Princess Leia and Empowerment

Hello lovely followers! Today’s post is going to be a little different from my usual crafty adventures, because today is International Women’s Day, and I wanted to do something in honor of it. So if you want to skip this post, that’s fine, you won’t hurt my feelings – I’ll be back soon with our regularly scheduled programming. Still, I think it’s important to talk about important days like this!

I’m taking a Women’s Studies class this term in college, and it’s one of the better decisions I’ve made. I feel like I’ve learned so much, and sometimes the class makes my brain hurt from trying to think in new ways, which is a good thing. Social justice is extremely important to me, so I’m trying to become more involved, and one of the best ways I can do that is through writing. For our final project in the class, we have to pick an “Action” we can do that ties into our class discussions. Mine is I will include a protagonist from a target group in the novel I’m trying to publish. And you may have guessed, that novel is Unraveled. 🙂 In class this week we talked a lot about finding our strengths and using them to help the cause, and I realized I can help raise awareness through writing.

I was inspired to write about Princess Leia after seeing some posts on social media for International Women’s Day. A bunch of them were spotlighting strong female characters, which I think is a great idea – you know how much I love fictional characters. :} However, some of them were using pictures of Leia in her slave bikini, and this didn’t sit well with me. I understand their heart was in the right place, but it still made me frustrated and a little hurt. So I did what I do whenever I’m upset and wrote an essay. 😛

I basically wanted to talk about how the Slave Leia costume does NOT equal empowerment, because that idea has been making the rounds lately. So here it is. Putting writing out into the world is always scary, but here are my thoughts! (Also, very minor Star Wars spoilers, but nothing I didn’t know already before watching the movies.)

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Photo: starwars.com

Princess Leia and Empowerment

Or, Why the Slave Leia Costume ≠ Empowering Women

Of all the characters in Star Wars, my favorite is Princess Leia. She’s a born leader and doesn’t let anyone push her around, even going so far as to tell Han Solo: “From now on, you do as I tell you.” She overcomes the destruction of her planet and death of people close to her to lead a rebellion, and we see her in a leadership role in The Force Awakens, not as a princess but as a general. She’s an inspiration to many people, and Carrie Fisher has inspired even more people. Princess Leia is the epitome of a “strong female character” and a wonderful symbol of empowerment – however, there are some conflicting views on what’s empowering and what’s not, namely the infamous Slave Leia apparel in Episode VI.

Spoilers ahead for the beginning of Return of the Jedi: In an attempt to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, Leia is captured and completely at the mercy of Jabba. In the very next scene, we see her in a skimpy gold bikini with a chain around her neck, the other end of which is attached to Jabba. She’s essentially a decoration, something for him to show off. She eventually manages to escape, choking and killing Jabba with the chain that had restrained her. At the very next opportunity she’s back in her classic white dress. It should be fairly obvious that Leia doesn’t like wearing her slave attire. The thing is, there are a lot of people claiming that the Slave Leia outfit is “empowering,” and I strongly disagree with this idea.

The Slave Leia outfit can’t be empowering because oppression never empowers its victims. That’s the whole concept of oppression. There is nothing powerful about Leia’s position, until she seizes control and changes her situation. Jabba chose to show off her body and make her into his toy, and Leia had no choice in the matter. Therefore the outfit is a symbol of oppression. How can a symbol of oppression be considered empowering? Princess Leia is the symbol of empowerment here. She stood up to Jabba and took control of the situation. She rose above her oppression, which makes her the inspirational one no matter what she’s wearing. Leia absolutely hated that outfit, and for good reason, because she was enslaved and demeaned while she was in it. Princess Leia is absolutely a role model and an inspiration, so I think we owe her the respect of portraying her in an outfit that suits her, that shows her as a person and not just a body.

