Twilight: Unwanted Attention

[Content Note: Perfectionism, Impostor Syndrome, Abuse]

Hi, I'm Silver, and I have issues with the idea that nobody is perfect, because I've long since known, with the unshakable certainty that comes with being laughed at as a child, that the only way to maintain harmony in intimate and work relationships is to be flawless in everything. Which may mean I can understand some part of the things that drive Isabella Swan, even though that understanding is of a negative trait, rather than a positive one.

Let me unpack myself for a bit. My second grade teacher was convinced I needed special education, because she never saw me do my work in class after she had handed out the worksheets, just that I was reading. The work got done, but the part she had missed was that while she was explaining what was going on to the other students in the class, I was doing the worksheet and completing it, then reading so as not to disturb the others. (Certainly not her fault - she was teaching, which meant turning her back to the class and such.) The tests note out that I was definitely in need of special education, but gifted rather than not.

And for my entire elementary career, the thing I got recognized for was "academic achievement"...even in the year where I specifically asked not to be recognized for that. Which meant, of course, when I was wrong, it was something to be remarked upon by classmates, when they weren't already remarking about how weird it was that I used weird words and was so interested in doing well in school. The only way to make sure things didn't go there was to make sure there were no mistakes. Pressure, anyone?

So let's take a look at Bella Swan. At the beginning of the book, she is leaving Arizona for Forks, presumably because there's a new man in her mother's life. (Later on, we find out that Bella was the responsible child forced into adulthood and having to take care of both of them.) Baseball Phil is probably just trying to get to know someone who could be his stepdaughter, and he doesn't want to have frosty relations with her while she finished high school. To Bella, though, it probably feels too much like someone prying into her life.

The ease with which Bella slips into the domestic role with Charlie makes it likely that it's the role she's most comfortable with, plus Charlie doesn't ask about her day or anything else. (Until the narrative forces him into the role of Protector Of My Daughter's Hymen, anyway.) And her behavior in class is designed to minimize her exposure to anyone and make her utterly forgettable. Bella does not want to attract attention from anyone. Although we don't know why, Bella knows, with the certainty of...something, that the only way to maintain harmony in intimate and work relationships is to not attract attention.

Now, as an adult, and now that I have a Significant Other, zie thinks I'm just a wonderful person, and zie enjoys showing off what a wonderful person I am, and especially to some people, zie really wants to show me off. The anxiety that comes with this is substantial, because imperfection, based on childhood, means I'm really a horrible person and it didn't take much to show that off in front of her friends and RUN AWAY AND HIDE SO THAT YOU DON'T DISGRACE YOURSELF FURTHER.

And then I thought to myself, "Great Maker, what if I had the perfect boyfriend?" Because Edward is described in such wonderfully purple prose, we're not supposed to conclude anything other than that Edward is Objectively Perfect. In body at least. What Edward does with his mind, his voice, and the way he behaves toward Bella is clearly not perfect, but it's not something you can see on the outside when looking at the two of them as a couple. Adding in that Bella is also Objectively Prettier than the other girls, they make the "perfect" couple, which can only serve to put additional pressure on Bella to maintain that facade, because saying something is wrong when it's not obvious garners attention. And skepticism. Mostly, though, attention.

Attention. The thing Bella hates. The thing she has been getting from Forks High since she arrived. Mike Newton latched on to her because she was novel. "Every human male" in the school is paying attention to her because of her being Objectively Prettier, which also produces attention from human females because their man's attention is not where it should be. (According to Edward, anyway, whose reliability and credibility as an honest witness and observer approaches SQRT(-1) whenever he speaks.) She's clumsy in gym, which draws attention to her. She's involved in a freak incident where she was saved by someone else. And then the Objectively Perfect person tells her that she's irresistible to him and that he wants to hang out with her more. Even the locationally-impossible Port Angeles assault mob zeros in on her effortlessly. Attention, attention, attention.

By this point, everyone knows who Bella is and is eagerly waiting to see what happens next in her life. Which is the utter antithesis of what Isabella Swan "knows" is the right path to harmony in relationships. This theme continues throughout all the books, with greater and more powerful entities paying attention to her in succession, such that the only way for her to be properly left alone in the end is to be a vampire with special powers and have fought the self-styled world government of vampires. (Note as well that Bella gets a superpower that allows her to cancel things from entering her sphere of influence. I strongly suspect that Bella learns, soon after Breaking Dawn, how to turn her negation power into a perception filter / SEP field so that she can basically force everyone to not pay attention to her if she doesn't want attention.)

I have to wonder what kind of iron core Bella developed while taking care of Renee that apparently allows her to take a "keep calm and carry on" attitude. And that waits an entire book before showing any signs that all this attention from the residents of Forks is doing damage to her psyche. Perhaps because of narrative spite, we see the damage happening because of a lack of attention, instead of too much of it. Because when the Perfect Boyfriend, the one person whose intense attention to you has occasionally had positive results, instead of always negative consequences, leaves you, it must be All Your Fault and you can hear everyone judging you silently and RUN AWAY AND HIDE...

I don't find Isabella Swan to be a sympathetic character, because of other parts of her written personality, and even as I'm writing this, I'm trying to think of textual justification for this possible interpretation. (Perhaps in a cruel joke, the series is this way because even in telling us the retrospective of how Renesmee came to pass and how Bella became a vampire, she still fundamentally doesn't want us to pay attention to her.) It's a different idea. Maybe the series would be better if this were more explicit. Maybe not. But for this one aspect, maybe we can both empathize.


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