Another One Bites the Dust: Carrie Fisher

Another one bites the dust. Sadly, Carrie Fisher, after suffering a heart attack on December 23, 2016, passed away today at the age of 60. Good Lord, how many times are we going to go through this? All of my childhood heroes are dying, closing the loop on the innocence of the childhood, left only with the memories I revere. Like the death of George Michael, this one hit me hard.

The first time I was introduced to Carrie Fisher, like many, was in the original Star Wars trilogy, namely Return of the Jedi (the Ewoks hold a special place in my heart too). It was the first movie my dad took me to see and I loved it. I saw a woman as a soldier. I saw a woman with a gun, kicking ass. I saw a woman talking back to a man and holding her ground (being from a West Indian household, a woman holding her ground vis-à-vis a man was nothing new). I saw a woman being loyal and kind to her brother. In a kickass hairstyle. With professionally-applied makeup. I saw the full expression of womanhood that became the prototype for Angelina Jolie, Milla Jovovich, Kate Beckinsale and Jennifer Lawrence, to name a few. (I do realize that Sigourney Weaver’s character in the Alien franchise had a similar effect, but my dad didn’t take me to see that).

Ms. Fisher established Princess Leia as a damsel who could very much deal with her own distress, whether facing down the villainy of the dreaded Darth Vader or the romantic interests of the roguish smuggler Han Solo.—New York Times

Carrie Fisher inspired a legion of women to kick ass at a time when women were gaining recognition in a traditionally male power structure, as examined in movies like 9 to 5 or songs like Donna Summer’s She Works Hard for the Money. In all of these cinematic and musical portrayals of women exerting our independence and strength, it was the boldness, rebellion, outspokenness and defiance of Fisher’s portrayal of that particular part of womanhood that struck me as a child and my dad was aware of its impact too: I believe he took me to see that movie to expose me to just that, just as he exposed me to football—both types.

“Winning the admiration of countless fans, Ms. Fisher never played Leia as helpless. She had the toughness to escape the clutches of the monstrous gangster Jabba the Hutt and the tenderness to tell Han Solo, as he is about to be frozen in carbonite, “I love you.” (Solo, played by Harrison Ford, caddishly replies, “I know.”)” —New York Times

Her fashion statement supports that full expression of womanhood: her hair was done in a cinnamon bun, doughnut style that had never been seen before with mass representation. The hairdo was likely influenced by Hopi women, a Native American tribe of northeastern Arizona. A full analysis of Leia’s buns can be found here. Notice, that the buns are gone in the Jabba the Hut scenes, which leads one to believe that they are a symbol of Princess Leia as a warrior.

Women from the Hopi Tribe
Women from the Hopi Tribe

The greatest fashion statement the Carrie Fisher ever made as Princess Leia was that iconic bikini, which was a slave costume. You can derive much from this, particularly the slavery of a woman’s body to her mind or to greater society’s preconceived notions of where a woman’s value lies, or the stripped-down nakedness of being subjugated, but the overall effect of the costume to Fisher was to make her an international sex symbol, which carried its own difficulties. As she said,

“Youth and beauty are not accomplishments”—Carrie Fisher

Princess Leia bikini
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in her iconic bikini

When I talk about the full expression of womanhood, I mean this: that beauty and strength are not mutually exclusive, that strong women are beautiful women, that these two concepts are functions of each other. Nurturing, outspokenness, beautification, femininity, boldness, strength are all traits that women can possess in concert. That’s what Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy means to me and it’s a concept that has yet to be recaptured in any of the remakes.