Jessica Jones spends a lot of time trying to convince others, especially herself, that she’s strong enough. The audience understands early on that Jones, played by Krysten Ritter, feels confident in her physical strength. Jones relies on this strength to take over when she feels her mental strength falter. When Jessica becomes aware that her nemesis Kilgrave (played by David Tennant) has returned, her powerful legs carry her fast and far as she weaves through the streets of New York — running from a truth she doesn’t want to be real.
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I desire physical strength. I always have. On occasion I’ll try a kickboxing tutorial on YouTube and follow along as the instructor punches or kicks the air. Their moves are purposeful, they are filled with intention and energy. My punches look flimsy, they feel weak. This embarrasses me.
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As the series progressed, I imagined what it would be like to have that kind of superhuman physical strength. I thought about how good it would feel. I thought about the fear I would let go of, the anxiety I would let melt away. Still, all strength has its limitations. If season 1 of Jessica Jones tells us anything it is this.
Jessica’s physical strength couldn’t protect her from everything. It couldn’t protect Jessica from having to confront and deal with her past, her feelings, or from being vulnerable in the presence of others. It could not protect her or those she cares for from harm, death, or the ache of loss.
Jones uses her physical strength to distance, that much is obvious. It’s a workaround to having to tell people not to waste their time, to move onto someone easier to deal with, someone kinder, gentler, not as fucked.
“You can keep denying it or do something about it.” — Jessica Jones (Season 1, Episode 1)
Being close with someone scares me. I don’t want people to know my weaknesses, hell I don’t even want them to know my strengths. I don’t want people to have expectations of me because I’m afraid that in the end, I’ll just end up disappointing them. I’m much more comfortable running away.
It’s hard to forgive your past self. What if I wasn’t nice? What if I was a bad friend? What if I made decisions that this Andrea, the one living in 2015, would never dream of making? How do you reconcile that? It’s not easy. It hurts. It is painful and it’s a pain you live with every day. I hurt people and I hurt them because I was insecure, because I was scared, because I hated being vulnerable, so I did everything I could to pretend I wasn’t. I avoided every call from every friend until the calls stopped coming.
Vulnerability is something I can talk about at length. I can tell you why it is objectively a good thing. I can tell you why asking for help tends to make life easier, I can cite research, books, and make recommendations for how to put it into practice. Doing it myself? Well, that’s something different.
At the end of the first season of Jessica Jones we hear Jessica in a rare state of vulnerability and honesty. If she can act the part, if she can persuade just enough people to believe she is a hero, maybe she will begin to believe it herself.
For years I told myself I didn’t need anyone or anything. I didn’t need compassion. I didn’t need people to be nice. I didn’t need to eat that breakfast, that lunch, that dinner. I didn’t need to call my friends, try that hard, be that accountable. I wanted none of it. If I tried hard enough, if I was worth anything at all than nothing could hurt me — not the death of my dad, not the loss of my friends, not the creepy dude at the gym. None of it would bother me. Until it did.
Being vulnerable is hard work. Feeling and admitting you feel is equally difficult. The character of Jessica Jones knows she’s vulnerable, she has known pain, almost unimaginable and devastating emotional and physical pain. Still, she shows up. It’s not always pretty, hell it’s not even always ethically conscionable, but she’s there. This is the real battle.
To show up even when you know you are risking it all, even when every fiber of your body tells you to hide, to run, to disappear. To allow yourself to be emotionally compromised, to love and be loved — that takes strength.