One Big Question: What Makes You Feel Powerful?
I recently started a new job (lol hi everyone), and with that came the inevitable question: what are you going to wear on your first day? That’s not even close to the most pressing matter at hand — the dress I picked out seemed too stuffy, the blazer and jeans combo I wore felt a little on the casual side, and who cares, I got my period and bled everywhere anyway. What the people should really be asking is, “How are you going to pump yourself up? How will you ensure that you’re going to walk in with your head held high? What song are you going to listen to?”
(At least, that’s what Haley asked.)
As always, I settled on Beyoncé — fuck you, pay me, the perfect mix of forthright feminism and high-tempo jams — and strode in grinning, yes, ok, slightly because I was at the New York Times but also because I genuinely thought to myself, “I got this.”
It’s not just the pump-up: it’s a harnessing of dominance, of invincibility, of strength. I put on Beyoncé because I wanted to feel the way she does: powerful. (I recently told my boyfriend I listen to the theme from Veep when I was to feel “powerful and mean;” he replied, “But you’re always powerful and mean?”) I get this way whenever I walk home late at night, completely unafraid, whenever I can grab the check before a friend does, whenever I meet someone who’s intimidated by me and I let them sweat for the smallest second before I crack a smile and a joke, whenever I wear slacks and heels. They’re not daily acts, but their rarity makes them work, assorted power-ups in my back pocket whenever I need a lift.
So here’s my one big question for this month: what makes you feel powerful?
I feel the most powerful when I order dressing on the side at a restaurant and don’t feel the need to apologize for being uptight.
I feel most powerful when no one knows where I am and I can do whatever I want without asking anyone. Usually this is on a run, especially if I am running around a really nice neighborhood and listening to something that makes me feel like my large ass is something to be proud of, like it is a threat to anyone in its path. I can get to feeling very powerful thinking about my life on these runs. I write things in my head and despite never actually doing it, am always convinced that as soon as I get home I will type it up and will be a masterpiece.
On these runs I am not beholden to anyone. I forget that anyone but me exists. In reality I am an overweight and possibly dying woman dragging herself down the street running and walking in one-minute intervals while her infant son and partner wait for her at home. When I walk in the door, inevitably one of them will ask me where I ran, which path I took, how my run was. “Oh it was fine. Good. Hard. I don’t know,” I’ll say. I will evade the question of where I ran. I just ran up and down some streets, tried to find blocks I’d never been on, but part of feeling powerful is feeling like I can keep this to myself, not share it with or explain it to anyone. Which I have now ruined by answering this question, so thank you.
Okay, so there are two different things here. First, what do I do to pump myself up? I’ve got a few songs that do the trick: Outkast’s “BOB,” Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” Janelle Monae’s “Q.U.E.E.N.,” Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” (don’t judge me). One time I went bowling and kept getting strikes because “Uptown Funk” was stuck in my head.
Other than music, it’s hard to pinpoint a fail-safe way to feel powerful. Sometimes I’ll put on a great outfit and feel incredible, and sometimes I’ll wear the same outfit and feel self-conscious. Sometimes I’ll publish something and feel accomplished and other times it’s not enough. I’ll exercise and either feel jacked or schlumpy. Mainly, I just try to hold onto the feeling when it appears and get as much done as possible.
As for what I do when I feel pumped up, I have sex. Actually that works to get myself pumped up too. *shruggie*
I pretend to be a vampire (Twilight-rules vampire) who is working at this human job purely for my own amusement, and that at any moment I COULD smile slightly, lean into my antagonist, and say “Six hundred years ago I would have ripped your throat out in the street for daring to look at me in the eyes.” That exact sentence. And that is how I make myself feel powerful when I need to. Also, I lift weights.
I feel most powerful while reading the tarot by the light of a full moon.
I feel most powerful after I’ve made a big decision. I’m very indecisive and calculating, so once I’ve finally pushed whatever Big Red Button I have to push, it feels like ice cream cake and money. I feel the captain of my ship, the maker of my own destiny, the Nicole Scherzinger of my Pussycat Dolls, etc.
