It’s a question that I’ve focused on a few times in my life: Who does the world see when they look at me?
As a teenager I wrote the outline of a young adult novel which opened with my death, closely followed by my reappearance as a transfer student with a vague resemblance to the ‘real’ me, who learned what classmates really thought about the girl who died. My way of tackling that basic teenage struggle of trying to fit in with society while still standing out from the crowd.
Then one day I looked in the mirror and realized that if I died in an accident, the news lead would say “35 year old mother of three.” I still felt more like that 12-year-old girl searching for her identity than someone responsible for three other lives. Still do, some days.
This week I focused on the question again, as I watched the world react to the death of Carrie Fisher. I’ll admit, I hadn’t paid close attention to her life outside of Star Wars. I knew she’d battled addictions and spoke up about things other people often tried to hide. But I hadn’t realized just how fractured an image the world had of her until the tributes began appearing online.
One article in particular made me remember all those times I asked myself how the world saw me, because it showed just how narrow that lens can be. The front-page article on Fisher’s death was 960 words long; all the people interviewed were male, it focused as much on how young teen boys responded to the bikini scenes as it did on how they thought her character empowered women, and only in the last sentence did the reporter reference Fisher’s other film accomplishments and mental health advocacy work – and at no point did it mention she left behind a grieving daughter or that she had authored several books and movies.
Yes, Carrie Fisher for many people was simply Princess Leia. A strong female character who recently returned to the big screen. And I know that sometimes, as much as you might want to find that ‘other’ voice for a news story, deadlines get in the way. But that article brought me back to that question of how the world sees each of us. There were so many layers to this woman. She was Princess Leia. She was General Organa. She was the voice behind Postcards from the Edge. She was an addict. She was a public persona for bipolar disorder. She belonged to all of us, and yet she was also a daughter, a sister, a mother, a companion, and a friend who will be remembered in much more personal ways.
No matter how we hope to shape others’ views of us, we don’t write that last description. But reading the various tributes to Fisher makes me ask myself – does that matter? Should I care that you see me as a middle aged mother of three? Or as a female voice on a predominately male op-ed page? What matters is how we feel about what we’ve given the world around us, how our children and our parents and our family remember us. All the little moments that can never be properly captured on paper. When I look at Carrie Fisher, I see someone who embraced all of it. All of her stumbles. All of her challenges. All of the attention. All of the beauty and all of the harshness. She faced it openly and shared that with us. Princess Leia looms large over my childhood, but I feel like Carrie Fisher will guide me through middle age.
She Said appears in the Times & Transcript and on Pickle Planet.