Losing Your Self-Worth to a Suit

"Gotta Impress Mr. Stark.." | Art by mporkyp. Used with permission.

When Tony Stark gives Peter Parker an upgraded suit and recruits him for the Avengers’ Civil War, Peter is ecstatic, thinking he’s about to become a member of the team. But Tony has other plans. Although he lets Peter keep the suit, Tony sends Peter back to his old, ordinary life in Queens, telling the super-teen that he’ll call him when there’s a new mission.

That call never comes, and Peter grows increasingly frustrated. Isn’t the guy who snatched Captain America’s shield ready for more challenging tasks than giving directions to old ladies? “Can’t you just be a friendly, neighbourhood Spider-Man?” Tony suggests when Peter seeks out more dangerous adventures.

But in the course of protecting his neighbourhood, Peter finds a gang of arms dealers selling weapons enhanced with remnant Chitauri parts, leftover Ultron tech, and other exotic wreckage. Although he tells Tony about the threat, Peter is not content to sit on the sidelines and decides to investigate for himself.

Peter is everything you’d expect from a teenaged superhero—he’s gifted, but also clumsy, inexperienced, and still learning that actions have consequences. On top of that, he’s enthralled with his new suit. Thinking the suit holds the key to being a better superhero, Peter disables the “Training Wheels Protocol” Tony added to the software, and suddenly he’s got a mind-blowing amount of tech at his disposal (though he has no idea how to use it).

Wanting to be worthy of the Avengers, Peter relied on his suit to make him a hero and ended up losing confidence in himself.

When I thought about Peter’s attachment to his suit, I realized that most people rely on some kind of “super-suit” to create a “better” version of themselves, to function in areas where they feel deficient. I’ve seen people use fashion, popular opinion, relationships, and more to boost their sense of self-worth and provide abilities they think they can’t get from another source.

The trouble with super-suits is that if you rely on them too much, you forget how to function without them.

When Peter’s mistakes nearly kill a ferry full of people, he realizes his suit isn’t enough to make him a hero. By then, he’s so attached to it that he thinks it defines his identity as Spider-Man. When Tony takes away the suit, Peter pleads, “I’m nothing without this suit!” But Tony replies, “If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it.”

Of all people, Peter thought Tony would understand the importance of a super-suit. In reality, Tony knows the danger of one. He’s been down the path Peter is starting to walk, and he knows what happens when a suit’s powers are used without accountability. “I wanted you to be better,” Tony responds when Peter says he just wanted to be like him. Tony knows he’s not a perfect hero, and like any good mentor, he wants Peter to become a better version of Iron Man.

Once I started asking myself what kind of “Spidey suits” people wear in real life, I had to turn the question back on myself: “What am I relying on too much?” The answer I discovered is, success.

“Minor Upgrade” by mporkyp (mporkyp.deviantart.com).

Throughout my life, my “superpower” has always been my mind. I consistently excelled in school, and over time, I saw my grades as the measure of my intelligence, instead of a tool to express my abilities. When I entered the workforce, I started using job reviews in much the same way. Those measures of success dictated my sense of worth.

For a long time, I didn’t realize how much insecurity I was hiding underneath my success. Then, as I grew older, classes got harder and jobs got more demanding. Eventually, I was so preoccupied with achieving a certain standard that I was killing myself—although not as literally as Peter almost did—just to prove my worth.

In Captain America: Civil War, Peter told Tony that he liked “looking out for the little guy.” But in Spider-Man: Homecoming, much of his motivation comes from trying to prove himself to Tony. He’s so eager to prove he is Avenger material that he forgets the reason he became a superhero.

After losing his suit, Peter thinks he can’t be Spider-Man anymore. But when he discovers the identity of the Vulture, the man behind the high-tech weapons, he remembers that the new suit didn’t create Spider-Man. Digging out his homemade costume, he pursues the Vulture, sacrificing his date with the girl of his dreams. Peter nearly dies in the ensuing fight, but succeeds in bringing the Vulture to justice—without high-tech clothes or backup from the Avengers.

Once I started asking myself what kind of “Spidey suits” people wear in real life, I had to turn the question back on myself: “What am I relying on too much?”

I am still tempted to define myself by my performance, but thankfully, I’m no longer as apt to let measurements dictate my self-worth. I’ve learned that the value of an education or a job isn’t in how many gold stars I get; it’s in how I improve as a person. It doesn’t matter if anyone else sees how “successful” I am, because success is not what defines me.

As a Christian, I find my self-worth in Christ. He thought that I was worth creating and dying for, in spite of all the mistakes I’ve made, and his love continues to give me worth every moment of my life. Because God will never leave me or cease to exist, my worth can never disappear, either.

Wanting to be worthy of the Avengers, Peter relied on his suit to make him a hero and ended up losing confidence in himself. But when he couldn’t use his suit anymore, he found that the skills he’d needed had never belonged to the suit at all. The desire to stop villains and rescue the innocent is what drove Peter to face the Vulture alone, and that trait was not something Tony could program into a piece of cloth.

Would your self-worth remain intact if your “Spidey suit” was taken away? If not, maybe it’s time to take it off. Without your suit, you may be just “a friendly, neighbourhood Spider-Man,” but maybe that’s been the best version of you all along.

Caitlin Eha

Caitlin Eha

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect magazine
A published writer and aspiring novelist, Caitlin can usually be found with her head in the clouds and her heart in a faraway land. When she isn’t devouring a new favourite book or feverishly writing one of her own, she enjoys archery, cosplaying, jewelry making, and time with her Lord.
Caitlin Eha