Remember those middle school lunches.  You know the ones where you enter the cafeteria hoping someone has saved you a seat or at least is willing to say hello.  Or maybe you were the girl who everyone talked to and everyone hoped would sit at their table.  It’s funny how different those two girls’ experiences are and yet how similar their inner life probably was.  Two vastly different social experiences and two incredibly similar emotional lives- both just hoping to avoid the seemingly inevitable problem of “mean girls”

The competitive, “mean girls” culture of female friendship is so common that it’s become a sort of pop culture phenomenon.  With tees and jewelry with phrases like “We wear pink on Wednesday” and “you can’t sit with us” permeated everywhere from Nordstrom to Target.  We have popularized an iconic movie about the mean girl mentality but are we paying attention to the underlying message the movie tried to convey?

I’m not sure when it happened but somewhere along the way this kind of passive-aggressive adolescent behavior began to infiltrate our adult lives.  I hear it from new moms and young women trying to build their careers.  I hear it at the doctor’s office and the grocery store and even at the yoga studio- adult women giving in to their inner 13-year old.  Grown women talking about everything from the clothes other women wear to what they feed their child to how much time they should be putting in at the gym.  When did female friendship become so fraught with catty competition and back-handed compliments?  When did we give up on true female empowerment for this lonely back-stabbing shell of a relationship?

Before I sound like one of the women I’m talking about, and chastise our entire sisterhood I think we have to look at the root of some of this ‘mean girl’ behavior.  Much like it did in our pre-teen years, the competitive and subtly demeaning comments and behavior I see is often a cover for our own insecurities.  Women focus on what shoes you’re wearing or why you don’t have the latest bag in large part because those are the external markers they are using to measure their own self-worth.  Moms gather at the PTA meetings and playgrounds to reprimand the disorganized mom feeding her kids non-organic chicken nuggets not to be helpful but because those are the standards they believe make them “good enough”.

And then there is the resentment.  When you live your life trying to fit a mold of unrealistic expectations and squelch your individuality, it’s hard not to resent any woman who seems to be living a happier and more authentic life.  When you’re staying up till 3am trying to be the perfect mom with homemade puff pastries for the bake sale, it’s hard not to be resentful of the well-rested mom strolling in with a box from the grocery store.  If you’re drowning in debt trying to keep up with the right outfit and the hottest haircut in the office, it’s likely you resent the girl wearing the same old navy blue pencil skirt who probably has enough savings for a new home.  We resent those who are living the life we desire and far too often we use those old middle school mean girl tactics to make sure that she doesn’t feel good enough either.  After all, how dare she feel good about herself when she is clearly not trying as hard as you are?

Here’s the thing… we women have more than enough negative feedback from the society we live in.  We are bombarded with messages about how we should look, and conflicting messages about how to act, and way too many experiences where we are blamed for the abuse and exploitation (physical, emotional, and financial) that we endure.  We need each other.  And that may be the scariest part.  It’s scary to trust someone who seems just like us when we don’t trust ourselves.  Mean girls aren’t just mean or insecure, they lack confidence and trust in the power of their womanhood.

They confidently dole out the rules and standards in an attempt to level the playing field and find some solid footing for their own sense of self. If we are all striving for these unattainable goals then we are suffering the same inner turmoil.  Mean girls are not really trying to tear down other women, they are trying to tear down the things they can’t accept about themselves.   The group of women who makes fun of a colleague’s limited wardrobe are in fact beating up the part of themselves that believes the only way to be worthy is by having the right outfit.  The moms who are gossiping about another mom’s struggling marriage or misbehaving child are covertly airing their own personal demons.  Mean girls aren’t so much mean as they are sad.  And she needs your compassion even if you happen to the woman on the receiving end of her biting comments.

-Nice girls nurture nice girls & nice girls are pretty powerful allies to have.-

When women say no to the mean girl tactics they give other women permission to do the same.  When we are transparent about our faults and our struggles we open the door for other women to give up the mean girl phase in favor of something more meaningful.  A loving female friendship offers a rich and deeply healing experience but only when women let go of the nasty competitive vibe that is taking a tool on them.

Not only do you open yourself up to a rich and fulfilling life of true female friendship but also you gain a fresh perspective on yourself.  Female friendships afford us the opportunity to see ourselves reflected back by our friends.  If you are stuck in the mean girl club the reflection is going to be pretty hard to look at it.  But when we make a conscious effort to find beauty and strength in other women, even those we don’t know well, we change the image.  Nice girls, nurture more nice girls.  And nice girls are pretty powerful allies to have.


Check out our guest posts on   This post originally appeared on the DC Ladies website; read more and subscribe here