A Distressing Damsel: An Open Letter to Princess Leia

“I was not a damsel in distress. I was a distressing damsel.” – Carrie Fisher, on playing Princess Leia

Dear Princess Leia,

For as long as I can remember, you’ve been a part of my life. I was introduced to you when I was around five or six years old (definitely before I was seven because I have memories of watching A New Hope in the first house I lived in), and it was love at first sight. You had brown hair like I did, you were small like I was, and—most importantly—you were a girl like me. When I played Star Wars with my cousins on the playground near our grandparents’ house, I didn’t have to just watch while they played heroes like Luke and Han. Thanks to you, I got to play a hero, too, every time I pretended to be you (which was often).

You were the first female hero I met through the media, the first in a long line that took me past Sydney Bristow and Hermione Granger on the way to Zoe Washburne, Katniss Everdeen, and Kate Beckett. I may have had many fictional role models along the way as I grew up, but you never forget your first.

I was born at a time when Disney princesses were experiencing a renaissance, when Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine started showing some smarts and spark that were missing from their earlier counterparts. I loved and still love Belle with the fervor of a three-year-old watching her sing about the “great, wide somewhere” for the first time, but pretending to be Belle was never as much fun as pretending to be you.

When I pretended to be you, I got to run and climb and boss people around. I got to play a game with higher stakes than just finding a prince; I got to fight Darth Vader for the freedom of an entire galaxy.

I learned so much from you without even realizing it until much later. I learned about passion, courage, and fighting for what you believe in. I learned that women can be political leaders and military strategists. I learned that smart women are the ones who get to do all of the cool stuff, like leading attacks on the Death Star (and capturing the heart of Han Solo). I learned that there are times when even strong women need rescuing, but then there are times when they get to do the rescuing, too.

I’ve always been a tiny girl with a big mouth, and with the memory of you etched in my brain from early childhood, I’ve always felt like those things are a pretty great combination. You spoke your mind, so I grew up believing it was okay to do the same. You never let the men around you keep you from voicing your opinions; being a woman never meant you had to be silent. You were just as good a leader and a shot as the men around you, so I grew up believing I could do anything boys could do. That’s a belief that fades for a lot of girls as they grow up, but I’m so thankful that I had a fictional role model like you (in addition to the great role models I’ve had in my everyday life) to show me that women are in no way “the weaker sex.”

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