Some thoughts on Carrie Fisher














Certain corners of the internet are rumpled with consternation over Carrie Fisher’s appearance in The Force Awakens. Specifically, people want her to shut up about having to lose weight to play the role of General Leia. I don’t generally concern myself with celebrity gossip, but this particular teapot-tempest has caught my attention.

Here’s the story as I understand it: Disney asked Fisher to lose 35 lbs in order to play Leia. Fisher, being past 50, had difficulty losing the weight. As anyone past 50 would. She has mentioned it in interviews, and on social media. With great grace and humor, because she is, in addition to everything else, a hell of a witty gal. She was under pressure to lose weight, as any aging actress — strike that, any aging woman — oh hell, any woman — is, and her current profile of “being in a new Star Wars movie” makes her struggle news. Who would not want to hear about an aging actress’s struggle to reclaim her signature role? want to hear about it. The story has “human interest” written all over it. Everyone over 50, and anyone who plans to live past 50, has an interest in hearing about her struggle. And, while she says that Disney asked her to lose the weight, nowhere does she say that they were out of line to do so. She’s Hollywood royalty, she knows the score probably more than anyone alive.

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Of course, she could have said “No,” and that would have been her decision to make. She said “Yes,” and today audiences can see the fruits of that decision. There’s our beloved Leia, who meant so much to so many of us when we were children and teens, now pushing 60, much wiser and more cynical than before, and displaying the natural wounds of thirty years, wounds that include the loss of her son to the Dark Side of the Force and Han Solo along with him. The aging Leia has no time for hair buns and white frocks; she sticks her hair up to get it out of her face and wears army clothes. She is a princess no more. The hard living that Fisher has done in the past 30 years are used, as any actor would use them, in the service of helping to create and define a character. As John Logan said while working on The Aviator, “I came to realize that a crease on Leonardo DiCaprio’s forehead said more than a half a page of dialogue.” Fisher’s contribution to The Force Awakens, I would say, is her aged appearance. Fisher isn’t angry about having aged, she’s angry that other people won’t allow it.

Was Disney wrong to pressure her to lose the weight? From a narrative standpoint, I’d say no; if an actress’s appearance has changed so radically that the audience doesn’t recognize the character, or spends her scenes thinking only “God, what happened to her?” instead of focusing on the scene, that becomes a storytelling problem. If Harrison Ford had let himself go between 1983 and today, like, say, Gerard Depardieu, he might also have been obliged to lose weight to play Han Solo. (At the very least, someone would have to make a comment about it — “Han, is that you?” for instance.)

(Harrison Ford, for what it’s worth, is also more likely to have said “Fuck no.”)

Now, here is a guy who writes for the New York Post, Kyle Smith, who, in a column displaying a breathtaking poverty of spirit, publicly opines that Carrie Fisher should shut up and thank Disney for saving her life, because, in his view, she never had anything but her looks anyway, and she used them when she had them to con her way to fame since she was never a good actress, and all that fat was killing her, and she was paid good money, and maybe she’s also a talented writer, but he has his doubts about that as well, since she mostly just writes about herself, and we all know that writing about oneself requires no talent.

(In addition to being angry with Fisher for daring to voice her completely valid and wittily-delivered comments on the way Hollywood treats actresses, Smith adds a dose of both misogyny — all women trade on their looks, therefore they are less human — and class resentment; Fisher, he implies, never had to work to get where she got.)

And I’m hearing echoes of these sentiments all over the internet: she’s an actress, she’s not paid to have opinions, of course show business is about appearances, she should shut up, she’s old and fat and useless now.

At the center of all these opinions is the assumption that Carrie Fisher — not the image, not the roles, not Leia, not the books and screenplays, but the woman, her body — belongs to us, not to herself. Which is hilarious, because if there’s one Hollywood personality who has succeeded brilliantly at self-possession, it’s Carrie Fisher.

Because she once appeared, spectacularly, in a metal bikini, an image with longstanding and considerable impact for generations of both men and women, some people demand that she either (a) maintain the body that allowed for that (and the coke habit that allowed for that, I might add) or (b) cover herself in sackcloth and ashes and disappear on an ice floe, because who would want to have sex with her now? Because that, after all, is, in these people’s minds, the only thing women are good for.

(The fact that her most famous image is that of a woman enslaved and degraded by wearing that preposterous getup, carries with it an extra layer of bitterness to this already sad narrative. The fans would, literally, prefer her to be a slave to a giant slug than to listen to her complain about the struggles of aging.)

