Shine Theory

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Is it just me? Or is it everywhere in 2019?

And by “it” I mean SHINE THEORY.

I first saw it in a tweet about Beyoncé and then I saw it in a tweet about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and then I saw it in a separate tweet from Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.

Ok, so maybe it’s just a Twitter thing. But I was intrigued enough to do a deep dive.

Turns out that first tweet I saw about Beyoncé referenced the very first mention of Shine Theory…back in 2013! I can’t believe I’m just hearing about it now.

so what is shine theory?

Shine Theory is a term created by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow referring to “the simple premise that ‘I don’t shine if you don’t shine.’” It’s a commitment to collaborate with other women rather than competing against them.

When I first read this description, I thought More collaboration? YASSS! but then I thought about the competition part. I’ve never really thought of myself in competition with other women. Sure, there were times when I enjoyed being the only woman in a group of men. But when another woman showed up, I was always excited for a potential bff.

So does Shine Theory really apply? I kept digging.

Turns out there is a Shine Theory Tumblr sharing all sorts of Shine Theory examples. Or in this case…the opposite of Shine Theory. One post shared a story from The New Yorker titled “I’m sorry your friend is succeeding, which means that you’re a total failure”.

Please head on over and read the whole thing. It’s a quick hilarious read. Here’s an excerpt:

Then, of course, there’s the engagement. One of the cruellest aspects of your friend getting engaged is that it means you aren’t worthy of love. I mean, if you were, wouldn’t you also be marrying the kind, caring Rafael? The logic is ironclad. Try as you might to say, “I am still a human being who deserves love” and “Her relationship with a French boulanger has nothing to do with how I view myself,” you know it’s useless. Your friend is engaged, damn it! This has everything to do with your worthlessness. For, as the prophecy foretold, your lives are irreversibly intertwined, and when one thrives the other can only be viewed as “not thriving.”

I can 100 percent relate to this. It’s hard not to think what’s wrong with me? when you see a friend/colleague/friend of a friend succeeding. Why did they get a promotion and not me? How can they afford the fancy new car and I can’t? It’s an immediate cause for comparison.

so let’s go back to beyoncé

Back in 2013, Friedman wrote an article for The Cut titled “Shine Theory: Why Powerful Women Make the Greatest Friends”. The main example in the story centers around Kelly Rowland and her resentment of Beyoncé’s success when compared to her own in their post-Destiny’s Child reality.

Is it just me? I think Kelly’s mindset is relatable af. They were both in the same group. They had the same start. How is that Beyoncé became Beyoncé and Kelly did not? (To be clear I’m not judging Kelly at all. I’m simply saying I would probably have the very same reaction.)

what seems to be holding us back?

According to Shine Theory, the goal is to:

Forego the internal ranking system in favor of being your best self and helping your girlfriends do the same….

So why don’t we do this? And why does it seem like I’m presenting you with this completely unrealistic ideal.

When I thought about it, the best theory that I could come up with is that many of our friendships (hopefully not just mine) are seated in the bad times. Your closest friends are probably those that were there for you when times were tough - those who have stood by you through your worst times.

You also probably have friends who aren’t emotionally available to lean on but who are always up for a fun night out. But I’m willing to guess you don’t classify them as your closest friends.

Where are my fellow RHOBH fans? Remember last season when Lisa Vanderpump was all upset with Kyle and Dorit after they didn’t spend enough time talking about Lisa’s lawsuit as she would have expected? Kyle and Dorit moved on and were talking about another topic and Lisa didn’t have the moment she wanted to have. How many of us have had a similar dynamic in our friendships? I’m certainly guilty of it.

let’s practice shine theory

I know I’ve been very hard on friends in the past. Along the way, I’ve tried to learn that you can have friends all along the friend-spectrum. But I’ve still relied on the sentiment that you know who your real friends are when they’re there for you during an especially hard time.

Shine Theory is making me rethink all of this. So how do we incorporate this practice?

The main tip in The Cut’s article is to make friends with more seemingly successful women:

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.

I also think it’s important to focus on our current friendships. To go back to the original intention of Shine Theory: I don’t shine if you don’t shine. What can you do to support your friends? How can you collaborate so you both shine bright like a diamond?

Some quick thoughts I had:

  • I’ve started liking almost all of my friend’s pictures on Instagram. It might not be the best picture of all time, and it might even be a humble brag, but they put it out there for the world to see simply because they thought it was worthy. So I think it’s worthy too. If I can like ever single one of Chrissy Teigen’s posts then I can certainly like every single post (assuming the algorithm shows it to me of course) of someone I actually know and care about.

  • Celebrate friend’s wins big or small. Give them a “hell yeah” or “you’re amazing” regardless of what the win is.

  • Try to think bigger. Listen, I know we’re all super busy but think about how you and a friend can truly collaborate and start building that shine. Maybe you have contacts that might help a friend get into the industry of her dream. Or maybe you’re Beyoncé and you do an Instagram story with your unfamous friend to show off their pipes.

So what do y’all think? Is Shine Theory something you already practice? Is it realistic? Let’s continue this convo in the comments below!

Resources recap:

Cover photo via