Some erotic memories only make sense in retrospect. There was that tingle I got down there when I looked, over and over, at the page in my Little Mermaid book where Ariel gets legs and is depicted in naked silhouette. There was Princess Jasmine, all tied up in a bikini with her impossible hip-to-waist-ratio, spitting on Jafar. And then there was the original woman-in-cuffs: Princess Leia, locked to Jabba The Hutt and wearing that infamous gold bikini, using her sexual and intellectual wiles to eventually strangle him — with the very chains he used to enslave her, no less.
The late actor Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia in that infamous gold bikini scene is often talked about as the first masturbatory experience of nerdy guys everywhere. One Wired magazine editor stated the only reason for the outfit's fame is "no doubt that the sight of Carrie Fisher in the gold sci-fi swimsuit was burned into the sweaty subconscious of a generation of fanboys hitting puberty in the spring of 1983." But it was also one of the first erotic memories for many of us queer fangirls, too — and for that, I'm grateful.
Because while I was turned on by seeing Princess Leia all tied up and sexualized, I was simultaneously thrilled by watching a full, feminist character reveal herself on screen. Watching Princess Leia as a little girl, over and over, I both wanted to be her — kicking ass, smart and witty, a princess with a bad-boy boyfriend — and, on another level, wanted to be with her. I just didn't know it consciously yet.
For years, I would tell myself things like, I don't like women like that, I just find it sexy to imagine being them in sexual situations. And, in a way, that was also true. That I found Princess Leia and Princess Jasmine being tied up as slaves arousing — notably, while they were both still sharp-tongued and mentally in-charge — foreshadowed my future interest in being a consensual feminist submissive in the bedroom just as much as it foreshadowed my sexual and romantic interest in women.
The tension in that scene I found arousing — between Fisher's arguably-objectified body and feminist self-sufficiency — has remained erotic and controversial, and Fisher herself brilliantly commented on the dichotomy. Though some fan rumors claim Fisher requested the bikini because Princess Leia's other outfits were "boring," Fisher said she was in fact given sketches of the bikini by director George Lucas — and was implicitly expected to lose weight to wear it. "He showed me to frighten me into exercise, I think. He succeeded."
Decades later, when she was asked to lose more than 35 pounds for the Star Wars revival, Fisher wasn't afraid to tell the press. ‘They don’t want to hire all of me — only about three-quarters! Nothing changes: it’s an appearance-driven thing," she told Good Housekeeping. "I’m in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. That is so messed up. They might as well say get younger, because that’s how easy it is."
She lost the weight — but she didn't pretend it wasn't problematic or shut up about it, either. "When I do lose the weight, I don’t like that it makes me feel good about myself. It’s not who I am," Fisher said.
The controversy over that gold bikini itself has proven to have legs as well. Costar Harrison Ford once said he was no fan of the outfit. "I didn't even think it was going to be in the movie. She's a princess," Ford said. "What the hell is she doing walking around in a bikini?"
And when there was a rumor that all "Slave Leia" merchandise would be stricken from shelves ahead of Star Wars: The Force Awakens due in part to one father's complaint, Fisher told the Wall Street Journal, "to the father who flipped out about it, — 'What am I going to tell my kid about why she’s in that outfit?' — Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it." (In that vein, some feminist fans have even attempted to rebrand the "Slave Leia" bikini as her "Hutt Slayer" outfit, since she did use her getup to kill the bastard, after all.)
Whatever your opinion of the bikini, one thing is clear: Fisher never minced words, and it was one of the most admirable — and sexy — things about her. When fans later shamed her for daring to age in the Star Wars revival, she was no less direct or brave.
Please stop debating about whetherOR not👁aged well.unfortunately it hurts all3 of my feelings.My BODY hasnt aged as well as I have.Blow us👌🏼— Carrie Fisher (@carrieffisher) December 29, 2015
And that was the thing about the late Carrie Fisher, and the Princess Leia only she could have embodied: She was a feminist badass first, and sexy second, largely as a result of that attitude. And while many fanboys might have recognized the tingle in their pants that winning combination gave them from the get-go, it took this girl years to realize that just because she wanted to be like certain women, didn't mean she couldn't also want to be with them.
Though I finally admitted to myself that I liked women in college, it took years of crushes, first dates, and one-time make-outs before I finally had a real romance with a woman in my late twenties. Despite these female characters in movies being my earliest erotic memories, present even before I liked boys, it wasn't until I finally lost my woman-virginity that I felt I "deserved" to call myself queer, as if my feelings didn't count until I ate pussy.
Had I asked, I'm sure Carrie Fisher would have told me to call myself whatever the hell I wanted. Because Fisher always told it like it was — foul-mouthed, feminist, brazenly sexual, like a writer. I appreciated that about her, and recognized something similar in myself and the other women I admired — and it was that, not just the gold bikini and that hairstyle — that attracted me to her before I even knew girls could like both Han Solo and Princess Leia.
I'll miss Fisher's outspoken, hilarious, feminist voice as an older woman in Hollywood, but I'm grateful for what she gave me, and all of us girls, queer or not: a female action hero who was smart, wry, and kicked ass — redefining what it meant to want to be (and perhaps be with) a princess.