In Part 1 of this series, the author examines the implications of Queen Vashti's story on the historical objectification of women. In Part 2, we will examine the ongoing pressure on women today to conform to normative beauty standards.
In our culture, a woman’s body is regarded as her most valuable attribute. Carrie Fisher’s recent experience reprising her iconic role of Princess Leia Organa demonstrates how pervasive this expectation really is, and how women today are fighting that expectation.
Fisher recently reprised her role as Princess Leia, now general, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
She has received a lot of criticism about the way her body looks in this new movie compared to how she looked in her late teens and twenties in the original trilogy. Much of the conversation has centered on whether or not she aged well.
Her response is bold and practical. “Please stop debating about whether or not I aged well. Unfortunately it hurts all 3 of my feelings. My BODY hasn’t aged as well as I have.”
She goes on to emphasize her personhood over her body: “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.”
There has been little to nothing in the media about how Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill aged over the decades since their debut Star Wars appearances. Not to mention the fact that Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, and Peter Mayhew also reprised their roles as fully costumed characters. Their bodies have nothing to do with how they are viewed on screen. It is the older female star who is punished both for not conforming to society’s beauty standards and for aging in general.
Women’s bodies are displayed, often air-brushed and edited, on the covers of magazines. Women read and absorb articles about looking young and losing weight. Then there’s shock and shame for female celebrities whose bodies do not fit into society’s beauty mold.
One supporter tweeted in response to Carrie Fisher’s statement, “Men don't age better than women, they're just allowed to age.”
Sadly, this is very true.
Unfortunately for women, simple talent does not ensure a quality role in Hollywood, or often, opportunity in general in the greater world.
Carrie Fisher was told to lose thirty-five pounds for the role of General Leia, and admitted that she did try to lose some weight. "They don't want to hire all of me—only about three-quarters!"
She then stated, “Nothing changes, it’s an appearance-driven thing. I’m in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. That is so messed up. They might as well say ‘get younger,’ because that’s how easy it is.”
She also mentioned that age itself hinders women from finding roles in movies.
Her response to deciding to take up the role of Leia again was this, “I’m a female and in Hollywood it’s difficult to get work after 30—maybe it’s getting to be 40 now. I long ago accepted that I am Princess Leia. I have that as a large part of the association with my identity. There wasn’t a lot of hesitation.”
Men on the other hand are not faced with this aging problem. Getting old and gaining weight doesn’t stop them from being offered roles—no matter what their age
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has also created another progressive female character that denounces traditional expectations for women in movies: Captain Phasma. This is what Gwendoline Christie, who plays Captain Phasma, had to say about her:
“Captain Phasma, who is a character that I love, because she represents I think a progressive female character in our mainstream media. In that normally the kind of female characters we see in films we see the way in which they’re made flesh we see the outlines of their body. But this is a character who is wearing armor and as a consequence we are forced to judge her or interact with her, form a relationship on her character and due to her actions.”
She also mentions that people found Captain Phasma “refreshing” in that her armor is functional and practical, especially “that the chest piece of the armor wasn’t molded like breasts.”
I admire how Carrie Fisher handled those that valued her body over her personhood. She did not stand aside and let people shame her for aging and for being human. She spoke up and used her platform to make people aware of the injustice and unrealistic standards society puts on women.
Just like Queen Vashti, Carrie Fisher bravely said “No.” No to her body being her only valuable asset. "No" to people using her body for their own gain. "No" to the belief that a woman is just a beautiful body and a pretty face.
She said "Yes" to women’s personhood. "Yes" to women's worth as the imago Dei. She declared that women’s true value is not in their appearance, but in their humanity.
As Christians we know that our bodies decay, but our souls are eternal. C. S. Lewis states. “You don’t have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body.”
Carrie Fisher seems to understand this point as well. "My body is a brain bag, it hauls me around to those places and in font of faces where there’s something to say or see.”
Our bodies age because we are not made to live forever in this world, but our souls will be resurrected to new life for eternity in the presence of God!
“It’s the same with the resurrection of the dead: a rotting body is put into the ground, but what is raised won’t ever decay. It’s degraded when it’s put into the ground, but it’s raised in glory. It’s weak when it’s put into the ground, but it’s raised in power. It’s a physical body when it’s put into the ground, but it’s raised as a spiritual body.” 1 Corinthians 15:42-44
All over the world, women are valued for their bodies and not for their identity as daughters of God. But Jesus affirmed women throughout his life and ministry.
May we honor his example. May we celebrate women who step out and assert their humanity and dignity. May we take courage from the stories of Queen Vashti and Carrie Fisher. May we stand up and speak out against the objectification of women’s bodies. May we recall women's true worth.
"The Blunt Reason Carrie Fisher Returned To Star Wars." - CINEMABLEND. N.p., 25 Nov. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.
"Carrie Fisher Shuts down "Force Awakens" Body-shamers - CNN.com." CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.
Common English Bible. Nashville: Common English Bible, 2011. Print.
"Gwendoline Christie Models Stylish Captain Phasma Gown." RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.
"How Much Weight Carrie Fisher Was Asked To Lose For Star Wars: The Force Awakens." CINEMABLEND. N.p., 01 Dec. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.
Photo courtesy of Riccardo Ghilardi via Wikimedia Commons