Why Does Charlie Have An Eating Disorder In ‘Heartstopper’?


The reason Charlie speaks to us as a shy character is because of how his shyness is demonstrated in Seasons 1 and 2 of Heartstopper. Unlike the rest of the shy protagonists in the universe of teen movies and series, he doesn’t have a love-hate relationship with the more outgoing group of people. He doesn’t think that he is a misfit, which, in the words of Taylor Swift, is “she’s cheer captain, and I’m on the bleachers.” He is just a person with a lot of boundaries who finds it hard to adapt to the mannerisms of other people to fit in with them. This was the one difference between Charlie and Nick, and this is why, when the latter first started hanging out with Charlie, his mother said that he was much more like himself around the boy.

Nick preferred doing things in his own time and in his own space, being the independent person that he was. But that was taken away from him when the entire school came to know about his sexuality, and he lost control of the narrative. Charlie never wanted to tell anyone other than his close friends, and maybe once he started dating, he would have found a way to be more open about it. But he was unable to do that since everyone started bullying him the moment his truth came out.

Charlie was aware that people could be homophobic, but he did not have the chance to be prepared for the hate that came his way. We don’t think his friends were able to help much since Elle was herself going through a transition, which means that some bullying may also have come for her, and we doubt she was in school much, considering the time it takes to medically transition. It would be safe to assume that she escaped the brunt of it while simultaneously being unable to be there for one of her best friends. As for Tao, we don’t think he could have done much, either. We know from Mr. Ajayi’s interactions with Charlie that he spent a lot of his time eating alone so that he wouldn’t get bullied. In fact, Charlie did not reveal what he was going through until three months later, which was when it got really bad.

We would like to take a second to ponder Charlie’s silence here and the reason he chose not to talk about the bullying right away, even though it could have been effectively stopped without him having to suffer so much. The reason comes out when Charlie tells Nick that he did not talk to him about his eating disorder because he did not want Nick to think of him as weak and fragile. It wouldn’t be wrong to assume that this is why Charlie did not tell Mr. Ajayi about the bullying—because he was embarrassed about not being strong enough to deal with it on his own. That is the thing about not knowing how to be anything other than your authentic self: you are either confident about it or are always wondering whether something is wrong with you. Charlie was the latter, and that is why he internalized the things people said to him.

At that time, we doubted his friends were around to save him from the pit of despair that he regularly found himself in. Unfortunately, this was the time when Ben Hope found Charlie. This was quite a complicated thing for Charlie because here was a person who was being kind to him when everyone else was having fun being nasty. This meant a lot to him, but Charlie was always left confused by Ben’s behavior otherwise. It was one thing for Ben not to want to be out yet, but a completely different matter to ignore Charlie like the plague when they were not secretly meeting up. We don’t think it was simply because of Ben’s fear of being found out. He was embarrassed by his attraction to boys, and by Charlie in particular. Ben tried hard to fit in with the boys who saw Charlie as a joke, something to be made fun of. He considered it embarrassing to be associated with him. It took Charlie quite a while to catch on to that.

It would have taken a miracle for Charlie to not internalize the hate and embarrassment coming his way from the entire world and from the person he probably liked the most at one point in time. It was a miracle that did not happen, and Charlie was left to pick up the pieces for himself. Ben trying to force himself on Charlie must have been another blow, another way in which Charlie’s agency was taken away from him. Charlie would have liked to be left alone with the few people he trusted and cared about. Instead, he had an entire school full of people who thought unkindly of him and a boyfriend who treated him like he did not matter at all. For a 16-year-old boy, that was enough to push him to the edge.

It may have been a running joke between Charlie and Nick that the former apologized too much, but we can call it a trauma response—having been made to feel for way too long that everything you do is wrong or insufficient. Nobody had told Charlie any differently until Nick came along, and this is one of the reasons Charlie was always ready to break up in Season 1 of Heartstopper. It is because he thought that Nick would have to go through the exact same things as he did, and surprisingly, that is when Charlie realized that if that would be unfair to Nick, it meant it had been unfair to Charlie as well, and he should stop blaming himself. However, good mental health is often a lifelong process, and times of stress pushed Charlie into the same patterns of behavior that he had adopted to cope with his surroundings.

Season 2 of Heartstopper only told us about his eating disorder, but the upcoming Season 3 might tell us more. Charlie’s eating disorder was the result of the experiences he had and the fears they instilled in his heart. Whenever he skipped meals due to stress, he could focus his attention on his hunger and use that to feel as if it evened out whatever his fault was in the situation. Charlie knew he was wrong, but it would be a long time before he could conclusively tell himself that and treat himself as well as he treated others.

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Divya Malladi
Divya Malladi
Divya spends way more time on Netflix and regrets most of what she watches. Hence she has too many opinions that she tries to put to productive spin through her writings. Her New Year resolution is to know that her opinions are validated.

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