What is ‘shine theory’ (and how can it benefit your social life?)

Surrounding yourself with successful women shouldn't make you jealous - it should make you happier.

It happens all the time. Squished up on a beer garden bench with a group of your oldest, closest friends, you barely notice when one of them puts her drink down on the table; leaning forward with nervous enthusiasm.

‘So, I’ve had an idea for a new business,’ she says – eyes wide and seeking approval while your heart suddenly, inexplicably sinks. ‘And the best thing is, I really think it’ll work. I’ve teamed up with this amazing designer, and it’s totally going to take off!’ You coo over her plans – all admiration and awe and vague, weighted nausea – when someone else pipes up. ‘I’ve actually got some great news too,’ she says. ‘I’m launching a podcast with this new brand. I didn’t even approach them – they hunted me out! Me!’ A minute later, there’s news of a promotion, a pay rise, and an impending industry awards ceremony. The bench beneath you wobbles with the weight of six women standing up to Hug It Out, and you grin at the others over clinking pint glasses and spilt prosecco. A few minutes later, you excuse yourself and head to the bathroom. ‘You’re 29-years-old,’ you tell yourself as you lock yourself in the furthest stall. ‘Pull it together. Stop being jealous of your friends.’

It’s a depressingly familiar scenario – but hardly surprising. Women are pitted against one another all the bloody time. We’re told that Rihanna is ‘the new Beyoncé’ – God forbid that there would be space for two successful Black women to coexist in the same industry – and we’re taught to literally elbow one another out of the way to catch a bouquet (/husband) rather than risk ending up entirely alone. We hear that women who are high flyers are probably horrible – and that bitching about them behind them behind their back is definitely justified. And we learn that the gender imbalance in boardrooms is so extreme that there’s only room for one of us to get ahead anyway.

So it’s little wonder, really, if news of another woman’s success is invariably met with claws out (and green-eyed contact lenses in).

But while there might be a million, billion, trillion examples of conditioned competition between women, secretly we all know it’s not where we should be. After all, bolting our insecurities behind bathroom doors might be less socially awkward than clambering up onto a picnic table and screaming ‘STOP DOING BETTER THAN ME!’ But it still doesn’t make you feel better at the end of the night.

Which is why ‘Shine Theory‘ is so important.

Coined by Ann Friedman at The Cut, Shine Theory is pretty straightforward. ‘When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her,’ explains Friedman. ‘Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.’

And she’s right.

Success isn’t finite. It’s not a substance that can run out, or a product that can be used up. One woman’s success doesn’t counteract your own. And when one of your friends is shining brightly, she doesn’t put you in the shadows. She lights you up, too. Success is limitless, and contagious, and something to be celebrated – regardless of whether of not it’s your own.

One woman who’s determined to prove the existence – and importance – of Shine Theory is Mia Holt. The founder of The Lift Up Project, she’s committed to finding successful women and showing off their achievements to thousands of followers online – reaching new audiences and elevating them even further.

‘I’m constantly in awe of the drive and talents of the creative women I surround myself with, both on social media and in real-life, so I decided I wanted to create a space to celebrate them,’ she tells Marie Claire. ‘I also wanted to introduce creative women to one another, which is why I decided to profile different women from different creative backgrounds in every newsletter. I liked the idea that as one woman is lifted up, she lifts another one up with her. There are so many creatives out there sharing their work with the world, that sometimes it can feel like your voice isn’t being heard or your work isn’t being appreciated. I wanted to give the women I was following a little helping hand and acknowledge and celebrate their work.’

It makes sense. After all, as Obama’s female staff members reveal that they teamed up to work together to make their voices heard in the White House, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shares the importance of aiming high – without worrying whether your friends will be jealous or not – the message is clear. Alone, we can climb to a certain point. But if we team up and celebrate each other’s achievements, we’ll all be elevated along the way.

Mia agrees. ‘I think by surrounding yourself with a wonderful group of successful women, you can learn from them and let their success drive you further,’ she says. ‘When I listen to podcasts or read books or see businesses run by women, it empowers me. I feel like if they can do it, so can I.’

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