Behind The Buns: Why Carrie Fisher — & Princess Leia — Are Feminist Icons

Photo: Everett Collection.
In one of the most exciting moments of the original Star Wars trilogy, Princess Leia strangles Jabba the Hutt with her own chains. Dressed in nothing but a bronze bikini — you know the one — she becomes the agent of her own escape, using her confines as a weapon.

Like the princess she once played, Carrie Fisher took the boundaries of the world she was given and used them to her advantage. A fierce advocate for mental health and one of Hollywood’s few decorated women in their 50s, Fisher was more than just a prim lady in bronzed lingerie. Behind the buns and the bathing suit, Leia — and by extension Fisher — was a feminist icon, and not one who will fade from the ranks anytime soon.

The child of pop sensation Eddie Fisher and Hollywood icon Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher was destined for the spotlight. “If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable,” she wrote in her book, Wishful Drinking, a memoir chronicling her struggles with manic depression, substances, and the fallout of fame.

For all her highly publicized struggles, Fisher was also incredibly gracious. Other actors who have inhabited iconic roles oftentimes seem resentful toward the singularity of the fame they bring. But Fisher told Rolling Stone in November of this year that she admired the galactic rebel princess turned general of the Republic.

"I like Princess Leia. I like how she was feisty. I like how she killed Jabba the Hutt. That's my favorite thing she did,” she said. (Us, too.)

While the character and the actor may seem like separate entities, Leia wasn’t just a mask made by George Lucas for Carrie Fisher to wear: Fisher turned George Lucas's leading lady character into a highly dimensional and delightfully complicated woman. That moment in Star Wars Episode IV when she snarls, "Can someone get this walking carpet out of my way?" has always stuck out in my mind as a reminder that it's okay to be a ball-buster. And of course, as Leia, Fisher paved the way for other strong, aggressive, fiercely independent characters — and women — to come.

But despite her status as a feminist badass, Fisher held a mirror position as a sex symbol (especially for a certain era of geeky sci-fi fans). In the pop culture canon, the double bun, gun-toting princess can be viewed as both virginal Leia in the white dress or the saucy princess in the bikini. Unsurprisingly, when the news of her death broke on Tuesday, some Star Wars fans mourned the latter. Chris Hardwick of The Nerdist lamented the loss of his “first crush at 6,” while Steve Martin, in a tweet that has since been deleted, called Fisher as “the most beautiful creature” he’d ever seen. (Creature? Come on, Martin, you can do better than that.) Images of Fisher in that iconic teeny bikini began to circulate anew, of the actress as a vision of sexy subservience about to break free.

But the princess I mourn is General Leia Organa, a whip smart, hard-at-work brainchild of Carrie Fisher. Clearly, I'm not alone in feeling this way. Countless women took to social media yesterday to share how that version of the actress inspired them.
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Another tweet from author K O’shea urges: “Be Princess Leia in 2017. Fight on the front lines. Strangle fascists with the chains they would have you wear. Be a motherfuckin' general.”

I would add to that: Be Carrie Fisher. Eliminate the tired lines written for you. Stomp across the boundaries of Hollywood. Laugh at what is true. And, when your hair gets in the way of all your badass sword fighting (or emailing, or weightlifting, or just getting out of bed), double buns will always do the trick.

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