Carrie Fisher: On & Off-Screen Rebel

mv5bmje0odewnjm2nf5bml5banbnxkftztcwmju2mzg3na-_v1_sx640_sy720_On Tuesday’s ‘blog break update’ I mentioned that I would be posting a New Year’s Eve Movie list today. Coincidentally, the movie that I watch every New Year’s Eve features the actress whom I will be writing about instead.When Harry Met Sally is one of my all-time favourite films and Carrie Fisher played the supporting character Marie, best friend of Meg Ryan’s Sally.

My blog-writing plans changed after I left the movie theatre Tuesday afternoon, I had just seen Rogue One with my dad. I turned my phone on and checked the text messages that I had missed. About half way through the movie, one of my best friends had sent a message telling me that Carrie Fisher had died. The excitement that I felt over just seeing a great film passed all too quickly as the surreal news set in.

I had never really felt affected by another celebrity’s death before and it’s a weird experience to describe. I didn’t cry, nor was I as sad or heartbroken as I had been when carrie-new-hi-resfriends and family have passed away, but somehow, I felt disconnected.

Carrie Fisher was linked to so many projects, films, and followers. Her telling memoirs as well as her real-life advocacy for mental health awareness and feminism contributed to the deeper connection that her fans, like myself, may have felt toward her. As a child, I saw Carrie Fisher only one way – as Princess Leia – but as an adult, she was Carrie Fisher first, fictional characters second.


f09ce66474a8d7c2823647268b900f31.jpgLeia
I grew up watching the original Star Wars trilogy with my family’s boxset VHSes. Leia Organa was the coolest female character that I had ever seen: she was a brunette; she was a princess who didn’t always wear dresses; she used the blaster like a boss; she was hilarious and sarcastic; she was strongminded and stood up for what she believed in; and rather than being a damsel in distress each film, she did a ton of the rescuing herself. Almost every Disney movie I had watched told me to admire princesses, but they had never been so complex.


Marie
I discovered Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally as a teenager, I was obsessed with This is Spinal Tap and was fanatically consuming all other media that he’d created. I was so excited to see Carrie Fisher in our galaxy! carrie-fisherShe was still hilarious and sarcastic, but this time she was wearing a bra (George Lucas believed they’d be dangerous in space). Although Fisher’s character Marie was fictional, it felt like I was getting to know the woman behind the buns. It was from here that I searched for more answers as to who Carrie Fisher really was.


wishful_drinking_bookThe Faults within our Star
In the memoir based off of her one woman show, Wishful Drinking, Fisher let fans into her personal life – or what she remembers of it. She had openly discussed her battle with addiction to both drugs and alcohol, and being under the influence can make some memories foggier than others. As it is with many autobiographies, you need to take Fisher’s words with a grain of salt; however, her ‘take-no-crap’ attitude on and offline has always led me to believe that she wasn’t someone who often held back. I really respect a sense of transparency.


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Carrie with her therapy dog Gary – he calms her anxiety and is almost always with her.

Real-Life Rebel Alliance
Fisher’s candid nature as well as her movie-royalty status allowed her to challenge societal norms – this is what she should be most celebrated for. Fisher was Bipolar, which made her advocacy against mental health stigmas all the more powerful. She emphasized that mental health issues are simply that – health issues. Fisher stressed the significance of treating mental health conditions medically, something that society frequently struggles with acknowledging even when many issues are the result of imbalanced chemicals. Talking about the stigma that surrounds mental health can inspire courage in those who also experience the fear and shame of hiding their diagnoses. Celebrities like Fisher have an enormous reach that amplifies their opinions, one tweet can become topical content for thousands of articles, which is why it is amazing that she used her virtual megaphone to say something actually worth listening to.


It is through Fisher’s real-life story and opinions that I found an adult role model. We may look to television and film characters for style and grace, but I believe that it’s healthy to know what our idols represent when they are 32204cf0ba60c94c972533014b3e47dc.jpgoff-screen. I will never really know who Carrie Fisher was just by reading her books, watching her interviews, and mouthing every line to her movies, but the deeper research into her real-life actions will help remind me of what she once did and always will represent.

