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ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS HAS DIED.

If you aren't aware of this, Carrie Fisher died this morning.  She had a heart attack on Christmas Eve, and didn't recover.  I really adored her, and not just because Princess Leia was my first female rebel role-model.  I loved her writing.  She wrote several books, and was a trusted script doctor.  Her writing is sharp, funny and powerful.  It is NOT PG.

The other thing I adored about her was the way she was honest and spoke up about the realities of mental illness.  She struggled for so much of her life, but wasn't about to duck and hide.  She was not a quiet, little Disney princess.  She was a rebel, and instead of waiting to be rescued, when she found herself in the midst of horrible distress, she rescued herself.    

Mostly, I can't help but think of Gary, her sidekick and dog.  He was with her wherever she went - was at her side when she suffered the heart attack, and at the hospital when she died.  How he must miss his human!

I wrote a piece back when the Force Awakens was being filmed, and am including it here.  I think it shows not only the tremendous pressure she faced with a life in the shinning glow of the spotlight, but also her indomitable spirit which was never defeated; not be critics, not be mental illness and not even by the relentless march of time.

CARRIE FISHER, THE GOLD BIKINI AND ME

Original publication date: June 11, 2014

"I sure hope they don't try and stuff her back into that gold bikini!"  -- A friend's reaction to the news that Carrie Fisher would reprise her role as Princess Leia

I was seven years old when Star Wars came out.  It was the first time I ever went to a theater.  I can still remember standing in line outside  with my parents.  The line stretched around the block.  My father complained more than once, "I can't believe I'm standing in line for a movie."  Dad has never been a big movie or tv fan.  Star Wars was amazing of course.  But this post isn't about Star Wars.

Still, I'm really excited to see Star Wars VII even though I know it will probably disappointment me.  How can it possibly live up to my expectations or the memory of that magical night so long ago at the Uptown Theater?  

Which brings me to Carrie Fisher.  I've heard quite a few comments about how she's changed over the years and of course about that gold bikini from Return of the Jedi.  And I have to admit when I first thought about Princess Leia of long ago and Carrie Fisher of today, I probably made a comment or two.  I'm always speaking without thinking first -- just ask my husband.  

I read an interview recently where Carrie Fisher was asked about how she'd prepared for the role.  She talked about a few things which included working with a trainer.  She said, "That's right, they didn't hire me, they hired me minus 35 pounds."  It seems she understands far better than the rest of us, that the world isn't interested in seeing her again, but rather an image created decades ago.

And it wasn't real then either.  She starved herself -- starved herself so that she could fit into that outfit.  An outfit that wasn't real either.  It wasn't a bikini.  It was a metal sculpture that looked like a bikini.  And so of course, we demand that she stuff herself right back into it.  Talk about stereotypes!  Princess Leia is just another in that endless line of women who are portrayed in move after movie, year after year, decade after decade -- beautiful, clever, strong, and thin.  An image that is just as enslaved as the princess held by a monster's chain.

But this isn't about Carrie Fisher.  It's about me.

My daughter tried her hand at dance earlier this year.  She looked adorable in her red and green tutu for the holiday performance.  She had two numbers, during one of them she was a background dancer while some older girls danced their solos.  One girl did not fit the image or a willowy ballerina.  I must confess that when I first saw her at rehearsals I wondered why they would give her a solo.  Didn't they know?  What if people laughed?  And then I felt guilty.  How am I different from the ones who laugh if internally I'm thinking all the same things that they say out loud?  So, I let go of my judgments and just watched her dance.

It wasn't as if she was a gloriously, graceful ballerina.  This was a grade school performance after all.  She was not the perfect ballerina.  But she danced with perfect joy.  She had somehow managed to transcend all the judging faces around her, and dance because she wanted to -- because it made her happy.  And it was beautiful.

It made me look in the mirror and really see.  I am just like all the rest.  I measure, compare and make assumptions.  I attack my own image mercilessly.  I mean, you wouldn't want to see me in that gold bikini either, but then again, who cares.

In some ways, it is like I am Jabba the Hutt, keeping the beautiful princess forever chained; forever enslaved to my expectations, and even enslaving myself.  I wanted to be Princess Leia.  I wanted the beautiful, thick, long hair (a wig), the tiny, tiny waist (the result of pills and starvation) and the impressive, commanding strength (words written for a young woman who hadn't found her own voice just yet).  

The person I longed to be was never real.  

I told my fifth grade students just the other day (a group of girls who had been fighting endlessly), "Stop it!  Stop being mean!  We are a sisterhood and we have to stick together.  Be kind."  They blinked at me, trying to struggle their way through the battles that are the inevitable result of insecurity, jealousy and rumors.

But maybe, I'm the one who needs to stop.  

I am a late-in-life feminist.  An activist who was born the instant my daughter drew her first breath.  She doesn't fit any molds either.  At eight she is taller than every kid in her class, and will soon pass me up.  She dreams of ponies, fairies and Wonder Woman, while her classmates argue about which boy from One Direction is cutest.  She loves to write stories but misspells nearly every single word.  She is a dreamer who believes that she can do anything at all.  And I won't have her enslaved to anyone -- not even to my ideals of what a daughter should be.   

We are a sisterhood, after all, and should fight for each other first.  

And as to Carrie Fisher, she is an unbelievably talented writer with incredible comic timing, she is a mother, a sister and has travelled a long road since the lights flicked out in the theater after the last showing of Return of the Jedi.  

Of course, she could never fit back into that bikini -- she, like all of us, cannot be contained.

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Rest in peace Carrie. You leave behind your beautiful, powerful words and an army of rebel girls everywhere who will never stop raging against injustice, inequality and the idea that mental illness makes you less.  The galaxy is stronger because you were here.

 

--Jen