Many women are often told who to be instead of being asked who they are now. Activist Alexis Jones, founder of the non-profit I Am That Girl, wants to change that and help young women become their best selves. She's compiled stories from 30 friends into her new book I Am That Girl: How to Speak Your Truth, Discover Your Purpose, and #bethatgirl. One of these stories comes from actress Sophia Bush, who joined Jones to talk about what it means to be "that girl" and how female friendship should foster support instead of stress.
When you say, “I am that girl”—who is that? What do you hope girls feel when they say those words?
Alexis Jones: “That girl” is just the best version of any girl, according to her own definition. We want to inspire everyone in their own terms to create a sense of self. When I started I Am That Girl, it was a very intentional decision to name the organization I Am. Those are really powerful words, because I like the authenticity of asking girls to really apply this as paradigm, as opposed to just starting an organization for girls that still live somewhere outside of themselves.
Girls have an intrinsic need to build communities, but we've gone so far from that because we’ve been programmed to think we should be threatened by each other. Girls need to work on their relationships with themselves before we can get into the causation and issues with their relationships with other girls or other people or to business, careers or the world. We first need to ask, how does she feel about herself?
There’s a lot of fuzzy, kumbaya stuff out there. In this book we share stories with candor and vulnerability in order to help girls be courageous and vulnerable enough to share the things they aren't proud of.
The language around empowerment often excludes women who are honest about their vulnerability. Could you share an experience that helped set your mission to inspire young women to find out who they are for themselves?
AJ: I don't share this story in the book, but it speaks to where Sophia and I met. We were both in a sorority although we weren’t sorority girls at all. I grew up an athlete with four older brothers, so girls really freaked me out, [especially] a whole house of them. Both Sophia and I were really “guy’s girls,” but we were starving for a community, so we found ourselves there. On the week of initiation we weren’t allowed to leave the house and while we are doing all of these rituals, I got a text from a friend inviting me to share floor seats for a Lakers game. I thought, “Over my dead body am I going to miss this game!” So in the middle of initiation I had my friend pick me up, sneak me to this game, and to get back into the house in time I had to climb in through back window.
All of this is to share that when people talk about empowerment, it becomes this loaded and meaningless word. For me, empowerment means the mere recognition that choice exists. Instead of saying “he broke my heart,” let’s just shoot down that paradigm and say instead “I allowed my heart to be broken.” At least we can go somewhere with that. We need to take responsibility of our own life and actions.
That's something I really admire about Sophia—we are both pretty unapologetic about who we are and we are OK with the fact that not everyone is going to like us. We are passionate about our life, and work, and voices, and how we want to go about making a difference. And sometimes you are going to ruffle someone’s feathers. We want girls to speak the truth for themselves instead of regurgitating someone else’s ideas.
You write in the book about collaboration versus competition and how that relates to female friendship. Sophia, how do you manage to make the women around you collaborators and not competitors?
Sophia Bush: I think there is some great energy within our group of friends. We are a pretty impressive bunch; some of us run non-profits or work for tech companies. I think there is real inspiration in that diversity and we all can support each other even though we are working on things that are incredibly different. It takes a little bit of awareness first because it is sort of bred into us since we are very young.
We have this running joke between all of us that everything relates back to Beyoncé—and let’s be real, it’s true! [Laughs] There’s that incredible voiceover from “***Flawless” were Chimamanda Adiche says girls are taught not to compete for things that are healthy, like accolades or job positions or education. They are taught to compete for the attention of men. We get validated for our looks and for what we provide to people, rather than for who we are at a very young age. And then when women are older and filled with the same insecurity and doubt that plagues everyone, we wonder why they are more troubled by these things. It’s because we are not taught how to deal with it. That’s what we want to work on and say, “Hey, what does it do to you to be jealous when someone else is succeeding? Why wouldn't you be happy for them?” When you are supporting other women you are elevating yourself up.
When it comes to you Sophia, who is ‘that girl’?
SB: However we identify [ourselves], we have similarities—we are all afraid and we are all confident. All women have the ability to be warriors, but we are all a mess sometimes. That’s OK! Being multifaceted and fluid and ever-changing—that’s interesting! The way that we each identify with that notion and they way we each do it in our own specific way fosters our uniqueness. What a lovely thing to celebrate—how people are unique and individual, yet intrinsically we all have a similar set of values and desires and joys and pains. We get to look around and say you know what—we are really all the same.
AJ: You know, I am really proud of Sophia’s new character on her show Chicago P.D. because she’s getting to play a dynamic, strong, vulnerable character full of contradictions. Knowing Sophia, I can imagine how much influence she has had on the character. I am proud she’s shining light on exactly what she talking about—the fragility and bravado that supposedly don't coexist. She is doing that on daily basis as a friend, but also personifies that in her character that is viewed by millions of people. She breathes authenticity and it’s what making the show so successful and relatable to so many women.
It is so rare to see a dynamic female character like that played on television.
SB: Thank you so much! I'm grateful and overwhelmed to have that job. But, really—that’s the dream.