Fisher was like a Facebook friend; I only knew what she and the media wanted me to know. This managed representation made me feel like she was a virtual acquaintance, it’s similar to how you ‘know’ 600 people on your social media account – her close friends and family will be the only ones who really knew her. I realize now that I didn’t cry when I heard that she had passed because I don’t need to mourn that way. Her loved ones are mourning Carrie Fisher the person – I am celebrating Carrie Fisher the role model.

Strangers I Admired in High School

(See Life lesson at the bottom)

Celebrities play an interesting part in our lives, often times without directly meeting us. They were especially influential to me personally when I was in high school.

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My dreaded grade 9 yearbook photo (Almost 14 years old [December birthday).
For me, I had a select group of actresses, singers, and models who I looked up to, groomed myself to look like, and secretly wanted to be. Some of these resulted in good practices and others resulted in questionable fashion choices. Interestingly enough, high school-me had mostly good taste because I still admire a lot of the same women today that I did then (in a much less obsessive way).

In no particular order, here are the women I admired most from ages 14-18:

-Ella Fitzgerald
-Natalie Portman
-Audrey Hepburn
-Leslie Feist
-Ingrid Michaelson
-Edie Sedgwick
-Twiggy
Agyness Deyn

Since high school, I have transitioned from idolizing to admiring. I also recognize a lot of unfortunate life choices as less than admirable for ‘idols’ like Edie Sedgwick and look back on the time when I loved her as very misguided on my own part. The main issue was that although I respected and adored the talents of a number of these women, I often focused purely on their beauty.

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The many colours of the rainbow that I sported on my head from ages 16-19 (also my best friend Hanna can be seen in many of these photos – met in hockey at age 11).

For someone who took haircut risks in her teen years, I was definitely a wall flower in school. I spent a lot of time in the art classrooms, all my friends were in band even though I wasn’t, and it took years before I sang in public – it also shocks a lot of people that I was shy and very quiet. A lot of my friends were male because of our shared pop culture interests and sense of humour, but I always considered myself to be one of the guys rather than a potential love interest to any of them. I was not popular by any means.

I knew that I wasn’t a typical teenage girl and due to catholic school uniforms I was limited to expressing my personality through avenues other than fashion (I’m an atheist now, but it wasn’t out of bitterness toward the uniforms I swear). This meant that my hair and eventually my makeup were a big deal to me.

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Top to bottom: Twiggy, Edie Sedgwick, and Agyness Deyn.

Lacking confidence and a self-declared tomboy (not a term that I’m a fan of these days), I didn’t do my hair or wear makeup until I was around 15-16 years old. For six years after that, I sported a variety of pixie cuts, had almost no eyebrows, grew my eyebrows back, wore dark 60’s inspired eyeliner, and dyed my hair a rainbow of colours.

 

THE MODELS:

The likes of Twiggy (60’s icon), Edie Sedgwick (60’s icon), and Agyness Deyn (modern model) inspired me to chop all my hair off around 2006 and confidently bleach my brown hair while keeping my dark brows. The realization that hair could grow back quickly when short, that I could do whatever I wanted to it and cut it off again if it looked bad, allowed me to try just about every style I wanted (basically I tried each short hairstyle that Natalie Portman, Keira Knightley, and Winona Ryder ever had).

Twiggy, Edie Sedgwick, and Agyness Deyn didn’t only fuel my desire to make impulsive hair decisions, but also fed the destructive appetite of a low-self-esteem teenager who longed to feel beautiful. These women were skinny like I was and applauded for it, they weren’t ‘typically’ beautiful yet they were famous for their looks. Although their body shapes were unhealthy ideals for myself (I’m not naturally model-height-tall), their being different-looking eventually helped me see my own type of beauty – and for that I thank them.

THE ACTRESSES:

I watched a stupid amount of television and movies that I do not regret one bit. When I was 12 years old I had a crush on Hawkeye Pierce from MASH and Mr. Kotter from Welcome Back Kotter – I found older programs (and men apparently) fascinating.

