Becoming My Own Superhero

Admittedly, I’ve come late to the superhero game. I didn’t really, truly get into The Avengers until the Marvel movie universe made everyone love superheroes (admit it: Captain America is dreamy). Growing up, I had a general awareness of Batman, Superman, and all the other biggies, and I do remember liking Superfriends (I always very specifically liked Jayna of the Wonder Twins). But in general, that whole world just wasn’t my thing.

However, for a few very important and formative years of my childhood, She-Ra was a huge influence. She had long, blonde hair like I did, and I loved her. She was He-Man’s twin sister, but I thought she was superior to him in every possible way. Her castle was better. Her sword was better. Her hair was way better. She was super-strong and super-fast and super-everything, even if her skirt was super-short. I saved my allowance and Christmas and birthday money for what felt like an eternity to buy the Crystal Castle playset. I even subscribed to The She-Ra Magazine. I so, so wanted to be like She-Ra. I watched that show religiously and it looms so large in my memory that I was shocked to learn as an adult that it only ran for four years (two original seasons and two years in reruns). She was the first female character I remember seeing on TV who was, as I would learn to say much later in my life, a total badass.

Fast forward about 25 years. As the mom of a daughter I’m trying to raise to be empowered and awesome, I am always on the lookout for great examples of amazing women to share with her, whether they’re fact or fiction. Intrigued by the story behind perhaps the most famous female superhero of all, I read The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. It’s an absolutely fascinating book, and in reading about William Moulton Marston’s mission to make the world feminist, I became totally obsessed with Wonder Woman.

I’d hardly spared her a thought before; she seemed so alone out there in a sea of muscled superdudes, and I had always perceived her as someone’s lame attempt to make a stereotypical male fantasy also appeal to girls. Learning the story–that she was created to be a feminist icon and messenger–changed everything. Wonder Woman was girl power personified. Her strength comes from being an independent woman! How did this stuff ever fly in WWII America? I don’t know and I don’t care. I love her.

Like She-Ra before her, Wonder Woman arrived in my life at the right time. She has inspired me to use my own strength. About a year ago, not too long after reading the book, I was getting ready for a really difficult meeting with a client who was being completely unreasonable and rude to my team. It was going to be a tough conversation with someone I knew to be condescending and confrontational, with critical business implications. I looked at my closet that morning and my eyes lit upon a dress that I wear with a tight belt at the waist, and knee-high boots.

That’s my Wonder Woman belt, I thought, and those are my Wonder Woman boots. I am Wonder Woman. I am going to fight for justice! And I’m going to win!

Melodramatic? Sure. (Melodrama is one of my superpowers.) But once I got that thought in my head, I couldn’t get it out. I went into that meeting with more confidence than I think I’ve ever had. I was calm. I was prepared. I was not going to take any crap from anybody. When the (incidentally, male) client started to get belligerent, I thought, What would Wonder Woman do? Wonder Woman would not apologize if she knew she was right. She wouldn’t cave against someone or something she knew was wrong. Wonder Woman would stand up for the truth! So I did, too. I never felt better about my performance in a work situation before or since.

I’ve always responded to and respected real-life female role models. But I think even, and perhaps especially, as an adult, badass female fictional characters have a lot to teach us, too. When it comes to fighting for what we believe in, going all-in, kicking butt, and taking names, superheroes are great examples.

One study showed that adopting a superhero pose (think fists on his hips, gazing into the distance, cape flapping in the breeze) before a job interview made candidates more likely to get hired. So it may seem kind of silly, but it’s also true: Channeling our inner superheroes makes us more likely to be awesome. (I do the superhero pose before potentially difficult meetings or big presentations, too. Try it. It works.)

My favorite supergirl-power t-shirt. Photo: Jessie Atchison
My favorite supergirl-power t-shirt. Photo: Jessie Atchison

And of course, sometimes clothes do make the superhero–this is why they have costumes. I find that what I wear, and how I feel when I wear it, makes a big difference in how I tackle the day. My favorite t-shirt makes me feel like I can do anything because it has a whole host of strong, smart, sensational female characters on it (including, of course, She-Ra and Wonder Woman). They’re like my Squad.

My daughter, I think, finds my obsession with Wonder Woman charming. She doesn’t quite “get it” yet. She’s lucky to be growing up in a time when more and more strong female characters are taking the lead, and she doesn’t necessarily realize that we’re still playing catch-up. She doesn’t yet know about all the heroines who paved the way to the characters she sees today, and I don’t think she’s had the same transforming moment I had when I was her age watching She-Ra, or years later when I rediscovered Wonder Woman (or found Agent Carter, or Rey). I always knew girls could be the strongest, the fastest, the best, just as much as boys! But as a grown woman inching ever-closer to 40, I’ve remembered that hey, I’m a girl. That means I can be the best, too. And if I can be the best, my daughter can be the best. Maybe one day she’ll want to be Wonder Woman, and I can be her mother, Queen Hippolyta.

Sounds great to me. But in the meantime, I’m keeping my belt. And my boots.

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