, they would just... disappear, one by one, until I was down to just one. I never even found shell fragments of the others.

RedSonja said...

Here from the slactiverse - loving the deconstruction!

That said, at the moment all I can say is "I want a Grow-A-Frog!" Especially since they have the two habitats joined by a tube - that just looks cool. Sigh.

Reader of Books said...

"Bella seems to be thinking that if only she stood out more as an obvious outsider and was more exotically unusual, then she might have an easier time blending into her new high school environment, and frankly I'm not sure how that works." (Sorry, don't quite know how to get stuff to appear as italicized in Disqus.)

Not that she wants to blend in--she might say she does, but I'm fairly sure that's a lie. What an unreliable narrator. Instead, I think she wants to look like a stereotype she can hide behind and be popular. Hooray for wish fulfillment: new place, new Bella, new opportunities to break boys' hearts and be a normal (stereotypical) teenage girl. Oh, I'm sorry, is my cynicism for gender roles showing?

[TW: racism, just in case]
Racism anecdote: I had a classmate in college, a young black man, who was also a Mormon. One day, he told me that in part he was Mormon as a rejection of his mother's being Muslim. He also told me that one of the high elder-muckety-mucks in the Mormon church had told him to his face that if he was very good in this life, in his next life he'd be reborn as a white man. I'm still completely flabbergasted that it's all right to say this kind of thing to anyone, anywhere in the US. (Hello there, privilege...)

I'm with BlogDiva's comment about warmth over coldness any day. Give me a man who's alive and interesting and not a cold predator (which feels a little like a murderer) who makes speeches about me keeping away from him because that sounds like a "No, I'm not interested and/or psychologically able to be with you properly." Fleeeeee!

Sofia said...

Spoilers for later books (if anyone cares), as well as a Content Note for mentions of violence and murder.

The thing is, Edward *is* a murderer, or at least that is implied in "Eclipse"* when Rosalie tells Bella about her past. I don't remember the exact quote, but Rosalie says something along the lines of "I have killed people, but I've never tasted human blood. So I'm less innocent than Carlisle [who has avoided both killing and drinking the blood of humans], but more innocent than Edward." The implication being, then, that Edward has both killed humans and drank their blood. Of course, this goes completely over Bella's head, which is a real shame. This could have been an interesting direction in which to take their relationship, with real conflict instead of the hamfisted "Sex Is Bad" narrative. The idea that Edward is much older than Bella, that he's lived longer, that he might have done things he regrets or that Bella might object to, all or any of these could have been the foundation for a character-driven arc more interesting and valuable than the repeated story of "Bella and Edward are together, yay! Something happens to keep them apart, gasp! There is a dangerous situation which resolves itself with very little input from the protagonists in way beneficial to them but often harmful to others involved, umm... But the important part is that Bella and Edward are together again, yay!" Wow, that was a long sentence fragment.

Anyway, I add this to the long list of places in Twilight where I feel that They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot. See also: Alice's backstory, Leah's character arc, anything involving the human characters...

Btw, I'm also here from Slacktivist, by way of Stealing Commas, just in case people were wondering.

*Probably. It's been years since I read these books, I got rid of my copies ages ago, and I'm too lazy to try to look it up.

Ana Mardoll said...

This is a test comment.

EDIT: Oh, yes, editing works! :)

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