You Are Not Going Out Dressed Like That!

“You Are Not Going Out Dressed Like That!” (Unless You Want To)

This picture depicts a classic scene of a father berating his daughter for wearing a revealing outfit. The intergalactic twist is that the father is Darth Vader, his daughter is Princess Leia, and she’s wearing her ‘Slave’ costume from Return of the Jedi.

It’s one of the many memorable panels from Vader’s Little Princess by Jeffrey Brown, the second in his series of books set in a parallel Star Wars universe where Vader is an involved father to his twin children. The calendar is one of the many Princess Leia things my daughter has in her room.

Vader’s Little Princess takes a rather stereotypical view of girls – Leia is shown chatting endlessly on the phone, obsessing over boys (a certain scoundrel in particular), being bored by sports, having tantrums, and being preoccupied with clothes. While the author treated Luke as just a child in the preceding book Darth Vader and Son, here Brown – who is the father of two boys – makes some seemingly lazy assumptions about young girls.

Despite being able to see these sexist flaws, I still love the book. It highlights the most high profile female character in Star Wars, is full of delightful & funny vignettes, and at its heart it’s about a loving father/daughter relationship.

This was one of the first Star Wars ‘things’ I showed my daughter, and frankly I credit it with hooking her interest in Star Wars at a young age (she was 21 months old at the time). She often chose it for us to read to her. Soon, she spotted my old Star Wars toys, instantly recognised familiar characters and vehicles, and they never left her grasp. I always thought I wouldn’t show her the movies until she was at least 5, but at age 2 we were watching them. We continue to do so and her love of Star Wars gets stronger as she gets older.

Every time we watch a Star Wars movie or cartoon, she picks up on something new. Eventually the ‘Slave Leia’ outfit was referenced:

My way of talking to her about it was this: Jabba had taken Leia prisoner, and made her wear what her wanted her to wear, because he had that power and that’s how he wanted her to look. I continued that it was wrong because Princess Leia should choose what she wants to wear herself.

We carried on watching, and whenever Princess Leia appeared subsequently in the movie, my daughter declared “Leia decided to wear that herself!”

It’s still a part of the story that she frequently references, including with her our Star Wars toys.

For instance, here Vader is unhappy that Leia has been treated so badly by Jabba:

Another time, Leia shows she’s none too happy with Jabba either:

‘Slave Leia’ remains one of the few Leia figures we don’t own, and it continues to be divisive amongst Star Wars fans.

What’s so bad about Slave Leia?

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Slave Outfit Star Wars Return of the Jedi Slave Leia
From ‘Return of the Jedi’, Dir: Richard Marquand, TM & © Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) 1983

Clearly sexualised, the look was a hit with the dominant male fanbase. As the boys grew into men, the Slave Leia look became ever more popular, and became one of the most used depictions of Leia.

There were vocal dissenters, such as in the growing fangirl community, or as many male fans became fathers of daughters, some (ahem) started to complain about this being the prevalent depiction of Leia. She’s a politician, fighter, Rebel leader – yet mostly shown as a sexually exploited woman.

On the other side, people talk about how it’s no worse than you see at the swimming pool or beach, or on overly sexualised dolls aimed at girls. Some defended the outfit as a symbol of Leia’s defiance against her captor. Many members of the female cosplayer community enjoy wearing it.

In one memorable defence, the daughter of comedian Adam Buxton said Leia should keep wearing it because it’s a “pretty good look for her”.

As far as Jeffrey Brown’s picture goes, the cliche of the father telling his daughter not to wear such revealing clothes is also problematic.

While as parents we make decisions and rules we like to think are in the best interests of our children, they need to find their own path too – and that includes the process of understanding their own sexuality. This clearly begins long before they are adults.

When a father is telling his daughter not to wear something revealing, is he helping her develop, or trying to limit her growing sexuality? If my daughter wanted to wear a Slave Leia outfit out of the house, I’m pretty sure I’d insist she doesn’t. But she’s 3, and I think that’s fair enough. But what about 10, 13, 15? What age is Leia in this picture? Is she a child or a young woman?

Tricky questions for my future.

“You Are Not Going Out Dressed Like That!”

'Vader's Little Princess' by Jeffrey Brown. Published by Chronicle Books.
From ‘Vader’s Little Princess’ by Jeffrey Brown. Published by Chronicle Books.

For now, I still like this picture. For one, it’s funny. But it’s also part of an alternate Star Wars narrative my daughter has melded from various sources.

