Don’t call her Princess Leia. Call her Queen Clap Back.
Never one to bite her tongue, Carrie Fisher took to Twitter this week to call out people critiquing her appearance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Quelle surprise — the 59-year-old actress doesn’t look the way she did when she first stepped into the iconic role at age 19! It’s been nearly 40 years since A New Hope was released. You would think most people would understand that most normal people age a fair amount in that time frame, but I guess not.
When her clap back tweets got picked up as a story for every news outlet from the Washington Post to Entertainment Tonight, the public’s reaction was largely supportive and full of praise. The way we treat women, particularly women in entertainment, as objects of beauty and little more, is sad. It seemed like most corners of the internet were cheering: what a great, you go girl! moment to close out a year of women biting back at body shamers.
But the New York Post had a different opinion. Post op-ed writer Kyle Smith asserts that if criticism and judgement of her image bothers her, then Carrie Fisher should just quit acting.
“No one would know the name Carrie Fisher if it weren’t for her ability to leverage her looks. George Lucas only cast her in the first place because she was young, slim and cute at the time,” Smith wrote.
Yes, let’s forget the part about how she also beat out now-Academy Award winners like Jessica Lange and Glenn Close for the role. Yes, being pretty helps, but if a pretty face was all it took to be a successful actor, then wouldn’t the reviews of performances from nearly every Sports Illustrated model who has tried to make a leap into film be more positive?
The New York Post is an unprofitable publication. It loses an estimated $110 million a year, and is ranked eighth in the country for digital traffic. Any smart person can see that when your competitors are posting praise, an easy way to get clicks is to go against the grain.
I titled this piece “In Defense of Carrie Fisher,” but that’s almost unnecessary. Carrie Fisher doesn’t need anybody to defend her, least of all me. She has already demonstrated time and time again that she is more than capable of defending herself, often better than anyone else could.
But to me, the Post’s comments go beyond shallow clickbait, they go beyond attacking Fisher and instead boil down to a misogynistic, damaging, cruel, and poorly written attack on women as a whole. This is an internet troll’s hack job, but because it has been published by the New York Post, instead of on some message board buried in the internet where it truly belongs, it’s gaining attention — more attention than it really should. And it’s infuriating enough that it deserves to be criticized. Because if you don’t want people to criticize your writing, maybe you shouldn’t write.
“What happened to her?” “She has not aged well.” “She put on a lot of weight.” “She used to be hot.”
What’s striking is how irregularly these statements are made about men. Everybody gasp in shock and anger that Princess Leia is no longer in her 20s! How dare she age! According to Smith, Fisher has profited off of being young and pretty, and she — as well as other aging actresses who have drawn attention to Hollywood’s double standards — should just be grateful for the time they had at the top, and back off. It’s a not-so-polite polite way of putting an actress over the age of 40 out to pasture like a lame horse.
But where are these comments about Harrison Ford, now 73, running around as Han Solo, his hair peppered with white and grey, his face tough and jagged with wrinkles, and his mid-section no longer looking like the six pack it used to be? Why have I heard little, if nothing, about his appearance? What I want to know is why aging men are treated like fine, vintage wine, while the women are tossed out as if they have spoiled.
These objectifying statements are things we hear all too often about women.She used to be hot. Like it’s some shame that we dare age. Like we owe it to society to stay thin and youthful looking and beautiful from the time we hit puberty until the day we die. Like “hot” is measured only in terms of outer beauty, and can’t be measured in intelligence, wit, passion, etc.
Some will say that men do get this critique from time to time. I’d like for you to pay attention the next time you hear someone talk this way about a male actor. You’ll probably notice that it is often only said about men who went off the railshard and, yeah, look a little fucked up. But even then, the conversation will likely immediately turn to “Oh, but he’s a very talented actor, so it’s okay.”
More damaging than attacking Fisher’s looks, though, is this statement: “As for Disney’s ‘pressure’ to lose weight, she should be even more grateful for being nudged to get healthy.” Clearly, not a lot research went into this piece.