After Return of the Jedi, Harrison Ford became a movie star and Carrie Fisher became a first-class Hollywood writer. Of necessity, Ford has maintained his physique in order to play those leads. He’s been paid well to do that, and, perhaps more important, every production he’s worked on has also paid for a trainer to keep him in shape. It’s hard! As Fisher says in one of her tweets, “They might as well say ‘get younger.'” Because she has not spent 30 years focusing on her image, as Ford has, she knew she would have to do some work in order to, in movie language, believably share the screen with him. She did that, and she’s now sharing her experiences of it, because she’s funny and self-deprecating and ballsy as hell. If you feel that Carrie Fisher owes you something, or needs to go away, or needs to shut up about her experiences in Hollywood, the problem is within yourself.


26 Responses to “Some thoughts on Carrie Fisher”
  1. They had to lose weight so they’d look like the characters people remembered them as, Mark Hamill had to lose weight, too.

  2. Great piece. There’s a quote from Carrie — that I couldn’t find — where she responds to the metal bikini slave-imagery by reminding us that she was undercover (like Charlie’s Angels at a beauty pageant, I imagine), and that the girl in that metal bikini uses her chains — with no assistance — to strangle a giant evil crime lord and free herself (with the slightest assistance of R2.)

    This is all pretty good though:

    • Todd says:

      The Slave Leia costume is a masterpiece and has become a classic for a lot of different reasons. It’s not a coincidence that many many women find it empowering and vital.

      • Sheol says:

        May I ask if you are a woman, and if you have worn an actual slave costume, did you find it empowering and vital?

        • Todd says:

          I am, I confess, not a woman. But I have been to Comic-Con, and hundreds of women enjoy dressing up as Slave Leia. I assume there must be a reason.

          • Angel says:

            The reason many women choose to dress like Slave Leia has nothing to do with empowerment, it has much to do with sex. As a woman who has added a few pounds, if I were to dress in the same outfit (bought or made myself) I would be treated much differently than the skinnier women wearing the exact same outfit. Why? Because I have a bit more fat than the typical slave girl. I am not wet dream material for many, especially those who like to attend ComicCon (or other Cons) just to ogle at female cos-players (those who choose to dress up as a character). There are many outfits Leia goes through in each movie, so why is that one so very popular? Because men have sexualized that very image and what woman of any age wouldn’t want to feel sexy from time to time? That outfit is worn to be sexy and to have men drool and desire. Just because the character used her own chains to kill her captor and free herself has little to do with it. If it had, you’d probably see more stuffed Jabba’s with chain nooses along with the outfit.

            • Todd says:

              Assuming the motives you ascribe to them are accurate, is sexiness not empowering?

              • Sheol says:

                No. If you were put into a slave bikini costume and thrown into a room full of men, would you strut your stuff or would you fight back and claw your way out?
                Personally, I would do the latter. But that’s just me.

                • Todd says:

                  But wearing the costume in public, by choice, and being “thrown into a room full of men” are two very different things. Hundreds of women, perhaps thousands, around the world, wear the costume, to conventions as a choice. It’s hard to imagine they don’t feel any kind of empowerment or vitality by doing so.

  3. ann haycox says:

    I really liked your essay. Piercing the membrane of social delusions against the realities of aging requires Carrie Fisher’s sassy and refreshing candor. I hope this discussion moves us toward a future where it is completely acceptable that a movie character – even a female one – who has aged looks like a real person who has aged.

    • Todd says:

      I, myself, am holding out for the moment when they reboot The Exorcist and cast Max von Sydow as the title character, now that he’s actually the age he’s supposed to be.

  4. Jim Galasyn says:

    I spotted this a few years ago in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle:

  5. Ellamenta says:

    Thanks for this insightful essay, and thanks to Carrie Fisher for being the ballsy, frank, and wise person that she is. I must say that I find a lot of misogyny coming to the fore lately, and I cannot help but wonder if any of it is related to the current presidential campaign.

    • Todd says:

      The thing that upsets me about this misogyny, and the misogyny directed toward Rey, is that a lot of it is coming from young people. I honestly didn’t know that these kinds of attitudes still existed in 2016.

  6. Raymond Saint-Pierre says:

    #FuckDisneyStereotypes #NotBarbiePrincess Really? I understand a certain amount of physical requirements for a role, but Disney also represents a certain fantasy ideal that in no way resembles reality. And props to Carrie Fisher for being honest and real! Hell, imagine Disney asking Betty White to look and act 50?

    • Todd says:

      For what it’s worth, Disney didn’t ask Fisher to look 30, only for her to weigh less. And, if they’d wanted, they could have manipulated her image with CG to make her look younger or older or like an alien.

  7. Colombe Loef says:

    I have to admire the British who produce great movies with actors that look like everyday people. Age and looks are not a priority, the character in the story is.

