Badass. A word that is frequently misused in our ever-evolving (or disintegrating, depending on your perspective) vocabulary. Often mistaken for bitch, we look to characters like Regina George and think, “what a badass,” when the truth is, Regina is not the reigning badass of the film. In the world of Mean Girls, Janice Ian is the badass (and for more reasons than one).
Let it be known: this piece is not meant as a crucifixion or deconstruction of Regina George or Mean Girls. Rather, it’s intended to present examples of real fictional badasses who encompass the various ways one can be a badass. Or, in the simplest terms: one who lives for themselves, for others, and for the greater good of at least one part of the world.
Being a badass-in-training, I’m not qualified to tell others how to reach top-level badass-dom on my own. But what I can do is look back to some of the strongest women in the 90s for a badass inspiration-palooza. Let them guide you, young grasshopper, on the road to being the biggest ass of all the bads.
1. Buffy Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Learn how systems in the world use and abuse you, and then stand against them. The Watchers Council of the Buffyverse may seem like an army of stuffy intellectuals focused on arming the Slayer with the knowledge and information that she needs to defeat the forces of darkness. However it does not take long for this authority figure to make its darker side known by testing Buffy against her will (nearly getting her and her mother killed), and by withholding information on season 5’s big bad (among many other shady acts).
Buffy, like most young people, accepts that she has to listen to authority. It is only after she finds her worth, and begins to understand her importance in this system (i.e. Watchers can’t slay without the Slayer), that she is able to break free. Life, particularly the lives of the young, can feel dominated by authority figures and systems from all angles. It’s up to you to examine said systems and learn how to best function outside of them, because systems only benefit those behind the wheel.
Buffy’s creator, Joss Whedon, creates a world in which nearly every system of authority is corrupt or useless — be it high school, law enforcement, or the United States’ government. It can certainly be taken as a carefully crafted note to viewers to always question the world around them. Accepting authority for authority’s sake won’t help you, and it certainly never helped Buffy.
2. Prue Halliwell, Charmed.
Protect the people around you. There are few things more badass than being the person everyone knows they can turn to — and not for attention or for pats on the back either. Take Charmed’s eldest Halliwell sister, Prue. She protects her younger siblings, Piper and Phoebe, as well as the citizens of her city, because she knows that she possesses the power to do so. The same can be said for all of us. While we don’t have the power to throw baddies across the room with a simple flick of the wrist, we each have the power to do something.
We have the power to compliment someone who may not be feeling quite so confident. We have the power to be an ear when our friends need to spill their guts, and we have the power to volunteer and help a community outside of our own. These actions may not naturally be lent to protection so much as kindness, but I’d argue against that point. Giving to others, going where you’re needed, and making sacrifices, is, in a way, protecting others from the shitty curveballs that life throws at us.
Prue faced her own set of curveballs dealing with her professional career, playing the role of mother to her sisters, managing some semblance of a love life, and being targeted specifically by almost every villain in Charmed’s first season. Magic, and being a true badass, are the only explanations for how she balanced all the above, and still managed to turn out a 90s-chic ensemble every episode.
3. Sailor Moon, Sailor Moon.
Don’t underestimate the power of love. I’m not talking about one-on-one, I-want-to-date-you, maybe-have-some-kids, buy-a-house, wig-out-over-mortgage-payments, adopt-a-cat-and-dog, grow-old-together kind of love. I’m talking about love in general.
In a world full of energy sucking, heart-stealing demons, Sailor Moon often relied on the power of love to vanquish her foes. The power of love and healing are central to her attacks, curing humans that had been transformed into terrible creatures, as well as conquering the big evil bosses. She never loses because her heart is filled with love — love for life, her friends, her (uncomfortably older) boyfriend, and the world.
When you’re full of love you’ll never lose to someone full of anger and hate. They might make you stumble, but your love will help you get right back up, while their emotions — like a fire — will eventually burn out.
4. Daria Morgendorffer, Daria.
Shrug off the negative opinions of others. This may sound impossible, especially in high school, when negativity is at an all-time high. But the truth is opinions of you can only really hurt you if the person is paying your bills. Otherwise, it’s just their opinion — an opinion formed about you without the vast knowledge of self that you’ve accumulated through living. There’s really no one qualified to know you more than you.
On her first day in her new school, Daria is labelled a weirdo, while her sister Quinn is immediately embraced as a popular girl. Any pain or shame that this new position in the high school hierarchy should have caused Daria was lost on her, because she pretty much doesn’t care.
She lives from joke to joke, and uncomfortable family moment to uncomfortable family moment, all without compromising her dry, unyielding cynicism and intellect about the mess of a society around her. It may seem easy to live this way — immune to the thoughts of others — when you’re a cartoon, but this way of life is not just for cartoons. It’s only hard to not care what others think because we make it hard. Really. Not caring is as easy as pulling a Daria, and consciously deciding not to care. It’s that simple. When you do this, you’ll be a badass, no matter what the other kids say. And deep down, they’ll know it too.