One of the most delightful, and possibly unforeseen, results of the release of a new Star Wars movie, has been watching the world discover how awesome Carrie Fisher is. I say “watching the world,” because, at the risk of engaging in some unforgivable geek hipstering, I’ve known for many years how awesome Carrie Fisher is. It’s good to see that everyone else seems to have finally caught up on that count.
I’ll admit, however, that while I on some level may have always sensed said awesomeness, it’s true that I didn’t always understand it. When I was a young teenager, precocious in some ways and terribly naive in others, I set out to learn everything I could about the woman who had portrayed the woman who had inspired me to imitation, hairstyles and all. What I found often bewildered me. You see, I was still in a mindset that life was a race towards perfection and that the goal of people, especially women, was to be a shiny, neat, complete package. Anything else was the realm of shame and condemnation. I read Carrie Fisher’s novels, interviews and stories of her life, and I didn’t understand. The way she described it, this business of being a woman in the world seemed pretty messy. There was heartbreak and judgment and mental illness and instability. It was confused and sometimes unfortunate and only occasionally successful, and usually successful in ways you didn’t predict. But what took me back the most was Carrie’s sense of humor about all that. How was that funny? How was I supposed to handle the fact that not only that could await me but that I had to find a way to laugh at it all?
So I lived for most of my youth with an appreciation for Carrie Fisher, but I didn’t have the words, empathy or experience to understand what it meant. But all it took was living some more years in that world. Now, I understand perfectly. I understand it all. I understand that her confusion is normal, her messiness is honesty, and her humor is strength. I understand that survival is the hardest, most admirable trick of all and that the wit and intelligence that makes life complicated can also save you. She started out as my heroine for portraying a fictional symbol of power, but she later became my heroine for living her life as openly, unapologetically and realistically as she could. Watching her recently in the press, as she tells the truth about being bipolar, calls out critics of her appearance and flips off Jabba the Hutt, has put us all, finally, on the same page. Carrie Fisher is fucking awesome.
On my left upper arm, I have a tattoo of Princess Leia holding up a blaster, circled in laurel wreath and punctuated with a Rebel Alliance insignia. It’s my “rebel girl” tattoo. Most of my arms and back are now covered in tattoos, and I have them because I spent so much of my own life uncomfortable in my own skin, certain I did not and would never measure up to the standards of prettiness I felt determined my worth. So I decided to take matters into my own hands, and make my skin my own. My tattoos opt me out of the realm of “prettiness,” and demand that I be taken on basis of my own standards. This is who I am, this is what you get. Leia, as brought to life by Carrie, now lives on my skin because without her example, I would have never understood how to say that, and I would have never have figured out how to live it myself.