In general, an adventure or science fiction or superhero movie soundtrack really puts me in the mood to fight hordes of aliens or or finish a big article or make spontaneous decisions that I then plan to exacting extremes. Star Trek, a few key Marvel movies (they’re too action-y now to have as much fun with the soundtracks), Snowpiercer, Gravity, Sherlock. The Pacific Rim Soundtrack is one of my go-tos, and when I interviewed the composer of the soundtrack, I was so nervous that I had to listen to the soundtrack beforehand. First the slow stuff, because I could hear my heart beating in my ears. And then the theme, to pump me up and remind me how my friends had told me I have a special power to make the awkwardness melt away from most situations. I didn’t have a panic attack and I made him laugh, so it worked!
Crop top, tights, Prince. Alternately: a brisk walk in good weather while listening to Robyn.
The engineer needing me for a job said, Where are you from?, as an opening statement, as if that made sense. I was new and it was in front of everyone, so I just answered him and he nodded. I sat at my desk, after blinking too much. I put on my headphones and here are the songs that got me through:
1. “33” by Mala Rodríguez because I needed a Valkyrie to avenge me, and I’ve never heard a woman spit Spanish as if she’s razing the Earth with it. The way she barks Roto! hisses at my scrape in sympathy.
2. Next: I listened to half of Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth,” before I needed to switch because I’m a robot and I can’t cry where people can see.
3. Then: His lyrics ache lovely, but I wasn’t listening to the words in Juan Pablo Villa’s “Ya Me Voy a Morir a Los Desiertos.” I’m not interested in men’s words. I was waiting for minute five when he starts wailing. Wiki tells me it’s his actual voice, looped, amplified through some object, but whatever it is, it raises the hairs on the neck. All you need to know, it sounds like a person screaming, holding out note after note far longer than a human should.
4. Not a song but a footnote: I wear pointed boots when I can anticipate those kinds of days. My Tibi boots are the color of crocodile skin and vomit. Very Florida gothic, a reminder of home. Wars of attrition are fought like this, in pointed boots and pointed looks. When it’s warmer, I’ll wear dangly earrings and flip flops. Things that make an impact when I move. Little reminders and warnings for whenever it happens next: if not me, who?
Turning the key in the lock of my own apartment.
Curling my hair and it doesn’t look electrocuted/Toddlers in Tiaras-y.
A thing about me is I only listen to like five bands, mostly involving the voices of yearning, strong women, and I have a playlist of my favorites entitled “TRIUMPH” in case anybody ever wants to hear it.
Making dinner and only dirty-ing one pan.
Knitting a sweater.
Wearing a sweater I knitted.
And then someone is like “Cute sweater! Where did you buy it?” and I get to tell them.
Leaving the party at the right time.
Reading something smart or moving by a friend.
It recently came to my attention that my most expensive possessions are, in order, my fancy vacuum, my Gameboy 3DS, and my vibrator; so, those.
I feel most powerful when running (specifically whilst blasting Nicki Minaj in my headphones). Not for any Nike-women-aspirational-hashtaggy feeling, but for the exact opposite reasons in that I get to be so “unfeminine” for an hour of my day. For better or worse, running allows me some reprieve from the weight of being a woman/all that it carries/self-objectification via Instagram etc. etc. to just be a human with arms and legs moving fast. I’m usually a sweaty blob with a wedgie but it is the only time that I feel physically strong and capable of anything.
This kind of unabashed confidence is the only kind I feel I’ve truly earned through years of practice, I’m still working on harnessing it in other areas of my life, which could still use a little Minaj-ing.
This feels crazy to admit, but I feel most powerful when I accomplish boring chores. The things I never used to do, the things that make me feel like a grown-up who knows how to take care of herself and to get what she wants. It’s the picking-up-of-the-dry-cleaning or the calling-the-gyno-to-make-an-appointment that somehow makes me feel the MOST productive and, at the same time, strangely full of power. I don’t really know how this works into “getting pumped up” for a big event. Is there some sort of anthem about setting up your 401k?
Red lipstick and Nicki Minaj and clothes that I love. I consistently try to keep myself feeling like (*Ilana Glazer voice*) a badass bitch who can take over the world. I also believe in inspirational quotes and talking positively to yourself, so sometimes I’ll jot down notes on my phone. I keep a white board in my room for them too, because it can be so easy for me to enter a cycle of perpetual self-doubt, and honestly I don’t have time for it. Right now it says “Great people do things before they’re ready” (Amy Poehler) and “Why not you?” (the Mindy Kaling quote about never asking “why me?”). Then I put on red lipstick and listen to Nicki and at that point I feel powerful enough to kill all men.
Jazmine Hughes is some bitch.