Monstrosity in the Wake of Unrealized Sapphic Love: An Analysis of Queer Themes, the Male Gaze, and Repressed Sexuality in “Jennifer’s Body”
I’ll be honest; I never truly appreciated Jennifer’s Body (2009) upon its release, mostly because I found the dialogue super cringy (I was a teenager when it came out, and I didn’t know anyone who talked that way).
And yet, I’ve always returned to the film.
Aside from the demon stuff (none of it is accurate; I would know, given my research into demonic phenomena, experiences, and narratives as a folklorist), there was something there — something elusive underneath the face value I don’t think I was mature enough to understand when it debuted.
First, I had (and still have) issues with the fact that the titular Jennifer Check killed “good” guys. Colin and Ahmed (RIP) didn’t deserve that. Craig, in his grief, didn’t deserve it (he was morally gray about selling fake peyote to 8th graders, though). Chip definitely didn’t deserve it for loving Needy. Jennifer had some severe issues, and yet, she’s fascinating.
Later in my life, I noticed I love watching beautiful and smart women use their power against men, who lord power over us daily.
Jennifer is often mean and aggressive to her loyal best friend (which I disagree with). But one keeps watching because her manipulation of others is seductive.
It didn’t occur until I read analyses of the movie that it is an unrealized Sapphic love story where neither character can admit they have feelings for the other. It’s bound up in too many things: expectations of society, mostly.
“Sandbox love never dies”, Needy tells us.
They were most likely each other’s first crushes, and over time, it was reinforced that lesbianism is only okay when it’s purely for the male gaze to leer at.
When it goes beyond that, they’re demonized and called things like “lesbi-gay”, hurled as an insult. Many men, even today, believe women exist for their eyes and their pleasure; they don’t understand the concept that maybe women have their own desires that men don’t figure into.
Jennifer and Needy might have been together in a world that was less misogynistic, but 2009 wasn’t that time.
Jennifer was sexualized early on in her life by older men and not a virgin (something Hollywood and men, in general, are really obsessed with; this happens even now) by the time Low Shoulder showed up and sacrificed her, hence the demon inhabiting her.
There are also the tropes in Jennifer’s Body: Jennifer the whore and Needy the virgin (even though that’s not true since she has sex with Chip onscreen).
But they outwit the tropes by presenting them in a skewed form, untrue to the representation.
Needy has sex. Jennifer stops once she’s a demon, as far as we know. She doesn’t need it once she’s eaten (which is a sexual metaphor for being a maneater). Boy flesh sustains her stomach but doesn’t satisfy her sexually, so she doesn’t bother with it in her new form.
In Jennifer’s Body, Jennifer is always viewed through the prism of Needy’s love for her. As a young teen, I honestly didn’t understand any of this.
I thought she loved her best friend as a friend. Needy might not recognize she isn’t passionate about Chip’s lovemaking, but she clearly adores him. The kiss scene is then further obfuscating because Jennifer is a demon now, maybe even a succubus (a female sexual demon in folklore), so I thought she was able to seduce anyone she wanted through her new demon powers.
Perhaps this was part of my own bi-repression to see this relationship as “only friends”.
It took me becoming a full-grown woman who fully accepts herself to realize that the only true moments of passion for Needy at all are centered around Jennifer; she is who has Needy’s heart and soul.
Chip knows this on some level, and that is why he complains so much about their relationship. But being an immature teen, he doesn’t fully recognize Needy’s idolization of Jennifer as anything except loyalty.
Bi-erasure still happens now because people try to paper over the bisexual experience.
Jennifer openly looks at Needy sexually in at least one scene, as if she’s imagining what Needy looks like naked, when she says, “Wear something cute, okay?”
Later, it’s revealed that they played boyfriend/girlfriend with each other as kids, which is heteronormative just in the wording of how they were taught “the way things are supposed to be according to men”. They didn’t play girlfriends because it was reinforced that wasn’t okay.
I love Jennifer because of her manipulation; she is powerful. She is bewitching. She is at the height of her power when satiated and always a presence onscreen. Menacing at times but still gorgeous (in Needy’s eyes). Even when she’s not doing well, and her skin is off-color, her eyes glow eerily.
Needy is jealous, not of Jennifer’s beauty (as Jennifer wishes she was) but of people getting closer to Jennifer than her. Jennifer is much the same way about her. They are obsessed with each other, expecting the ‘significant other’ status of each other (mostly Jennifer expects it).
But Needy is just happy to be orbiting Planet Jennifer.
Embracing the Demon Within
The sacrifice obviously changed Jennifer horrifically, but she was smart enough to use her beauty to disrupt the status quo long before that; it didn’t matter what she wanted exactly, only that her beauty/sexiness could buy it.
I see it as horribly sad that Jennifer was basically taught only to see herself through the eyes of men, who were her only source of validation in the world.
Once she was a part-inhabited demon, Jennifer saw boys for what they were to her: users — but valuable in that they could satisfy her cravings for flesh in a literal way. Even “nice guys” are eaten because, to Jennifer, no man is a truly nice guy.
Why would she think otherwise? Every man in her life wanted something from her, things she was expected to give them. Low Shoulder took her normal life from her, and she owns it now.
I think Jennifer’s transformation into a flesh-hungry demon in JENNIFER’S BODY is linked to her bisexual awakening because this new monstrous aspect has allowed her to be her full self with no repercussions.
She can’t be judged or her reputation destroyed; she’ll just kill them first.
In a world that said it wasn’t okay to be in love with a girl, Jennifer decided to just eat boys and kiss who she wanted, which was Needy. It is only at the point of Jennifer’s death as a normal girl and rebirth into something evil but powerful that she realizes she can cast off society’s expectations and pursue her own unrealized desires.
She is monstrous (only because she’s now devouring boys), and she doesn’t care. Monstrosity lets her be free and beautiful and rid the world of pesky boys who are like flies to her that want something from her.
It doesn’t stop her from reverting to old insecurities and seducing Needy’s boyfriend, effectively betraying her best friend and eating him. Jennifer can’t look deeper than the surface: she must believe she’s better than Needy, that she can have whoever she wants even if she doesn’t want them, really.
The truth is, she probably wanted to remove Chip from the picture so that nothing came between her and Needy.
In Jennifer’s Body, it is Jennifer’s monstrosity that frees her from the cage Jennifer was being kept in as a Pretty Thing for Men.