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Reading VS Self-Esteem?

by Ara
(Reprinted, with permission from a BitchBoard posting)

(Feb 14, 2009)

I love to read. I've been devouring every book or story I could get my hands on since third grade. Back when Harry Potter became widespread and well known, I was thrilled, because kids who had never read books before, and even the ones who made fun of me for reading in my spare time, were reading them and realizing that there's something special about books.

Then, not all that long ago, Twilight came out. I read this book, and almost didn't get through it, but persisted anyway. It's terrible, but hold that thought. It became huge. It would be difficult to go anywhere and NOT see people wearing Twilight shirts, not see the books on shelves, not notice the movie promotions.

Again, a book has arrived that has people who would not otherwise be reading, well, reading. But I'm not so thrilled. Because the book is terrible. For that matter, every book in the series just progressively gets worse. (You can find a summary of the series in the wikipedia article.)

And it's not terrible in that it's poorly written, though it is, or poorly paced, which it also is.

The message it delivers is terrible.

The relationship between the two main characters is based solely on physical, outer beauty. Anyone who is not "beautiful" is scoffed at, shoved aside and ignored, and gets to watch on the sidelines, wishing they were beautiful. The main female, Bella Swan (ugh) is completely useless, spineless, and pathetic, in every sense of the word. She can't do anything unless her boyfriend is there, and actually nearly kills herself when he leaves briefly. The male lead, a vampire named Edward Cullen, stalks her and watches her sleep for about three months, a fact which has girls swooning over how "romantic" he is, then he tells her he's dangerous to her while refusing to leave her or let her leave, and basically sets off every red flag that exists, and maybe a dozen new ones (given that it's fiction, and he's a vampire).

And hundreds, probably thousands, of young girls are devouring this and wishing they were her. I came across a forum thread full of girls talking about how they were actually dieting and trying to change their appearance to look more like Bella. How they wanted to be in that kind of relationship which, if you read the book (and I could quote samples if asked to) is blatantly unhealthy and abusive.

These thousands of girls are getting the message that only pretty girls who devote themselves to their equally pretty boyfriends can be happy.

I confess to being slightly torn. On one hand, girls my age (20) and older are reading these books, may never read any others due to the general busy life of an adult, and are buying into it. And I'm concerned that, in addition to a culture which encourages people to care more about physical beauty than inner beauty, we have such popular books encouraging the whole mess, further damaging the self esteem of younger girls who are not, for whatever reason, perceived as "beautiful". Not only that, but it's reinforcing the idea that women exist only to be girlfriends/wives, that they have no merit without a man.

And yet, an internet friend of mine who is in high school tells me that as a reward for good grades, the school agreed to bring the students to the movie, something which prompted the highest grades in quite some time. I used to read plenty of drivel when I was a kid too. I grew out of that as I got older and read more books, and my standards increased. Twilight may have this effect on others. So, there is definite benefits to a book becoming so wildly popular.

The kids in highschool (which is a kind of closed bubble of its own) are being told by their peers that they aren't good enough, and now a wildly popular book like this is reinforcing that message. On top of that, the adults are going on about "be yourself" and all that, but even they are throwing their full support behind this book that encourages the exact opposite. Talk about conflicting messages.

So the question I'm posing is, even if a book (any book, Twilight or future terrible books) could encourage hundreds or thousands of young people to read more, is it really such a good thing if it sends out such a sickening message?

Personally, I would never encourage anyone to read the books, and there are many like me who are denouncing them as crap. But, well, we're turning out to be a pretty tiny voice against the screaming fans.

For a breakdown of how the first book works out, and maybe a couple laughs, check out this post, "I want to beat Edward Cullen with a stick"

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