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How Michelle Yeoh has redefined the meaning of superhero, and what this means for me as a mom

How Michelle Yeoh has redefined the meaning of superhero, and what this means for me as a mom

Michelle Yeoh recently made history, becoming the first Asian-identifying woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress. In her acceptance speech, she acknowledged mothers, her own and ours, calling them the true superheroes.

I am a mom and my own mother calls me “Superwoman”, a moniker that didn’t empower me because trying to balance motherhood and the rest of my life has never felt easy. That being said, the sheer chaos surrounding Michelle Yeoh’s character in Everything Everywhere All at Once is thankfully fantastical and irreproducible, considering that I couldn’t write this with hot dog fingers.

Away from the metaverse, life as a mom can be difficult and stressful. Going further, burnout is a system problem related to chronic work stress, and the concept has been applied to parenting, with parental burnout characterized by physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion affecting two out of three mothers in the US. In this context, Yeoh’s portrayal of a superhero is relatable as it conveys the importance of a loving and kind support system to create more order and calm in life.

Due to where I live, and because I have relocated numerous times, my friends and family are scattered across the country. I know that I am loved as a human and as a Professor at an Ivy League institution in my roles as mother, physician, and teacher, but the emotional and physical support available to me is limited for logistical reasons.

Time is restricted for us all, and while I have been stably living in the same state for more than 15 years, the majority of my time has been dedicated to my children (one of whom had years of medical interventions) and my career as a physician.

Yeoh’s character in Everything Everywhere All at Once is an immigrant mother with the attached choices, dissatisfactions, and dreams; and yet she has the power to change reality. Both in the movie, and in her winning of the Award, Yeoh had a support network. She could not and cannot do it alone.

Moms are superheroes when we allow ourselves to rely on others, including our children, to build with them. Moms can’t do it all, and one superhero power is to accept or reach out for help. This is easier said than done, but the stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the partial shutdown of healthcare and schools brings forward the realization that we all need each other.

As a mom, I sometimes navigate the most difficult times alone, afraid that I’ll be less able to fend for myself by accepting help because a certain amount of self-sufficiency is laudable. In hindsight, I overvalued mythical rugged individualism.

Yeoh’s historic Oscar win, and the story of Everything Everywhere All at Once, is a moving and visually stunning reminder that we can create our own superheroes, and they should not work alone. There is a loneliness to motherhood that small steps can overcome. Superheroes may seem to do it all alone, but even superheroes have sidekicks. Yeoh had help both as an actress and in her role as immigrant mother turned superhero. I hope her call to mothers as superheroes will make the realities of motherhood better seen and heard.

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