Introduction to #GIRLBOSS

Because I am interested in fashion, I quickly picked up Sophia Amoruso’s book #GIRLBOSS when it came out in the early summer.  For those who don’t know, Amoruso is the founder/creative director/CEO of the online fashion retailer Nasty Gal— a site where I have shopped a lot.  I definitely dig Nasty Gal’s vibe which encourages its customers to show some attitude, be themselves, and take risks.  It is sort of a more curated, more punk, more sexy, less cutesy ModCloth.

In #GIRLBOSS, Amoruso tells us her life story and how she came to be where she is in her business and career, while at the same time encouraging her readers to become #GIRLBOSSes themselves and giving her advice as to how to do this.

I read #GIRLBOSS rather hastily and uncritically while flying from Philadelphia to LA and back.  When I got to the end of the book my impression of it was that (1) it was an easy read, (2) a lot of it was the sort of fun, positive, inspirational guff that one usually finds in such books, and (3) there were a bunch of points and practical, straight-talking suggestions that she made that I thought were really great . . . only I couldn’t 100% remember what they were.

So over the next few weeks, I am going to quickly re-read the book, chapter by chapter (11 chapters total), to rediscover the pearls of wisdom Amoruso has to offer, and share them with you.

Chapter 1: So You Want to Be a #GIRLBOSS?

On Role Models:

“Not too long ago, someone told me that I had an obligation to take Nasty Gal as far as I could because I’m a role model for girls who want to do cool stuff with their own lives.  I’m still not sure how to feel about that, because for most of my life I didn’t even believe in the concept of role models.  I don’t want to be put on a pedestal.  Anyway, I’m way to ADD to stay up there: I’d rather be making messes, and making history while I’m at it.  I don’t want you to look up, #GIRLBOSS, because all that looking up can keep you down.  There energy you’ll expend focusing on someone else’s life is better spent working on your own.” (13) emphasis is mine

The idea of role models has fascinated me since I was a teenager.  I love to find people I admire and emulate and obsess over their lives.  I think being able to find great role models and understand why you want them as models for your life is really important, integral to development, and natural for the social animals we are.  Much social science research exists on the subject;  much of the debate around getting more female characters and more diverse female characters into our television, films, books, etc. revolves around the idea of role models.  If she can see it, she can be it, right?

But Amoruso makes an excellent point here.  Having role models is only going to get you so far.  Knowing who you want to be like is only half of the battle.  You have to remain active and alert to your own life and development in order to actually succeed.  It is important not to let the lives of our role models define us and control us; and we have to remember to live our own lives and our own successes and failures— not just those of our role models.  It’s easy to slip into obsession with the success (or failure) of others, because we feel like we are achieving something by living vicariously though them.  So Amoruso’s point is well taken:  don’t let the looking up keep you down.

Amoruso’s ambivalence about her own status as a role model also hints at another issue with relying to heavily on role models:  they are not perfect.  Amoruso knows that she has and will “make messes.”  She’s only human and it’s the way she operates.  It’s unrealistic, unhealthy, and unfair to expect that of her, or any other role model.  This is why it is important to take the time to understand why you admire and emulate a role model— so that when they are ‘not perfect’ you can revisit if you still admire them or not, and understand why.

She is also recognizing that “making messes” is also sometimes how you “make history.”  A lot of progress and growth comes from making mistakes or doing thing that seem crazy at the time.  So demanding that role models (and ourselves) behave and look and seem perfect all the time is actually modeling something that is not healthy or even helpful.  It’s important to learn from our role models that it is ok to get messy, do things wrong, and defy the expectations of other people.  Just because someone deviates from the path we expect them to be on doesn’t mean that they should necessarily lose their ‘role model’ status for us or for others.

On Feminism:

Amoruso is not afraid to call out the ‘is she or isn’t she’ [a feminist] question, answer it, and get past it.  I think she handles it really well.  She makes it clear that she thinks that having to explicitly address the question is a bit silly, this book is not a feminist manifesto, but that she and her book owe a lot to feminism, and that “#GIRLBOSS is a feminist book, and Nasty Gal is a feminist company” (14).  She does feel like she has to point out that she’s not going to be “blaming men for any of my struggles along the way” (14) which is a little problematic, but I also think it is a great diplomatic move that addresses the accusation while avoiding directly misdefining feminism.

I also appreciate that she takes a little bit of time to explain what her type of feminism is.  By doing this she makes an important acknowledgement that I think a lot of feminists understand but don’t really state: that there are many kinds and expressions of feminism, and that there is not a one-size-fits-all model.  Some feminists do things differently than other feminists, and that doesn’t need to make them less than or more than any of their peers.

“I have never once in my life thought that being a girl was something that I had to overcome . . . I believe the best way to honor the past and future of women’s rights is by getting shit done.  Instead of sitting around and talking about how much I care, I’m going to kick ass and prove it.” (14-15)

She also explains her journey and growth as a feminism.  She points out that it has taken her time to come into her type of feminism, and that being and becoming a feminist is a growth process.

“On the rare occasion a guy opened a door for me, I’d refuse, taking insult . . . let’s be honest, that’s not really being a feminist, that’s just being rude.  I now know that letting someone open a door for me doesn’t make me any less independent.” (15)

Again, I think Amoruso is stating things many of us take as obvious, but some people need stated for them.  In this case, she’s pointing out that it’s ok to evolve in your ethics, activism, and understanding.  It’s ok to have made mistakes and misunderstood in the past.  And it’s ok to admit that!

In this way in just a few, quick pages Amoruso says a lot and addresses a lot of subtext that I think sometimes needs to be addressed.  I appreciate Amoruso doing this sort of work and I hope others listen to what she is saying.