I used to pray to be small.
Not just physically, but in my presentation of self. I’m too loud. Too frank. Too opinionated. Too big. The world isn’t so kind to big women. People laugh at your jokes. You get invited to parties. Self-deprecation is your currency, and sometimes you’re rich. But when you can’t shut up, or calm down, or sit still, or say the right thing, one by one they leave the room. It’s a lonely life, being big.
I was nineteen when I first experienced what would later be diagnosed as a panic disorder. I spent months alone in my dorm room, pressed up against the wall, daring my body to feel temperature because I was sure it no longer could. I went through vicious, rampant cycles of hypochondria and dread, felt my natural chattiness diminish until I could barely thread together words. When the diagnosis later came, it was with a certain relieved pride. Like naming a pet, I now knew the function of my disordered existence. I was big for a reason.
When she was nineteen, Carrie Fisher was filming Star Warsin London. She was also sleeping with a married Harrison Ford and filling journals with her heartache. On Harrison, she wrote, “Someone has to stand still for you to love them – my choices are always on the run.”
Carrie knew what it was like to be big. She had a searing self-awareness at nineteen that most lack in old age. As she wrote in those journals, and later published in her recent memoir, The Princess Diarist, “I act like someone in a bomb shelter trying to raise everyone’s spirits.” Acting agreeable is a trick all disagreeable women know. We use parlor tricks to hide our inefficiencies and insecurities.
Lucky for us, Carrie stopped hiding. With the publication of her first novel, Postcards from the Edge, she shed regal misconceptions and turned her barbed-wire spirit into a brand. Instead of muting her candidness, she framed it and stuck it on a wall.
I grew up loving Leia, but I’ll never forget my first experience with Carrie Fisher, Force of Nature. It was her Times Talk with David Carr. An archived video from her Wishful Drinking promotional tour. I was fresh off the wound of a relationship that went nowhere and in a profound state of sulk. And then I heard the words: “I’m not as cooperative as you might want a woman to be. Every man, I think, or at least the ones I end up finding, there’s no such thing as a consort. All men are kings.”
I couldn’t believe she had the balls to admit that. I was inspired, and it wasn’t long before I devoured every ounce of knowledge Carrie put into the world. And what a decadent selection she’s given us. From her infamous Good Morning America interview to her delightful conversation with Daisy Ridley in Interview Magazine to her memoirs, novels and live shows, she’s made the best possible case for why it matters to speak up. Because there are other girls who need to hear it, and to know they aren’t alone.
Carrie suffered for her impartial truths and her dedication to not giving a single fuck about pretty much anything. The particular attention thrown her way is enough to make me sick. Search through the response to her appearance in The Force Awakens versus that of her male costars. So many footnotes and pardons, so much talking around her physical appearance, or condemning the quality of her voice, or the shape of her lips. They blame the drugs, the mental illness, the booze, the whatever. She is often regarded with an air of frivolity. As if her funny talk show appearances excuse the common decency of considering her a whole and varied person – one who felt the pain of those assessments the way anyone might.
But, as she said time and again, you take the bad for the good. And the good was there in spades. In her advice column for The Guardian, Carrie wrote to a young woman suffering from bipolar disorder, who wasn’t sure how she’d live through her twenties, “You don’t have to like doing a lot of what you do, you just have to do it. You can let it all fall down and feel defeated and hopeless and that you’re done. But you reached out to me – that took courage. Now build on that. Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side.”
I return to those columns whenever I feel the hooks of my panic disorder pulling me under, or when depression rears up out of its grey abyss with a beckon. Move through those feelings and meet Carrie on the other side. There’s a heavier weight to those words now that she’s gone, but the sentiment remains the same. She was not claimed by her mental illness or her addiction, but by some ordinary bodily betrayal. They did not take her away from us. They did not win. We can fight them because she did.
We are left with a hollow space where Carrie should be. My heart breaks for the upcoming Episode VIII press tour. All of the talk shows with Gary she was meant to do. All of those nuggets of wisdom wrapped in wit that we are owed. But I am comforted with what’s left. The books to pore over and see anew. The YouTube interviews to revisit. The knowingness that girls like me – big women – are better people because we have her to emulate.
As Carrie said, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway.”