So I look at the scene like this. Perhaps Darth, instead of limiting Leia’s sexual expression, is upset that her exploitation by Jabba is having lasting effects. That far from being her choice, her father feels she has been conditioned to think this is what men want.

But if we want to empower our daughters, ultimately the choice of outfit has to be theirs. At the moment my daughter’s only real dress restrictions are about being weather/environment appropriate (although I did suggest she rethink her summertime idea of wearing a short skirt as a dress). In the future, school uniforms and dress codes will feature. But eventually we won’t be the ones responsible for what she wears – she will.

I hope I never have a “You Are Not Going Out Dressed Like That!” moment with her. If any woman, be it Leia, my daughter, or someone else, truly wants to dress in a revealing gold bikini, then fair enough. I guess it’s a pretty good look for some.


What do you think about the Slave Leia look? Or parents telling their teenagers what to wear?

Please comment below, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

10 thoughts on ““You Are Not Going Out Dressed Like That!” (Unless You Want To)”

  1. Real interesting read, with two young daughters myself, it is also something for me to think about for the future! I’m just glad it’s a good decade away but really enjoyed this. Real food for thought

  2. I always saw that scene as one of strength for Leia. Even though she’s found herself in a terrible position, she remains watchful – she knows who is in the room and potential exit strategies – and ready to seize any opportunities. She uses her intelligence, her strategic abilities, and, when the moment comes, her physical toughness. I hope that if my baby girl ever decides to go out dressed as slave Leia, she also has the strength, intelligence, resilience, and toughness to go along with it… and that she always has an exit strategy. Thought provoking post! #ftmob

  3. Love your explanation of why Leia had no clothes on, & your daughter’s subsequent comments of when Leia chose to wear something for herself is really sweet.

    I’m not much a Star Wars fan, and not seen them since I was a child, so not really thought about it. I agree that the Vader/Leia scene here does very much ignore the reasons she was in that outfit, though it is funny as long as you don’t look at it too deeply.

    Interestingly, though, I would say that, whilst we tend to think of women being forced to wear revealing outfits as a typical control and subjugation of women, outside of exploitation in the sex trade, I don’t think it is. I would say that men who are controlling and dominating of women more typically try to control their clothing by making it very conservative and unappealing.

    I think it is difficult in respect of children and how much you should intervene. I don’t like to see young children in revealing clothing, as it just looks wrong – it looks like they are trying to be grown up too soon. I think that is easily solved though, as you are always the person buying their clothes when they are young. For teenagers, I think probably the answer really is that it is not what they wear that matters, so much as why they wear it and how it affects their behaviour. The emphasis should be on encouraging both boys and girls to have healthy attitudes about what should influence how you dress and what it is okay to infer from how someone dresses (which is not very much, as it’s their business). I think potentially the more fuss and restrictions people make about what teenagers are wearing, the worse the problem becomes – because that just reinforces the idea that certain clothing is sexual and DOES give people a right to treat you a certain way. #ftmob

  4. I thought the way you explained ‘slave Leia’ to your daughter was perfect and I do love her imaginative play with the Star Wars figures and telling Jabba off for taking Leia’s clothes away. This is such a thought-provoking post and certainly something that I will have to think about one day with my two girls. I agree with you that ultimately once our daughters become young women it should be their choice what they wear, but I also believe that we need to teach them too about the power that comes with that choice and how they may be perceived by others too. Not that they should dress to please others but more as awareness. I’m still a long way off thinking about it properly though – my two are still little enough to be quite happy with the clothes I pick out for them! Thanks for linking up to #ftmob 🙂

  5. Pingback: What's Up Wednesdays: Stay At Home » Beyond the Rhetoric
  6. I love the way you explained ‘slave Leia’. As someone who has never been a Star Wars fan (I know, I’m sorry – I’ll pay for my sins one day, my husband is just as appalled as you!) I’d never really put much thought into it, however reading this has really got me. I want my own daughter to grow up to feel confident and proud in her ability to be whatever she wants to be AND her sexuality. If she wants to put make up on and go out wearing something skimpy, then that is not an issue with me provided it is ‘appropriate’ for her age, the location she is going and the task at hand. I want her to use fashion as a form of self expression – a self she shouldn’t have to change for the Jabbas of the world or her male counterparts.

  7. I totally agree with the previous two comments. This is a thought-provoking post, and maybe as parents our instinct is to control and protect, but kids also need to make their own decisions. The important thing is for them to be well-informed and aware in order to make intelligent decisions. Visiting from the Weekend Blog Share.

Leave a Reply