“I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by in my own bra,” wrote the great Carrie Fisher in her memoir Wishful Drinking. Fisher died Tuesday, Dec. 27, at the age of 60 following a massive heart attack suffered while traveling from London to Los Angeles on Friday, Dec. 23.
Fisher gained icon status for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars trilogy, but went on to have a brilliant career as a writer and humorist. And the above line, from the book that emerged from her one-woman show by the same name, perfectly underscores the searing wit and irreverent — and unapologetically feminist — intelligence that Fisher brought to her work as an actor and writer alike.
Her comment about being strangled by her own bra, after all, was a pointed barb aimed at Star Wars creator George Lucas, who Fisher says told her that she would not be able to wear any underwear while performing the role of Leia since he had determined that the weightlessness of outer space would cause the body to expand in a way in which undergarments would cause strangulation and thus death.
It’s an especially notable remark on Fisher’s part given the way her donning of the now-infamous gold bikini in Return of the Jedi became an act of subversion rather than submission as a result of the spirit Fisher brought to the role of the space royal. After all, Fisher’s performance, and public persona, constituted a small act of rebellion that underscored that no matter how smart a woman is, some dude is always going to try to force her into a gold bikini, force her to be ogled by Jabba the Hut, and, in turn, encourage generation after generation of men-who-should-know-better to make mention only of Fisher-in-a-bikini instead of the living, breathing, wickedly smart, and untouchably funny person who existed underneath the heavy panting of whatever it is the male gaze decided she needed to be.
Don’t believe me? Then take it from Fisher herself, who almost exactly one year ago set off a Twitter earthquake when she responded to critics who just had to talk about her weight in The Force Awakens (spoiler alert: men decided it was their job to weigh in on what a woman’s body should and shouldn’t look like) with the ultimate mic drop:
Please stop debating about whetherOR not????aged well.unfortunately it hurts all3 of my feelings.My BODY hasnt aged as well as I have.Blow us????????
— Carrie Fisher (@carrieffisher) December 29, 2015
Fisher was a living, breathing testament to the fact that you could be a woman, be complicated, and be unapologetic about both of those things and all the iterations and problems and beauties and potential for discourse they might contain.
Because, yes, there will invariably be plenty of individuals writing about the Gold Bikini as the legions of Fisher’s fans try to grapple with her death. But to best honor Fisher, those who loved her wit and wisdom and ability to brazenly present herself as flawed and struggling — and in no way lesser because of it — must continue to do just as Fisher herself would have done and call out anyone who wishes to diminish a woman, or any person’s experience or identity, to one body type, one outfit, one pre-prescribed notion of the performative elements of gender and identity that still today, on the brink of 2017, and leave too many people to struggle in their own skin and their own lives, trying to craft and reconcile a version of themselves that can safely and proudly exist regardless of what a heteronormative culture still attempts to boorishly dictate.
Because Carrie Fisher offered real, live proof that there was another way.
That you could struggle — with mental illness or body image or issues regarding self-esteem or addiction or whatever it was that for a given person represented the parts of themselves that somehow seemed less than OK — and that the very things that society tried to use against you to make you feel marginalized could be worn brightly, the shimmering accents of a rich and full life that was made all the more exquisite for the acknowledgment of pain.
After all, that is what Carrie Fisher most famously wore: not a gold bikini, but an instructive insistence to us all that we be our actual selves, outside of whatever constricting garments or norms others tried to dress us in. That by not hiding your flaws, but shouting them loudly, you could, if not simply save the galaxy, then make others find comfort in the fulfilling laughter that is born from not ignoring the immense difficulties of living, but instead embracing them with hope.