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Left to right: Characters Hawkeye Pierce and Mr. Kotter.

audrey hepburn.jpg

As a brunette who grew up in a blonde Barbie world, I didn’t always appreciate my natural hair colour. Society/the media often subtly told us that to be blonde was to be better than other girls. This is why The Beauty and the Beast stood out to me amongst other Disney movies, and why I so easily fell in love with Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Roman Holiday (surprise, surprise, she chops off her hair in that film) – brunettes for the win!

Audrey was the most beautiful and classy woman that I had ever seen. I loved everything about her and she was the positive role model that I needed after Twiggy and the girls. She showed me that my natural beauty was special and that a good personality can make someone much more attractive than their dull counterpart. I still admire Audrey, but know that she had her share of issues and wasn’t as happy as she appeared.

natalie-portman-audrey-hepburn-look-alike
They look so similar!

I can’t remember which movie I first saw of Natalie Portman’s, but I know that I’ve seen just about everything that she’s been in. I really fell in love with her when I first saw one of my favourite movies Garden State, the scene where she cries in the airport (see scene here) is when I thought “wow, she is a brilliant actress.” She seems like she could be the modern day Audrey Hepburn in resemblance, but she expanded my ideals once more.

Natalie Portman went beyond looks and personality, she taught me that being smart was totally cool. She made time to complete a Harvard Degree in Psychology (see her speak on her time at Harvard during the 2015’s commencement) in the middle of an increasingly successful acting career. I have always been quite the keener and my competitive spirit drove me to want to be the best in all my classes (I’m a bit of a sore loser and hate getting a bad mark). Natalie Portman taught me that intelligence and ambition should not take away from a woman’s beauty – it should add to it.

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THE SINGERS:

1-the-singers
Top to bottom: Ella Fitzgerald, Feist, and Ingrid Michaelson.

Pre pixie-cuts and any belief that fashion was important, I found a female jazz singer. I was 14 years old when I first heard Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Aint Got that Swing in a history class. I loved singing, but hadn’t sang in public since I quit elementary school choir at a young age. I feel as if it was Ella’s collection of jazz songs that convinced me that I wanted to take the vocal class at my high school and really discover my own musical tastes. Chris and I danced to one of my favourites at our wedding, Ella’s version of Cole Porter’s Let’s Do it.

Come grade 11, I had sung with some other students at a make-shift school library event and a friend at the time told me that I sounded similar to a Canadian artist, Feist. It was love at first sight/listen when I watched the video for My Moon My Man; she was everything that I wished that I could be.

Soon after this, iTunes used her song 1234 in a commercial and she was getting wider recognition. Leslie Feist, was unique looking, a private person, she wrote songs that didn’t need to compete with mainstream pop hits, and she was able to live her life as a successful musician. She inspired me to want to be a professional singer (this goal is on a long hiatus).

I began paying closer attention to commercials as I realized that the music they used behind their promotions were frequently up my alley. I found a massive collection of songs from commercials, as well as in the background of television shows and movies that became the soundtrack of the last years of my high school career. This was also how I stumbled upon Ingrid Michaelson’s Girls and Boys album.

Ingrid Michaelson wrote in a new way that I related to, it was quirky, untraditional, and sweet. She is still one of my greatest influences in songwriting style. Ingrid is particularly special because she exceeded my expectations when I saw her in concert. She was talented, but she was funny – so funny. She wore glasses, wrote quirky songs, and told jokes throughout her set.

 

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Left to right: Me graduating from high school in 2008, college in 2010, and university in 2016 (had some years off between academic gigs) – now happier and healthier than ever.

LIFE LESSON:

No woman is perfect, it’s too much to expect of any human being. I think that it’s important to talk about who we admire with younger generations so that we can share insight into recognizing the good and the bad that they might influence.

The society that we live in makes it too easy to fall in line with what celebrities say and do, to act like them, and idolize them so we should incorporate healthy conversations about them into our lives. Looking back, I see a lot of beneficial ideologies that I took from women who were strangers to me, but I wish that I focused less on their beauty and more on what not to do from their mistakes.

All in all, I think that there are a number of female celebrities that are good role models for young women and I hope that teenage misfits like young-me find the right ones.