Editor’s Note: Peggy Drexler is the author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family” and “Raising Boys Without Men.” She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
Peggy Drexler: The commentary on Carrie Fisher's appearance in the new "Star Wars" film exposes a glaring double standard
Drexler says the 59-year-old actress hasn't aged badly, she's just aged like everyone does
Nearly as predictable as the record-breaking box office numbers coming out of JJ Abrams’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is the reaction to the appearance in the film of Carrie Fisher, who reprises a role she first took on some 40 years ago.
A number of film goers have taken to Twitter to express disdain that – spoiler alert! – Fisher doesn’t look as they seemed to expect she might; that the reality of her face interfered, it seems, with their enjoyment of the fantasy flick.
This, in turn, has led to a heated, if tedious, debate over whether or not Fisher has aged well, as if “aging well” was a talent to be celebrated and not an entirely subjective construct used again and again to remind women in Hollywood and elsewhere that they’re only as good as their ever more lineless foreheads. Finally, Fisher was forced to weigh in, taking to Twitter to remind people that she has feelings, and that they were getting hurt, but also that “youth and beauty are not accomplishments.”
Certainly, fans of “Star Wars” have come to expect certain special effects. Now, it seems, that’s been extended to include expecting a 59-year-old actress to overcome the reality of time. Fisher hasn’t aged badly; she’s just aged. And if she hadn’t? Certainly, we’d take considerable, and well-documented, issue with that, too.
Women who seek to ward off comments like the ones that have been directed at Fisher end up dealing with a host of other attacks on their obvious vanity. Consider the reactions to and unending dissections of female celebrities whose overt youth-chasing via cosmetic enhancements, or simply an effort to look good, have made headlines in recent years: Renee Zellweger, Uma Thurman, and Gwen Stefani among them.
(It’s worth noting that one female celebrity who seems to have avoided criticism over her new youthfulness at the hands of cosmetic procedures in fact began life as a man. Indeed, Caitlyn Jenner has received as much praise for her beauty as she has for her bravery – deserved, of course, but notably uneven in an industry that has not shown much respect or admiration for the rest of its community of women over 40.)
That’s not to say men are completely left out of the discussion on aging and looks, especially when they undergo procedures. Still, it’s worth noting that although Sylvester Stallone has endured much speculation around the topic of plastic surgery, reviews of his recent movie, “Creed,” in which he – like Fisher – reprises a role he first assumed at a much younger age, have focused largely on Stallone’s performance, even though one could argue that there’s plenty to say about his looks, too.
Case in point: In “The Force Awakens,” Harrison Ford looks every bit as old as he should at 73, but manages to avoid disappointing fans who expected him to look as he did at 30. Does his obvious mortality ruin the fantasy aspect? Hardly (spoiler alert No. 2): In fact, one of the biggest uproars in the wake of the movie’s opening has been that “The Force Awakens” appears to be Han Solo’s final film.
Mark Hamill, meanwhile, was almost unrecognizable.
But it’s Fisher who gets all the negative attention. And yet, is it surprising? Hardly.
The answer here isn’t to start objectifying men in equal measure. It is, however, to stop the clichéd and overdone storyline that seems to plague any woman who lasts more than a few years in Hollywood – or, in really, any industry. Debating Fisher’s looks is, as Fisher herself described the topic of her losing weight for the role, “a stupid conversation.” So why is it one we keep having? You’d think if there’s any cause movie fans would rally for, it would be for a more original plotline.