Though Lynda Carter does look older today than she did 25 years ago on Wonder Woman, she remains quite a celestial goddess over the age of 50. With starring roles in Sky High and the remake of The Dukes of Hazzard, opening within a week of each other, she's even still pulling off superhuman Hollywood feats. Though she's been mostly out of circulation for years, her roles in both films were specially designed for her since she remains, all these years later, the ultimate icon of female empowerment.
In Sky High, Carter plays Principal Powers, the overlord of kindness to a high school for kids with special talents. Her character is actually a comet who transforms into human form to discipline the kids. For director Mike Mitchell, who idolized Carter's Wonder Woman during his formative years, there was only one choice for the role. And when he got to meet her, Mitchell was impressed by the beauty she still possesses. "She looks really good," he says. "She's really hot."
Dukes director Jay Chandrasekhar, for whom Carter made a cameo in his spoof, Super Troopers, cooked up the part of a Duke family friend who ends up attracting the affections of Boss Hogg. In the first draft of the script, the role was a Dolly Parton type, but Chandrasekhar changed it to a beautiful 50-something woman just so Carter could play it. "You could have said 40-something," Carter says she retorted before jumping at the chance.
Changing expectations about what a female superhero should be like has been Carter's game since the start, when she first donned Wonder Woman's signature star-spangled bodysuit in 1976. The costume might have been skimpy and her five-foot, nine-inch figure carefully toned, but there was nothing wimpy about the character. Carter, a former beauty queen from Arizona, encourages women to see the symbolism in a heroine like Wonder Woman rather than the Amazon physique. "It is the goddess within; that's what really counts. That's why you care about Wonder Woman. It's that archetype '- how women just juggle a thousand things," she says.
Carter wishes not to politicize the bodies of female superheroes too much. She doesn't want to delve into the repercussions of those picture-perfect forms on young women and on society as a whole. She knows how hard it is to play the role of a superhero, and she wants to give credit to the fit women who display their bodies in spandex costumes. "These girls work out like crazy just because they don't want to embarrass themselves on camera," she says. "I did."
During the three years her show was on, Carter says she felt enormous pressure to look great. "I hardly ate anything when I was doing that show," she admits. "You battle it all your life, trying to be an image that other people see you as. And it's not easy getting older and having Wonder Woman as your image. If you're up 10 pounds..."
Role Models for Today
A Washingtonian, Carter points to Hillary Clinton as a more apt role model than super-trim actresses. "She raised the bar," Carter says. "You'll get your pound of flesh [from her], and those people from New York are getting five pounds. She works her tail off, and she really wants to make the country better."
For a fictional superhero role model, Carter turns to Jennifer Garner. Not Garner as Elektra mind you, but as a CIA agent on Alias. "I think her TV show is good," Carter notes. "She's got a great sense of comic timing and [is] very appealing."
Even though she has no suit to fit into anymore, Carter still battles with her body the way most women do. "I've got my skinny clothes, my fat clothes and all in between. I just do the best I can," she says. "I try to do what's healthy for my heart, what's healthy for my skin, but I still have a pizza."
A Pizza a Day...
The actress has let time give her a healthier perception of her appearance. She recalls a day when she wore a dress that made her feel fat. Later, she came across a photo of herself in that dress and was shocked to see how flattering it actually was on her. It taught her that her own feelings of self worth were more powerful than anyone else's view of her. "If you live your life trying to live up to an image that someone else creates for you, you'll be unhappy because you begin to think that that's who you are, that that's all that people love about you," she says.
While Carter agrees it's good for young women to embrace an active lifestyle and eat healthily, she urges them to do so for the health benefits rather than the superficial ones. "You're doing it for what's going on inside your heart, your lungs," she says. "I'm much happier in my body now than I was, and it's not nearly as nice."
As to who will play the next Wonder Woman in the Joss Whedon-directed movie that's in the works, Carter doesn't know details. "What I hope for her is that she connects, that she gets that you can't play a superhero," she says. The important thing about playing a superhero, she cautions, is that "you have to play the human being."