Carrie Fisher: Is She Aging Well?

Star Wars meets the cultural obsession with women's appearance

Posted Dec 31, 2015

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is a box office smash. This is not at all surprising; Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon. Even I loved the film, and I hadn't read or seen anything in the Star Wars franchise prior to this.

Equally not as surprising to me was the news that there was a whole lot of media and Twitter (is Twitter media?) coverage addressing the physical appearance of Carrie Fisher, and in particular, if she has aged well. 

It is interesting in itself that when "aging well" is mentioned in this context it is rarely addressing issues such as mental acuity, or actual performance. In these regards, she seems to have aged just fine, thank you very much.

But we all know these comments weren't referring to her performance, her talents or her emotional state. As a wide range of research shows, this is much more often the case for women than for men (see Objectification Theory research). This isn't to say people aren't ever focusing on men's appearance, because it certainly happens. (the vast majority of women reported preference for men who are taller than them in one study, for instance). But the focus on men's appearance just isn't as prevalent as the focus on women's appearance.

Carrie Fisher and the debate over her aging is just another example of the cultural focus on women's appearance, even when they have achieved massive success. 

There is a ton of evidence that the focus on women's physical appearance (from others) tends to increase negative views of the woman being focused on, and tends to increase women's own dissatisfaction with their own appearance. Women even talked less in one study during an interaction after recalling a time when they had been gazed at sexually by a man, and when viewed wearing more revealing attire, are more likely to be blamed for sexual harassment and rape.

Carrie Fisher should be a source of attention, but for her success, not for her physical appearance. Far too often women (and sometimes men) have such high importance placed on their appearance, that we lose sight that they have talents, and that they are people with feelings.

As Fisher herself noted, the comments about her appearance are painful and she wants them to stop.

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