*Disclaimer: This blog contains no spoilers, for those of you who have not seen the latest Star War’s movie, nor is it a blog only for those who love Star Wars. So whether you love the force or not, this blog is for you!
She is perfect… hair done in a three-stage ponytail, costume on point, and the most amazing self assured glare you have ever seen. She is Lily, an adorable five year old dressed up as Rey, the latest hero in the Star Wars dynasty “the Force Awakens.” Lily’s mom helped her make a costume, and I can’t help but feel that something really important is happening as I watch her watch Rey. She is seeing something that I saw in the early ’80’s the first time I saw Princess Leia on the big screen. Lily is seeing a strong female hero. She is seeing a woman who isn’t a damsel in distress waiting for someone to come save her, but a woman who is willing to risk it all to save what she holds dearest. There is something amazing about watching this little girl cheer for a character that is the same gender. Lily is learning a really important lesson, and in many ways, I am too.
Lily is my friend’s daughter, and I love to see her identify with a character like Rey. Her other favorite characters to emulate are Disney Princesses. Princesses – with their beautiful ball gowns, amazing hair, and perfect make up, have long been a big part of our culture; but there is something unique about Lily wanting to be Rey. You can see it as she walks around the theater emulating her. Rey makes Lily feel tough and self-assured and it warms my heart. Lily is learning that sometimes the girl can be the hero, and this is nothing short of world changing. Lily is learning that being a hero doesn’t require the right shoes or ‘Victoria Secret runway-esque’ hair. As I straighten my own hair and press my dress to get ready for this Sunday’s service, I can’t help but think I have a lot to learn from Rey. I have a lot to learn about the image I portray to the young women who watch me preach and lead a church.
In a blog I wrote a year ago, I shared with you that role-playing Star Wars taught me the word ‘girl.’ Before that day I had only heard the word ‘girl’ in a derogatory way – “You throw like a girl… you run like a girl.” I didn’t exactly know what being a girl was, but I knew that in the minds of my neighborhood it meant being somehow ‘less than.’ It was in playing Star Wars with the neighborhood kids that I learned that the word girl could be rightfully applied to me. I loved the heroism of Han Solo and had always wanted to emulate his laid-back heroic personality but was denied assuming that role, because as the neighborhood boys taught me, “I was a girl and had to be princess Leia.” I liked Leia, and truthfully I dug her hair, but I wanted to be Han. I mean Han had not only a great set of boots, but he had Chewie! My poor mom had quite the task explaining how I was in fact a girl and why that was okay.
I think about young Sarah watching Star Wars in the early ’80’s and just how cool I thought Leia was. She was sassy and self-assured, but even she ended up being in a gold bikini taken prisoner for her beauty; and unconsciously I was learning a lesson. As tough as Leia was, she was just one gold bikini away from being another photo in Maxim. But not Rey – Rey is smart, tough, resourceful, cunning and also feminine. Her compassion is one of her greatest strengths. I want the young girls in my life to celebrate their resourcefulness, and at the same time, their beauty.
Recently, a mom from my church shared with me that she walked in on her young daughter playing ‘Pastor Sarah.’ She had all her dolls lined up and was sharing with them that God loved them. Her mom expressed to me just how special it was that her daughter is growing up seeing a female preach and lead. She is encouraged that her daughter thinks she can do anything, and that includes preaching. This got me thinking: what images of feminity and strength do I portray? I am part girly girl who loves to dress up. When little girls at my church get new shoes, I am often the first one they want to show. I am glad I have that bond to share with them, but I feel challenged to encourage them to share with me times they are brave, or moments when they are heroic. I believe girls who believe that they can do anything will, and I am grateful to the makers of the latest Star Wars for helping girls re-imagine the image of a hero in a way that looks more and more like them.