I met my best friend when I was fourteen.
Of course, she wasn’t my first best friend.
She’s not even my only one now.
Since I was little, I’ve surrounded myself with girls that push me in every possible way.
However, it wasn’t until recently that I really started to appreciate those relationships.
The lack of strong female relationships in pop culture is sort of like your heartbeat.
You spend years not noticing it.
But when you do, you can’t stop noticing it.
Even as I started to write this piece, I was shocked by how many of my favorite female characters don’t have a single strong relationship with another girl – at least not one the audience gets to see.
The moment I started to notice my heartbeat, I was still really young.
When I was 8, my favorite TV show was Wizards of Waverly Place.
For any of you who’ve ever watched it, you know that the relationship between Harper and Alex is incredibly strong and incredibly complex.
That was a friendship that changed my life.
I could see me and my friends, finally represented on screen, and it felt amazing.
Not only that, but I wanted to work to improve the friendships I had with other girls.
Nowadays, I hardly ever consume any pop culture that doesn’t have a strong female relationship at its forefront.
The best part is, they’re all different.
My favorite show is New Girl, where the relationship between Jess and Cece is both one of the show’s most subtle, while also being its very bedrock.
My favorite artist is Taylor Swift, someone who became widely known for the strong female relationships she developed.
Teen Wolf is unabashedly one of my favorite shows on TV, and its highlight of female friendships changed the way I think about them.
This is a show that finds a way to put female relationships at its forefront, despite being centered around males.
The friendships between Allison, Lydia, Malia, and Kira, in all their different combinations, display an incredibly wide variety of relationships.
Some of them have dated the same boy, some of them have tried to kill each other, and some of them have every petty reason to hate each other, but they don’t.
This show has decided that its female friendships are more important than any love triangle, even though those do exist.
The show doesn’t pretend those obstacles don’t exist, they just demonstrate that the relationships formed among girls are way stronger than anything they could face.
They have found a way to put complex, varied, and oftentimes confusing female relationships on display, something I see in very few corners of the pop culture world.
I’m not the only one who’s felt the effects of seeing strong female relationships on TV.
I asked a few of my own strong female friends to talk to me about when they’ve seen their life changed by viewing those types of friendships in pop culture, and here’s what they said:
“Ann and Leslie [of Parks and Recreation] taught me that women should strive to build each other up, and that nothing is stronger than a female friendship built on pure love, loyalty, and trust. Female friendships don’t have to be filled with drama, and the best ones consider a five hour phone call about anything and everything equally as important as huge celebrations and milestones.” – Maggie
“Cristina Yang and Meredith Gray from Gray’s Anatomy depict what not only is a wonderful friendship, but a support system for one another. The fictional characters from the show have inspired me to not only be in my friends’ lives during the good times but to be there for support during the hard times.” – Sreelekha
More and more female friendships being represented is crucial, but the way they’re portrayed is also really important.
And while we like to think all female relationships in pop culture are great examples of representation, some miss the mark.
Here’s the biggest issue with the way pop culture sometimes displays female relationships – they exist only in a two-dimensional world.
An example of this comes from an often-raved about female friendship that just premiered this winter – Betty and Veronica on The CW’s Riverdale.
Now, I watch and love Riverdale, and I think there’s a lot of potential for the relationships to develop in new and interesting ways, but the way Betty and Veronica’s relationship exists now is very two-dimensional.
Disregarding the discussion of queerbaiting, and any sexual tension fans have picked up on, Betty and Veronica have the quintessential Strong Female Relationship.
Sure, they’ve both had feelings for the same guy, but that doesn’t matter!
They’re Strong Female Friends, and all they do is lift each other up.
The reason this comes across as a little unrealistic is because it is.
Look, I love my best friend with my everything I have.
I really would die for her, but sometimes I want to be the one doing the killing.
We’ve fought – a lot – and we have fought about boys!
The reason I consider our friendship one of the strongest in my life isn’t the fact that we’ve had jealous, petty moments – it’s the fact that we were able to move on.
Female relationships are just like any other relationship in life – they’re complicated.
The right way to portray a strong female relationship isn’t by following the rule book about what you think that should be.
It’s about embracing the different ways girls interact, the different ways they form bonds, and the different types of relationships that rise from those bonds.
One show that’s done this perfectly is HBO’s Big Little Lies.
Much of the miniseries is based on petty fighting between these women, but the end result (no spoilers here) is all the more satisfying because of that.
The show portrays female relationships exactly as they are – complex, frustrating, petty, and most of all, different.
All five of the main characters have extraordinarily different personalities, and the show doesn’t pretend those don’t exist.
In fact, every episode up until the finale points in a certain direction that is the destruction of those bonds.
However, the final episode clearly puts on display the way relationships between women are stronger than anything else in this life, even if their personalities don’t exactly mesh.
Despite all of this, all strong female friendships are good, just like all strong female characters are good.
The reality is, when a girl sees two other girls being friends, whether on TV, in a movie, in a book, or in real life, she’s inspired to develop those same sorts of ties with her friends.
And the effects of that are really, really good – like, scientifically proven good.
A UCLA study from 2002 suggests that women respond to stress with a cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women.
Hanging out with our friends can actually counteract the kind of stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a daily basis.
Relationships among women aren’t only good for the women themselves, they’re a necessary foundation to our entire society.
When women build each other up, instead of tear each other down, everyone wins.
And as women work to unlearn the decades of media that taught them girls should always fight over boys, the representation of female friendships in pop culture will be more important than ever.
My list of strong female relationships in pop culture to check out, not already mentioned:
Rachel, Phoebe, and Monica: FRIENDS
Blair and Serena: Gossip Girl
Cher & friends: Clueless
Hailee Steinfeld’s music
The Clone Club: Orphan Black
Ginny and Luna: Harry Potter series
Sansa Stark and Margaery Tyrell: Game of Thrones
Selena Gomez’s “Me & My Girls”
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