5 Times “Sailor Moon” Taught Me the Difference Between Empowerment and Strength

    If Usagi has taught us anything, it's this: Being vulnerable is not a flaw.

    In 1992, Sailor Moon debuted on Japanese television. Today, the show stands as a classic among shoujo anime. Its themes of friendship, true love, and compassion ring true through the decades, and with a few exceptions, its characters encouraged and inspired young women in the East and West alike. Sailor Moon also succeeded in presenting alternative versions of “empowerment” that didn’t rely on physical strength; the show reminded viewers that all people have weaknesses, and instead of shaming ourselves and others for this “flaw,” we should celebrate it and support one another.

    This message has personal significance for me, as I figured out my own transfeminine identity around the time I became a Sailor Moon fan. Seeing not just a heroic “weak” protagonist, but a team of girls who were allowed to fail and be insecure, helped me process the emotions that accompanied my transition. Below are five times Sailor Moon provided memorable lessons about vulnerability that apply to my own life—and maybe to yours, too.

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    1. Sometimes Your Greatest Weakness Can Also Be Your Greatest Strength

    Throughout the first season of Sailor Moon, Usagi’s perceived cowardice and lack of fighting skill make her the target of frequent jabs from other characters, mostly Luna and Rei. But this is because they don’t understand where Usagi’s real power as Sailor Moon comes from; she’s good at bringing people together, not hurting people—especially not Tuxedo Mask/Endymion/Mamoru, her destined moon lover.

    Because of her championing of love over violence, Usagi ultimately saves Mamoru’s soul from corruption by playing the show’s theme song for him (yes, seriously) in episode 46: “Usagi’s Eternal Wish: A Brand New Life.” Thus restored, Mamoru saves Usagi from Queen Beryl’s subsequent attack, sacrificing his own life in the process. Usagi’s greatest weaknesses—her inability to fight, coupled with her love for Mamoru—turn out to be her greatest assets.

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    2. Empowerment Doesn’t Mean Denying Your True Self

    Having dreamt frequently of Usagi’s death and the destruction of Earth immediately after their wedding, Mamoru dumps Usagi without warning in episode 61: “Usagi Devastated! Mamoru Declares a Breakup.” When the two meet later to fight a hench-monster, Usagi demands an explanation for why he doesn’t love her anymore. Mamoru summons up all the douchebaggery within him (which, judging by his behavior toward Usagi in season one, is a whole lot) and tells her that he doesn’s like “weak women.”

    Usagi leaves thinking she needs to get stronger to win Mamoru’s heart back. She’s mistaken, of course. Mamoru is lying; he never fell out of love with her. Weakness is actually part of Usagi’s essence, and part of why Mamoru loves her. As we later see in episode 71, he even gets a little misty-eyed when seeing Usagi trip and fall while running to him.

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    3. Embracing Anxiety Can Be Beautiful

    Everyone in the group bands together to support Usagi in Episode 71: “Shared Feelings: Usagi and Mamoru in Love Once Again”, as she struggles with her deep love for Mamoru despite his ridiculous reasons for breaking up with her. Jupiter’s line of comfort (which sadly isn’t in the dub) is especially striking: “Worries bring out the beauty in a girl,” she smiles, suggesting that a person without anxiety or fear might be considered less beautiful than someone who embraces weakness and pushes forward. Hearing this nugget of wisdom from the most physically intimidating member of the Senshi speaks volumes about Jupiter’s character, and calls to mind Mako’s own insecurities about her femininity. As someone who worries about performing femininity in a way that looks and feels authentic, it’s nice to hear my hangups might actually “improve” my beauty!

    4. Crying Is Healthy

    In Episode 88: “The Final Battle Between Light and Darkness! Love Sworn to the Future!” Usagi rises up to defeat the season’s Big Bad on her own. Upon seeing this, Chibiusa is struck with remorse at having betrayed her friends after being tricked and corrupted by the Big Bad in previous episodes. Chibiusa begins to weep regretfully into Mamoru’s chest. Once she starts crying, though, the Silver Crystal falls into her hands—where it had been since she absorbed it into her body in the future—and Chibiusa suddenly has enough power to lend a hand in her mother’s fight.

    Crying is often viewed as the ultimate form of weakness. Cis women who cry have their strength and judgment questioned, and are routinely dismissed as “hysterical”; trans women have the fun experience of unlearning years of toxic masculinity which tells them they’re not supposed to cry, even in the face of raging hormones and intense adversity. This is a lesson I’ve personally struggled with—I was intensely relieved after hormone replacement therapy “unlocked” my ability to cry, as my dry face even at my father’s funeral had convinced me that I was emotionally broken. In reality, it’s good to open your heart to grief. In fact, as Chibiusa shows us, it’s often after a good cry that we collect ourselves and find a way through our pain.

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    5. Sometimes We Have to Lean on Others

    In Sailor Moon’s series finale Episode 200: “The Light of Hope: The Final Battle for the Galaxy” Usagi attempts to defeat the Chaos that has corrupted Galaxia, restore the Light of Hope within her, and fulfill every magical girl trope at once. While Usagi shows her strength in this fight, she’s utterly exhausted afterwards. “I’m not that strong,” she says, rejecting Galaxia’s praise and beginning to cry. Once more, the point is made that we’re all entitled to moments of weakness. What’s more, we deserve support and love from those around us—even in the moments after we feel our strongest.

    In Sailor Moon’s final moments, Usagi’s classic monologue returns, informing us that she’s still a “crybaby” and “a little bit of a klutz”—but she’s also Sailor Moon, and she doesn’t have to stop being one to be the other, because weakness and empowerment aren’t mutually exclusive. While I wish that idea had sunk in for me years ago, I’m glad to have had it smack me in the face when I most needed it in my life. Being strong all the time is unrealistic, exhausting, and harmful; I’d rather embrace my weakness and learn to coexist with it.

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