Earlier this week, in one of my first few days at a new job, I overslept.
I woke up to an alarm I had no memory of pressing snooze on, put on the same pants I’d worn the day before, and ran to catch the subway — only to find, of course, that my train wasn’t running. I ended up walking to work and arriving to the office a sweaty mess. In the elevator, when I opened my bag to try and find a hair-tie, everything spilled out onto the floor. As I picked up my things, the elevator door opened to reveal the most put-together woman I’ve ever encountered. She was on a business call, and her poise and professionalism made me feel like I, with my sweat-stains and unwashed face, was under an enormous magnifying glass being studied against her composure.
When jealousy strikes, it strikes hard. For much of our lives – at least, certainly, for all of our early formative years – we are evaluated. Our papers are turned back unrecognizably covered in red ink, our report cards are sent home, our test scores and GPAs start to feel like markers of our identities. As we grow, we’re often in situations where our success is measured off of the successes (and shortcomings) of those around us. We’re advised to put blinders on, to have tunnel vision — to focus on ourselves and not to consider our achievements against anyone else’s —when all the while, we and our peers are being openly measured.
As girls and then as women, we are inundated with images and ideas of how and who we are supposed to be. And so a natural reaction finds us feeling jealousy.
New York Magazine‘s Ann Friedman has a new way of looking at jealousy that’s changing the game for female friendship.
In an article she wrote for The Cut, Friedman posited a reframing of envy. Instead of villainizing other smart, savvy women, she says, “when you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her.” Your proximity to this greatness, Friedman adds, won’t actually shine a light on your flaws, it will improve you.
Friedman’s article makes a strong case for the benefits of befriending the women you feel most intimidated by. Think for a second about the kinds of women you’re likely to feel jealous of. Most often, they’re intimidating because they have an ultra-confidence about them, a way they carry and compose themselves. Being surrounded by someone who walks through the world in confidence and strength, Freidman writes, can actually be useful for your own self-esteem. There are practical, professional benefits to this model as well. You can, as Friedman sees it, sincerely derive joy from the accomplishments of a successful friend because when you belong to a supportive network of high-achieving women – and when you aren’t competing for attention or for connections – individual success is shared success, too. There are several real-life instances of “Shine Theory,” like stories of young female Olympians who, instead of giving in to rampant stereotypes about female friendship and rivalry, helped each other even if it meant risking the gold.
Friedman refers to her own friendship with Aminatou Sow, with whom she co-hosts the incredible feminist podcast “Call Your Girlfriend,” as evidence of this. It’s actually from Amina that Ann grabbed the name “Shine Theory” — Amina once said of their relationship, “I don’t shine if you don’t shine.” From there, she developed the idea that, when powerful women team up, they help each other “shine” by honoring each other’s accomplishments and becoming a powerful network. The sentiment, which Friedman has taken to heart and which is echoed in episodes of “Call Your Girlfriend,” is a powerful one.
Why choose to be intimidated when we could choose instead to join forces? As we each know all too well, it’s not easy to be a woman and learning from each other’s experiences is a big benefit of female friendships. As Friedman writes, female friendships will better your life by “pushing [you] to negotiate for more money, telling [you] to drop men who make [you] feel bad about [yourself], and responding to [your] outfit selfies from a place of love and stylishness, not competition and body-snarking.” When we boldly introduce ourselves, invite a friend-crush out to drinks, and celebrate our friends’ promotions, we create a new kind of culture for ourselves as women — one in which we genuinely offer support and excitement. Who wouldn’t want to travel in a circle of funny, talented, articulate ladies anyway? Take Ann Friedman’s advice and forgo competition. Let fabulous women into your life — as “Shine Theory” tells us, your friendship will only brighten your world.