  8. Lucia says:

    Fantastic write up.

  9. Kathy McCarthy says:

    I actually thought Carrie looked very age appropriate as General Leia. She may not have been thin, but she was not unattractive. She was REAL…as was Harrison Ford. It isn’t at all unusual for a woman past 50 to be a little fuller and grayer, and there are plenty of examples of older men who wrinkled, yet still lanky. That’s just life. As Leia, Carrie appeared to be an experienced and commanding “general” and that’s all that matters. There are so many FB links that belittle once beautiful people (ie Bridgette Bardot, Kurt Russell) for “letting themselves go.” Get a fricken lfe, people age, and sometimes that means they’ve learned that there is FAR more to life than a perfect body. I have often thought how terrible it must be to have “once been” as gorgeous as Elizabeth Taylor, or as handsome as Sean Connery, seeing the desirable, voluptuous or virile identity. IT must be devastating knowing with their beauty diminished, in the eyes of those who have not yet faced the reality of aging, they will always be seen as LESS THAN.

  10. Susie says:

    You make pertinent points. She looks terrific in this episode. The audience I saw it with was packed, five year olds to in their eighties. Three times the audience burst into what for me was a deeply affectionate applause. The first sight of the white haired, seriously lined face Han Solo. The faithful 3CPO & R2D2. And the tried, tested, heart wounded by her son, courageous, strong, and yes beautiful General Leia. The first meeting of her and Han’s eyes told us everything. We weren’t looking at Hollywood Royalty at all. We were witnessing the love and pain between the vital characters we’ve loved since 1977. We who saw it that year and our adult kids were too involved in the story even to notice weight. So, I feel free to express a bored contempt for the idiots who for these decades seem to have missed a marvelous character played by a superb woman over a horny fetish about a bikini and a chain. What a bunch of Jabbas. And just a single FYI for those who don’t already know: Carrie Fisher weighed 105lbs during preproduction for Episode V and was told to lose ten pounds, for the bikini. Which she did. She weighed 95lbs for that thirty-five years ago when she was still in her twenties. And gave a consistent straight up performance.

  11. Matt S. says:

    The big problem watching her was not the weight — but let’s get real fuckin honest here — she came off like an VERY OLD LADY in that movie. And frankly, MUCH older than her actual age. And then “They” gave her “old lady dialogue” and that sure as shit didn’t help. No offense, but why DID she come off sooooo much like a waddling grandmother??!! Especially since she’s younger than Ford and Hamill (?) It was BRUTAL.

    Her voice is gravely and she could barely speak! I’m sure she’s awesome and funny and yada,yada,yada… but not in THIS movie. Jesus. It hurt my soul. And kept taking me out of the film. And I KNOW it did the same to everyone else my age watching (35-40).

    I’ve read all her books and I don’t get it. Over 50 shouldn’t immediately equal ‘Grandma”. They need to marginalize her completely for the next movie. There were BRIEF moments where Ford became Solo, but she was “old Carrie Fisher” from the moment go. Even Alec Guinness in the fuckin’ original didn’t come off as that old!

    • It hurt your soul? Give us a break. Matt S., your comments are hyperbolic and false. I am her age, and, allowing for the fact that people age differently, she looks her age both in interviews and onscreen. 59 is more than old enough to be a grandparent, in fact. The article is smart and right; it’s too bad you are uneducable.

    • Diana Dearen says:

      Yeah, well…in the end, aging is the great equalizer…..if all a person has is their youth & looks….reality will hit them hard…but if they are so much more, they’ll keep going and evolving…this world needs to appreciate this.

    • Susie says:

      I am 46. I have a bunch of friends at the same age as Fisher, 59. Some of them have completely white hair and deep wrinkles and some could pass for 50. We should let our actresses age in their individual ways so the model for aging isn’t so narrow. Great Britain let’s her actresses age and we love it! Judy Dench, Maggie Smith who had looked older than Fisher when they were 59 still carry the plots of their films and their age conveys reality.

  12. Clare says:

    I also think it’s important to acknowledge that her struggle with mental illness (bipolar disorder) is part of the reason she gained the weight. From Fisher herself:

    “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.”

    She didn’t “let herself go” or “get lazy.” She chose sanity over the way her body looked. Having had personal experience with depression meds myself, they definitely make you gain weight. I’m only 32 and I empathize greatly with Fisher in that sometimes I am considered to have “let myself go.” It’s a cruel, awful society we live in, and one of its greatest acts of violence is its hatred of women’s bodies. Carrie Fisher is witty and intelligent and wise and warm, and she is so much more than the way she looks. I’m so glad she exists to add her voice to the endless conversation about women in Hollywood (and in life, really).