Shine theory was first coined by journalist Ann Friedman in an article for The Cut, published in May 2013. In the article, Ann speaks about the culture of competition amongst women and the feelings of resentment against those who we perceive to be happier or more successful than ourselves.
"But even if it were somehow possible to objectively evaluate all of our female peers against ourselves, it’s worth asking why we’re spending all this time creating a ranking system in our minds. When we hate on women who we perceive to be more “together” than we are, we’re really just expressing the negative feelings we have about our own careers, or bodies, or relationships."
I think we can all agree that we don’t enjoy comparing ourselves to every women we meet, or feeling like something has been taken from us when another women at work receives accolades or a promotion. It’s exhausting to place yourself in competition with every woman you know. That energy could be so much better spent. Ann’s solution is a simple one.
"When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better."
Forging friendships with women who inspire you will help you realize the power of collaboration over competition. This is the magic of Shine Theory. As Aminatou Sow says, “I don’t shine if you don’t shine.”
What it Looks Like
When we think of what Shine Theory looks like in action, I put forth that it can be broken down into three groups. Amplification, Celebration, and Connection.
Amplification is a strategy that was engineered by a group of female staffers who worked at the White House under President Obama. It’s a simple tactic – whenever a woman made a key point in a meeting, other women would repeat it, while giving credit. This straightforward act forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution, while also eliminating the chance of one of them claiming the idea as their own. “We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. It was an everyday thing,” said a former aide to the President, who also noted that Obama began calling on women more frequently as a result of their amplification strategy.
I feel confident in saying that if you’re a women, odds are you’ve been ignored in a meeting, interrupted, or worst of all, have had a comment you made repeated by a man as though it were their original thought. A great way to address these problems is by speaking up when they happen to the women around you. Don’t be afraid to say things such as “I’m not sure Sarah was finished making her point.” or “Kendall brings up a great point about x.”
Celebration can be difficult as our society constantly encourages competition between women. From who wore it best columns, to shows like the Bachelor, women are conditioned from a young age to resent the successes of their peers. Ann Friedman refers to it as “that icky feeling you can get in the pit of your stomach when you meet a woman who seems so together.” It’s not a fun feeling, and it’s one that many of us have a difficult time trying to quash, even if we know we’re being destructive.
When a woman in your life achieves something great, celebrate! Applaud her accomplishments. If you feel that icky jealousy creeping in, my best advice for you is to fake it. It’s not easy to overcome a lifetime of competitive conditioning. Cut yourself some slack, throw a smile on your face and act happy. Then, instead of focusing on any lingering resentment, try to use the accomplishments of the women in your life as inspiration to achieve something awesome of your own. Soon you’ll find that icky feeling has all but disappeared.
Connection is all about the power of who you surround yourself with. When strong women unite, incredible things happen. Podcasts are created, global movements are formed, and inspirational organizations are founded. Like Ann, for me the notion of “approaching and befriending women who I identify as smart and powerful (sometimes actively pursuing them, as with any other crush) has been a major revelation of my adult life.”
There have been some who have accused Ann Friedman’s original article of suggesting that women collect friendships with powerful people to selfishly use and benefit from them. It’s important to understand that this is not the case. Instead, connection is all about reaching out to the women in your life who inspire you, and working to build authentic, honest, and meaningful friendships with them that will benefit you both. As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, making friends has always been a challenge. What I’ve discovered is that once I began amplifying and celebrating the success of the women around me, friendships grew with ease. These friendships have enabled me to grow both personally and professionally, in ways I couldn’t have imagined.