Carrie Fisher Felt ‘Pressure To Be Thin’ Before Death, Showing Just How Destructive Weight Stigma Really Is

Carrie Fisher’s sudden death in 2016 shocked the world. At 60, Fisher had just made her return to the Star Wars franchise she’d helped popularize, reprising her iconic role of Princess Leia in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. She’d just finished filming for the next installment in the series, The Last Jedi, and was “really on a high and a positive,” Fisher’s friend James Blunt said recently.

But Fisher’s positive exterior was hiding a load of stress and pressure, Blunt revealed while speaking about his new memoir at the Hay Festival, an arts festival in Wales, per The Independent. “She’d been really mistreating her body,” recalled Blunt, who said he was with Fisher the day before she died. Though Fisher was excited she’d “got the job again of being Princess Leia in a new Star Wars movie,” the singer recalled, “they had applied a lot of pressure on her to be thin. She spoke about the difficulties that women have in the industry, how men are allowed to grow old, and women are certainly not in film and TV.”

The stress of living up to those standards took its toll, according to Blunt. “She really put a lot of pressure on herself, started using drugs again,” he said. Fisher went into cardiac arrest on an airplane the next day while flying from London to Los Angeles and later died in the hospital. The toxicology report revealed that Fisher had cocaine, methadone, MDMA, ethanol, and opiates in her system at the time of her death, per People, but the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office could not “establish the significance” of the substances and ultimately ruled that the manner of death was “undetermined.”

For Blunt, though, it’s all connected — the stress of losing weight, the drug use, and Fisher’s death. “By the time she got on the plane, she had effectively killed herself,” he stated. “They say it was heart failure of some kind, but she had taken enough drugs to have a really good party.”

Fisher herself was keenly aware of the unfair body expectations placed on women in the entertainment industry. “They don’t want to hire all of me — only about three-quarters!” Fisher told Good Housekeeping in 2015, speaking about the Star Wars role. “Nothing changes: it’s an appearance-driven thing. 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.”

According to the outlet, Fisher was “pressured” to lose more than 35 pounds for the Star Wars role. “I did it the same way everybody has to – don’t eat and exercise more,” she said. Fisher did drop the weight, but said, “I don’t like that it makes me feel good about myself. It’s not who I am.” She understood that these expectations came along with the job, and hated that she had no choice but to comply — thus perpetuating them further.

That expectation of thinness and the resulting stigma and shame around having a larger body has documented consequences when it comes to health. In one 2017 study, for example, researchers found that viewing yourself as overweight was associated with unhealthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels — even if your BMI (itself a flawed statistic) fell in the “normal” range. And experiencing weight discrimination — being treated differently due to weight — is linked to “declines in physical and mental health,” a 2015 study noted. That research also found that weight discrimination was associated with a 60 percent increase in mortality risk.

Substance use also comes into play, especially when we talk about another consequence of weight stigma: eating disorders. A 2006 study found that 27 percent of people with anorexia are also diagnosed with a substance use disorder; the number jumps to 36.8 percent for those with bulimia.

As a Hollywood actress, Fisher was under pressure to lose weight throughout her career. In an interview with The Independent in 2011, she referred to herself as a “failed bulimic,” explaining that she was “never very good at denying myself,” and recalled being told to lose 10 pounds when she was first cast in Star Wars in her early 20s. “There was no way that I could lose that weight healthily,” she reflected. “There’s no accident that the word ‘die’ is in diet.”

Fisher didn’t miss often miss the opportunity to get real about the unrealistic expectations Hollywood forces upon women — their bodies, their faces, their appearances as a whole — and the extremes she had to go through to fit them. We may never know exactly how much of a role that pressure played in her tragic death, the official cause of which is still undetermined. But it’s a reminder to take a hard look at what we do know: that weight stigma and eating disorders are linked with substance use and increased mortality risk, and that the the health consequences of fatphobia are real and serious.

Before you go, read these powerful quotes about food that’ll inspire you in your own body image journey:

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