Star Wars, Feminism and Body Image

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Warning: Possible Star Wars Spoilers Ahead!

Much has been said about Star Wars: The Force Awakens and it’s refreshing attitude to women – it presents us with Rey, who is the central character, not present as a sideline romantic interest but as a legitimate hero in herself. Throughout the film we see women in key roles – Leia no longer a Princess but General of the Resistance, and in Maz Kanata we glimpse a female Yoda, a source of wisdom, but far less irritating.

And yet a Twitter spat this week reveals that we still have a long way to go before women are treated as more than an object in the real world. Carrie Fisher responded to Twitter trolls who criticised her appearance in The Force Awakens, writing “Please stop debating about whether or not I aged well,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, it hurts all three of my feelings. My body hasn’t aged as well as I have. Blow us.”

The fact is, that I thought Leia had aged beautifully. Just as we have a strong central female lead in Rey, we have an equally strong (and one could argue, stronger) figure in General Organa. Now a middle aged mother and leading the Resistance 30 years on, she is an even stronger woman than we saw in the previous films, better fleshed out, tired but determined, and far more complex. Surely it’s entirely appropriate that she looks older? Apparently (according to the trolls), as an actor, she should be prepared for negative comments about her appearance. She clearly anticipated these kinds of comments, given that she spoke recently about feeling pressured to lose weight before returning to filming. But these negative comments appear to be based entirely on her appearance, on the fact that she’s aged (as humans tend to do), rather than on her performance, and, as Carrie Fisher points out, her similarly ageing male colleagues have received far fewer of these types of comments.

Isn’t it sad that in a film which represents women and their achievements so strongly and in such a positive way, we still see this kind of response? Of course, you can argue that a group of Twitter trolls aren’t representative of the population as a whole, but it’s clear that this attitude perpetuates our society. Although we can accept women in strong and central roles, they still have to conform to the ‘young and beautiful’ aesthetic in order to be celebrated. When we put this kind of emphasis on appearance it’s so damaging for people’s self esteem, not just for women, but for everyone. Because ageing is inevitable and comes to us all. I was struck by Carrie Fisher’s Twitter response, which puts it better than I can and should probably be my final word on the subject:

“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.”

2 Comments
  • Amy Eleanor
    January 5, 2016

    It’s so sad that people feel the need to comment on a woman’s appearance, especially as it has absolutely nothing to do with her acting or the role in general. I think it’s interesting that there’s been a lot of talk around the change in leading male roles- such as Adam Driver and Benedict Cumberbatch in that they’re not your typical Hollywood Mr Muscle, but I haven’t noticed much of a change and acceptance of differing female leads, aesthetically anyway.

    • Katy
      January 5, 2016

      You’re right, and maybe that’s a sign that things are changing and will eventually filter through to the way that women are cast. But I’m always reminded of that phrase ‘thinking woman’s crumpet’ (which I detest) whenever those types of men are referred to – in the lack of any similar phrase to describe women (not sure if I would be happier if there was such a phrase though!!) there is the implication that men aren’t capable of that level of attraction, that they’re only capable of being attracted to the Hollywood stereotype of what beauty is, which I don’t believe is the case.

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