I’m almost half way through my second semester of my final year at uni, but today a comment from one of my seminar tutors really set me off. I’m taking a class on the Victorian Gothic, and this week we were studying Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Stevenson’s Olalla. As you may or may not be aware, both of these texts focus upon the figure of the female vampire, and this is primarily what was discussed in the seminar.
My seminar tutor suggested that the behaviour of the vampire within this fiction could possibly be a metaphorical representation of eating disorder behaviours, particularly anorexia. I froze.
I’m sure there’s a somewhat reasonable analytical background to this analogy but it initially struck me as an unnecessarily uninformed suggestion, and to be quite honest, I was both upset and angry.
I came home, and decided to do a bit of research on the matter, which was probably a really bad idea because I found it particularly triggering. However, one article really stuck with me was *see below*…
The text discusses the “vampire’s relationship to food and feeding”, alongside a psychoanalytical description of eating disorders. Whilst I agree that the eating patterns and diet of a vampire are unusual and therefore interesting, the vampire remains a supernatural being, much like a werewolf or a ghost, and thus, not human. Vampires are categorically characterised by their undeniable beauty, as an enigma of immortal perfection. To therefore suggest this as equivalent to the anorexic figure is sickening, glamourizing and romanticising a condition that is both entirely debilitating, and possibly fatal. To create a parallel between the immorality of a monster, and the vulnerability of the weakening anorexic figure is, therefore, incredibly insulting. Without seeming to realise it, this theorist suggests that the monstrosity of mental health and eating disorders are immortal and therefore inescapable, as a hideous transformations of the self into some unsalvageable and abhorrent creature.
To the author of that article:
Like yeah, kudos to you, I’m genuinely really happy (and definitely jealous) of the fact that you clearly have absolutely no personal experience with eating disorders or their effects. I know that, because if you had, there’s no way you would write or publish such ridiculous interpretations. Vampire fiction, particularly the Victorian texts I’ve studied recently, demonstrate both societal and religious subtexts, written before our generation, and therefore, are unable to predict or explore 21st century problems. I’m not suggesting that eating disorders didn’t exist before this time, purely because they were almost entirely ignored, but instead, that vampire fiction is entirely that; about a supernatural being with a thirst for blood, NOT a mentally ill individual with the inability to sufficiently nourish themselves.
With particular reference to the above article, I think the worst part by far was the conclusion. This critic suggests that: ‘the vampire and the anorexic share not only the same psychic background to their behaviour but arrive at the same conclusion – the destruction of the body.’
This is an entirely uneducated and incorrect conclusion. The vampire is a figure, which stereotypically experiences a bite of some kind, and thus ensues the transformation into an immortal figure. To therefore suggest that a mental disorder is similarly contagious is ludicrous; an eating disorder is a mental illness, not a bug that can be caught. It’s something deep-rooted within the sensibility of the sufferer, a disease which eventually robs the victim of their ability to enjoy and value life.
While yes, living with an eating disorder does sometimes feel like you’re trying to conceal and control a monstrous voice within yourself, this condition in no way makes the sufferer themselves abhorrent, or in any way similar to the brutality or behaviours of vampirism. Fundamentally, vampires are figures of legend, folk-lore and horror stories. I focus here on story, fiction, myth. Eating disorders on the other hand, are very very real.