When I went to Comic Con, one of the most popular cosplays was Slave Leia, which surprised me. I didn’t see very many classic Leias, with the white dress, silver belt, and cinnamon-roll hair, but it seemed like everywhere I turned I would run into a Slave Leia. I wondered what the motivation behind that cosplay was. I personally wouldn’t be comfortable wearing that little clothing, but there’s nothing wrong with it – just a matter of confidence. All the cosplayers were incredibly talented and sweet and all have different life experiences that make them comfortable with wearing a skimpier costume, which I would never judge them for. Still, I couldn’t help but worry about some of the cosplayers, because as supportive as the cosplay community is, there are creeps in every group. I was dressed in long pants and a jacket, showing hardly any skin, and I got hit on by an obviously intoxicated man in a pizza onesie. I was more entertained than scared, but that was because I was with my male friend who I knew could defend me. I’m sure the Slave Leia cosplayers deal with that a hundred times more. My friend and I were discussing this, and he said he really respected anyone who put themselves out there like that. I expressed my dislike for the Slave Leia costume (because she wears it when she’s enslaved), and my friend said he thought the costume was “really empowering.”

The thing is, he wasn’t in a position to make that call. It’s true that different people can be empowered by different things, but you can’t decide what will empower another person. For example, if I wore the Slave Leia costume, I would feel self-conscious, ashamed of my body, and completely uncomfortable. The thing that makes the cosplay empowering is the fact that it’s the cosplayer’s choice. Maybe it speaks to them on a personal level; perhaps they’ve overcome a situation similar to Leia’s and can really relate, so it’s important to them to pay homage to her in that way. The important thing in this situation is that the cosplayers feel comfortable, and that it’s their choice. Saying the Slave Leia costume is empowering really isn’t your choice to make – you might feel empowered in it, but you can’t speak for everyone else.

Another issue with the Slave Leia costume is that it reinforces the sexism that was already present in the Star Wars series. In the original trilogy, Princess Leia is the only female character in any prominent role. The prequel trilogy isn’t much better with just Padme Amidala, who is only in the story to be Anakin’s love interest. The new movies are getting better, with the addition of Rey as the first female main character in The Force Awakens, and Jyn in Star Wars: Rogue One, but the cast is still predominently male. The lack of representation means that whatever happens to the single female character has a bigger impact than it would if there were a bigger cast of female characters. There are thousands of little girls who grew up watching the movies and developed a bond with Princess Leia, looking up to her and maybe dressing up like her for Halloween or hoping to grow up to be just like her.

The fact is, Princess Leia is the only character who is scantily clad throughout the series. (The only other one is Padme Amidala in the prequels, who wears some interesting dresses during her and Anakin’s courtship, but we’ll leave that issue for another time. It helps make the point, though, that only the female characters in Star Wars wear less clothing.) Luke gets to sport his farm-boy-with-a-spray-tan apparel while Leia is forced to show off her figure in a metal bikini. That isn’t empowering, it’s objectifying. I think Leia is one of the most interesting characters, and she has a strong personality and great character arc; therefore it’s heartbreaking to watch her be reduced to just a body. She deserves more than that.

Carrie Fisher, the amazing actress behind Princess Leia, hated the metal bikini. Shouldn’t that go a long way in showing just how not empowering it is? There was some controversy around the Disney Store thinking about releasing Slave Leia merchandise, and Carrie Fisher was asked for her opinion on the matter. She replied that “the character is wearing that outfit not because she’s chosen to wear it. She’s been forced to wear it.” I think that quote says it all.

The bottom line is that Princess Leia is the symbol of empowerment, not the bikini she’s forced to wear. If people do feel empowered wearing that cosplay, then more power to them – but they’re still inspired by Leia, just displaying it with an homage to that movie in particular. Of course the moment when Leia rebels against Jabba is inspirational. However, it’s inspirational because of how Leia fights against her captivity, how she rises up against her prisoner. The empowerment comes from the character, not from how much skin she’s showing.

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Photo: starwars.com

Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you didn’t mind the change of pace on the blog. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to share more essays and writing from time to time, just to shake things up.

Happy International Women’s Day, and I hope your week is going well! ❤

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7 thoughts on “Princess Leia and Empowerment

  1. simply.dawn.marie says:

    Beautifully written. I agree with you 100%. I would love for you to share more essays and writing here; I look forward to reading them.

    Like

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