An Ode to My Girl Boss BFFs//Shelby Madison Burton

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At 24 years old, I spent the first 75% of my life looking for female friendships that would complete a missing part of me and the latter 25% of my life being transformed by them.  And during this time, I learned that if I wanted to attract Girl Boss BFFs, then I had to embody the qualities of one, too.  In retrospect, with the best intentions and the utmost humility, I must admit that I was doing it all wrong.  This is hard for me to disclose because I have always defined myself as being both a Girl Boss and a good friend, but it was not until recently that I had an epiphany: not only were some of my values and assumptions about female friendships inaccurate, but they were also contributing to the disturbing narrative of cattiness and shame related to being a woman in itself.

I have been lucky enough to assemble an amazing crew of Girl Boss BFFs from various ages, cultures, disabilities (visible and invisible), religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and these are just some of the lessons I have been inspired to share with others:

1. Replace the thought that “girls who wear make-up are so high maintenance” with the words, “You go, girl! You rock that eyeshadow!”

This one goes out to the friends who taught me that make-up and self-worth are unrelated.  I spent so much time ignorantly shaming others for not being natural and for defining high maintenance based on stereotypically effeminate activities that I never realized that, for many, make-up can be a form of self-expression and self-care.  If you want to do a Sunday night charcoal face mask to relax before a busy week or paint on a pop of lipstick to give you that extra boost of confidence, who am I to judge?

2. Replace the common line that “I get along better with boys” with the more empowering “I get along best with individuals who are [insert adjective].”

I used to say this. A lot.  It makes me sad to think that I was putting my own gender down, rather than lifting us up.  This simple statement insinuates that women are inherently flawed.  The narrative that female friendships are dramatic, competitive, or fragile is only endorsed by declaring that men are easier to befriend and get along with.  But we all know that there are more differences within groups than between them.  Thus, this says more about the person making the judgment than the individual being judged, begging the question: what traits are you projecting onto women to make them appear dramatic, competitive, or frail?

3. Replace passive aggression with assertiveness.

As women, we are socialized to be indirect and obsessively concerned about others’ well-being.  But here is the deal: stop pretending you are “fine.”  If you are upset with a friend, and she is decent enough to authentically apologize and put forth effort into healing the friendship, do not passive aggressively pretend that you are okay.  You may justify this by saying that you want to move on, but in actuality this is a relationally aggressive way to instill guilt in your friend and contributes to the narrative that women are not allowed to be assertive—not only because you strategically chose not to be assertive in a way that benefits you, but because you shamed your friend for assertively and bravely apologizing in the first place.

If you are not okay because of something unrelated to a friendship, help us help you.  Empowered women empower women.  Even if you assertively state that what you need is some personal time to process life on your own, that is more direct than saying that you are “fine.”  We should be empowered to feel the emotions we are feeling, and communicate how we wish to deal with those emotions accordingly.  We must assert our ability to be assertive so that others can feel freedom to do the same.

4. Replace 24/7 happiness with raw, vulnerable emotion.

I thought that by masking my emotions with a consistent state of disingenuous happiness, I was promoting happiness in others.  In fact, what I was doing was promoting the disingenuousness itself.  It was not until my best friends found me in a year-long sobbing puddle of depression after hearing of my loved one’s passing that I understood that the thickest of friendships is built on a foundation of vulnerability.  Once I shared these experiences with them, we were better able to connect over the terrible, beautiful tragedies of life.  We must challenge the idea that anything other than happiness is weakness, and vulnerability is one of our greatest tools in ending this conflict.

It is through humble introspection that we must confront the microaggressive reality we are encouraging through commonly held beliefs about female friendships.  And in case you are wondering, the clearest indicator of how much you adhere to the title of a Girl Boss BFF is by examining the female friendships that surround you.  I am always surprised to see how high they have lifted me, how far they have pushed me, and how full they have filled me. And guess what? Some of them rock BECCA highlighter while others have never seen a tube of mascara but we are all united by our mutual camaraderie, assertiveness, and vulnerability.

XOXO to my Girl Boss BFFs. You inspire me endlessly.
~ Written by: Shelby Madison Burton 

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