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Shine Theory Is the Antidote to the Cliché of Female Friendships

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Aug 1, 2019

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Image Credit: Francisco Seco/AP

Women are taught to compete with each other, to view others as expendable rivals in the mining of ‘finite’ resources like men’s attention, marriage proposals, and seats at the metaphorical table. A quick Google search will turn up reports of Deepika being jealous of Priyanka, of Alia being jealous of Deepika, of Priyanka being jealous of Deepika, and Deepika being jealous of Alia.

Regardless of whether any of that is true (doubtful), that kind of portrayal of female relationships is a common one that sets women up for comparison to, and jealousy from, other women — why did she get it, and I didn’t? After all, differences in trajectories between a woman and a male friend can be explained by patriarchy. Differences in trajectories between two women at least feel more equitable, even when they’re not. The problem is, this comparison and feeling play into the systemic barriers that keep women’s options so limited.

So, what actually expands opportunities for women? Shine Theory.

Shine Theory is a model for female relationships first proposed in 2013 by real-life best friends and two people I’d love to get shiny with — journalist Ann Friedman and writer Aminatou Sow. You can read Friedman’s long-form introduction of the theory for The Cut here (and it’s worth a read!) but I’ll quote from it briefly: “When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her,” Friedman writes. “Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.”

Shine Theory is summed up by this statement: “I don’t shine if you don’t shine.” The theory is practiced when relationships are characterized by uplifting and supporting, rather than by comparing or tearing down others; when friends see the mutual value, instead of competition, in relationships; when two people feel happiness for, rather than jealousy of, each other.

For some, Shine Theory gives them a term for what they value most about their friends. For others, the theory offers an alternative to the examples of female relationships most typically depicted by media; two people who each bask in the shine of the other are far from the lucky-in-love (but so clumsy!) heroine and her perpetually wistful friend-who-is-really-a-sidekick, the frenemy BFFs (I’m looking at you, Serena and Blair), or the catty professionals.

Friedman and Sow also clarify what Shine Theory isn’t: networking. It’s not about getting ahead by knowing the right people, or by helping any and every woman who comes knocking on your door. Rather, it’s an investment in the ones who are already there, and the cultivation of new, confident, mutually supportive additions to your circle, by asking, “Would we be better as collaborators than as competitors?” Friedman and Sow explain. “The answer is almost always yes.”

Confidence is an operative word in Shine Theory, which might make it appear difficult to practice; the theory seems like it’s predicated upon finding the confidence to separate other people’s successes and joys from your own trajectory and self-worth, and if that were so easy, we’d all be doing it already. After all, as much as society contrives to pit women against each other, it also contrives to keep women’s self-esteem low.

But the trick to Shine Theory is in expanding our sources of confidence to include other people — your wins are mine, and my wins are yours. That expansion, once you get used to it, actually boosts self-confidence because there are so many more opportunities to feel good about something. And at the very least, if all else is going to shit in life, you have this: that some really cool, successful, smart and hip people think you’re really cool, successful, smart and hip, too.

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Written By Liesl Goecker

Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle’s managing editor and has been living and writing in Mumbai since 2010. She is passionate about women’s rights, everyone’s health, and caffeine.

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