For a long, long time I’ve planned to write about how Korra has been so important to me in the past few years. In my senior year of high school— in this huge transitional part of my life— there was suddenly this amazing show about a fit, haughty, headstrong girl that was taking her world by storm with talent and enthusiasm, emerging from this sheltered existence that had been built around her needs and tailored to the advancement of her excellence.
As anyone would, I began to see parts of myself in Korra: the stubbornness, the almost playful aggression, the sheer force with which she presented herself, and (perhaps the most refreshing and novel of her traits) a physique to match her personality. For years I had been self-conscious of my broad shoulders and pronounced biceps, thinking the traits (especially in conjunction with my cold, aggressive demeanor) rough and brutish and even unfeminine and then, almost out of the blue, came this hot-tempered, athletically-built girl that was just so womanly.
For the first time in my life, I was truly proud to look and be way I am. No longer was I sheltered behind this concept that a powerful woman cannot both look and be realistically strong.
As I made the transition from high school to college, however, I began to relate to Korra on a more profound level. With my move across the country and the rapid onset of the strange, unfamiliar environment came a tug that demanded more and more of my mental faculty and, for about three semesters, I struggled to maintain my composure in the wake of a difficult course load and the difficult, but fruitful emergence of my first serious romantic relationship. I had my first panic attack in the Fall of 2012, and suffered another only a few months later in February 2013. Despite the hardship of these experiences, though, and the fact that they had taken something out of me, I felt like they compounded my resilience and I could move on, just like Korra had done after her confrontations with Amon, Tarrlok, and Vaatu. After all, she was strong, and I was strong, too, right?
Then, earlier this year, I decided to get an IUD (a small, t-shaped contraceptive device that is placed in the uterus and effective for about 10 years). The procedure is typically routine, and involves some minor pain and a quick recovery, with some increased menstrual bleeding and cramping in the following months. But, for reasons that are still not completely known, the pain medication I was prescribed prior to the procedure did not work: something I didn’t realize until I was writhing in agony on the procedure table and throwing up my breakfast. I was shaking and in the most intense pain of my life for the better part of an hour before the nurse relented and gave me a medication that is typically used to reduce labor pain.
The experience in and of itself was traumatic and difficult, but what came to be the most agonizing part of the ordeal was the anxiety and stress that seemed to follow me everywhere I went: I returned to school a week later, and promptly suffered yet another panic attack right before I started my first post-procedure menstrual cycle. The pattern continued throughout the semester, and I came to expect a prolonged state of panic at that hated time every single month. Every cramp echoed my experience at the hospital in the back of my mind, and portended another inevitable episode of anxiety and fear that I could do nothing to prevent. I felt powerless, and pathetic, and weak, and my expectation of misery only compounded the effects further.
Seeing Korra undergo a traumatic experience when she is inoculated with the Red Lotus venom and, despite her resilience and strength and the fact that she’s the goddamned Avatar, continue to be quite literally crippled and haunted by it long after, finally solidified an aspect of exactly how my experience has and continues to make me feel. Every aspect of Korra’s behavior; every step of her physical recovery that is covered in “Korra Alone” is so just so real and poignant—everything from her limited interaction with friends, to her frustration in herself manifesting as impatience and frustration with the people around her, to the pace of her physical recovery not matching that of her emotional recovery, to the sensation of feeling like she has let down or disappointed the people who love and depend on her, to her desire to escape a reminder of a time when she felt powerless to her own fate—everything is just so, so real.
In 22 minutes, “Korra Alone” has given me just as much peace and revelation as to exactly what happened to me as medication and counseling have, and that’s why this show is so important: whatever a viewer is going or has gone through, they can relate to someone in this whimsical and yet so very real universe that Mike and Bryan have brought to life. Thank you so, so much, Bryke, for giving me this peace and understanding. Thank you for giving all of us a character that reminds us that even the best of us can hurt, and might not bounce back right away. Thank you for making Korra a realistic amalgam of strength and weakness; of power and powerlessness; of confidence and insecurity, and, most of all, of growth, development, and the potential to eventually reach peace and balance.