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How Carrie Fisher Taught Me to See Through the BS on Cosmetics Labels

Carrie Fisher was more than just a badass space heroine; she was a sharp-tongued, wise-cracking truth-teller who didn't hold back, especially when it came to the ridiculous beauty standards women are expected to meet. 

Carrie Fisher, our forever Princess Leia, was more than just a badass space heroine. Off-screen, she was a sharp-tongued, wise-cracking truth-teller who didn't hold back, especially when it came to the ridiculous beauty standards women are expected to meet. And boy, did she have some things to say.

One of Fisher's most iconic moments of sticking it to the standards was her infamous "slave Leia" costume from Return of the Jedi. She once said in a Rolling Stone interview that "while Leia got to be more affectionate and supportive, it was still within the confines of male fantasy." Translation: they made her take off her clothes. She wasn’t thrilled about it, but she owned it. When Disney decided to pull the action figures, lunch boxes, and other merch featuring this costume after a dad complained about explaining it to his daughter, Fisher had the perfect response. She said, "Tell them a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage."

Fisher's wisdom didn’t just stop at the insidious gold bikini. When The Force Awakens was released, the press had a field day with comments on her age, face,  weight - everything we have been acculturated to think is okay to dissect for women with public-facing jobs. Like a true queen, she shut them down, saying that her body is just the vessel for her mind and talents. She tweeted, "Youth and beauty are not accomplishments. They're the temporary, happy byproducts of time and/or DNA. Don't hold your breath for either." That right there is a mic drop in 140 characters.

Now, let's pivot to another kind of BS: cosmetics labels. Don’t get me wrong: I love my lightly fragranced lotions and potions in pretty little jars, especially when my friends give me free samples! But thanks to my years in the advertising industry, I don’t put much stock into what’s being promised on any of those labels. Do you ever read one and think, "What does that even mean?" Beauty companies are experts at using highfalutin words to make their products sound like miracle workers without actually saying anything of substance. They have to walk a fine line—claim too much and they need FDA approval, but claim too little and no one buys their stuff.

Take "clinically proven" for example. Sounds legit, doesn't it? But it doesn't actually mean much in the world cosmetics because it’s not regulated. A clinical study could mean anything from a legitimate lab experiment to Phyllis in Poughkeepsie trying a cream in her bathroom. Then there's "reduces the appearance of wrinkles," which means it doesn’t actually reduce wrinkles but makes them look… less wrinkly. It's all about creative phrasing to avoid expensive FDA regulations.

And while the FDA handles drug claims, the FTC and the Better Business Bureau are the ones policing cosmetic claims. If something sounds too good to be true, they’ll ask for proof. If the studies don’t hold up, they’ll get legal. But who has time for that? Not us. We reach for products that prey upon our insecurities, and we spend billions of dollars a year on... nothing.

And don't get me started on "self-reported" claims, which are basically people saying, "Yeah, I think it worked." This is like asking your mom if you look good in your new outfit—she's always going to say yes. (Your mom, anyway. My mom loves me in ways that rarely involve praise of my wardrobe choices. Or my cosmetics. Or my hair. But that’s another post.)

Sunscreen is a very different - and very serious - ballgame. As a person of Irish heritage and one Mohs surgery I hope never to repeat, I take those labels very seriously. The Skin Cancer Foundation has clear recommendations of ingredients to look for, and the FDA has to approve any promises before they go on any labels. 

Other than your SPF - whose labels contain actual, verifiable medical claims - what’s the lesson here, thanks to our dear Carrie?  It’s to see through the glossy packaging and fancy words. Fisher’s legacy isn’t just about being a fierce princess; it’s about being a fierce advocate for authenticity. She taught us to question everything, especially when it comes to how we’re supposed to look. So, next time you pick up a jar of whatever it is, channel your inner Carrie Fisher and ask, "Is this really what it claims to be, or is it just another gold bikini?"

Tags: Labels