I don’t know if Smith knows this or not, but “getting healthy” isn’t always easy. It isn’t always something that one can be “nudged” to do. I don’t know if he’s aware that weight loss doesn’t always equal health, and that weight gain isn’t just due to laziness and poor eating habits — several other factors can contribute.
Medication is one of them. Medication that, ironically, keeps you healthy. Carrie Fisher is bipolar. And while she has gotten a wealth of writing material out of it and her brutally honest jokes about it have helped reduce the stigma of mental illness, it’s not always a laughing matter. Because at the end of the day, it is an illness, much like diabetes or heart disease or any other serious illness that requires a significant amount of medication to keep at bay. So, like a lot of people would do to be healthy, she treats it. She would be, pun intended, crazy not to.
What responsible adult, what dedicated parent, what intelligent person, would say “no thanks” to medication to keep themselves safe and sane because it may cause some side effects as traumatic as weight gain? What is more traumatic to you: manic hallucinations followed by severe depression or being 35 pounds heavier, but healthy, alive, and well?
Her condition is no secret, because it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be brave for someone in the public eye be so candid about mental illness in 2015, but it is, and she is. Fisher has made many statements about the trade off between looks and medication, about this crazy idea that people expect her to look the same after all these years:
“What I didn’t realize, back when I was this twenty-five-year-old pinup for geeks in that me myself and iconic metal bikini, was that I had signed an invisible contract to stay looking the exact same way for the next thirty to forty years. Well, clearly I’ve broken that contract. Partly because, in an effort to keep up my disguise as a human being, I had a child at some point. And then, in an effort to stay sane for said child, I took pounds and pounds of medications that have the dual effect of causing water retention (think ocean, not lake) while also creating a craving for salad—chocolate salad. So yes, in answer to your unexpressed question, sanity does turn out to come at a heavy price.” (Shockaholic, 2008)
With this easily Google-able public knowledge, to make an aggressive and insulting statement about her health and her weight is not just lazy, it’s hurtful. Who is Kyle Smith to make an assumption about a stranger’s health? Let’s call a spade a spade. Smith is just articulating his opinion in a way that is only slightly more socially acceptable than slapping down “Gee, it’s a shame Princess Leia is crazy. Maybe if she was healthy and didn’t have to take antipsychotics, she would still look like the girl in the gold metal bikini thirty some years ago and I could still jerk off to her like the grody fuckboy I am, because that’s really all that matters. If she’s not hot anymore, fuck that bitch!”
What is important is the lesson that we learn in Fisher’s unwavering ability to stand up to critics. It may be a PR rep’s nightmare, but it’s important. Women shouldn’t keep their mouths shut about this anymore. It’s almost 2016. We are long overdue for a realistic look on how our society treats women.
“My body is my brain bag. It hauls me around to those places and in front of faces where there’s something to say or see. Youth and beauty are not accomplishments. They’re the temporary happy, by-products of time and/or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either,” Fisher said in a series of tweets. She didn’t have to remind us that she’s an acclaimed, accomplished, and award winning writer, or that she’s starred in films other than Star Wars, films where she wasn’t required to be a sex symbol.
Her message is what matters, is what we should be conveying to little girls. Your brain is your most important asset. You are worth so much more than your body, but take care of it. Take care of it like you would your very first car: it has to work to take you places, it needs to be treated gently. Don’t run down its fuel. Don’t drive too fast or too recklessly or put too many miles on it too soon, because it’s the only car you’re ever gonna have.
Can you imagine how many girls without the self esteem and wisdom of Carrie Fisher — which often comes with age — will read Smith’s opinion and think, “Wow, you know maybe he’s right”? How many little girls may not even try acting or writing or being in any sort of creative field because they think they’re not pretty enough, because if society has taught them one thing, it’s that image is everything. It’s so easy for girls to fall into the “not good enough” trap, too easy for them to doubt themselves and feel less than, and it’s time for that to stop.
I hope little and big girls, young women and grown women everywhere read Fisher’s statements and take them seriously. I hope they realize that it’s wrong and hurtful to make comments about someone else’s appearance, that it’s a low blow, a cheap shot. Like I said, no one needs to defend Carrie Fisher, because she’s already doing a great job of it herself. I’m just grateful people are listening.