female friendships can be the most rewarding of our lives
As passionate as a love affair, as close as flesh and blood and as supportive as a therapist; NY photographer Petra Collins turns her lens on her nearest and dearest and their sisters, lovers and best friends to prove girls really do rule the world.
Inspired by her friend's clothing line - Me+You - run by bbbbffff's Julia Baylis and Mayan Toledano, photographer Petra Collins cast real life sisters and friends in this shoot. "The world Mayan and Julia like to create together celebrates girlhood, feminism and comfort," Petra explains. She and her friends have become the instigators of and inspiration for a huge body of art, photography, writing, fashion and modern feminist ideology over the last year. They all met online, as fans of each other's work, and are re-wiring the mood for honest, upfront representations of girls and the confidence those oh so particular relationships can inspire.
Female relationships like these have been played out in pop culture since the beginning of time. In Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Michele says to Romi, "You know, even though I had to wear that stupid back brace and you were kind of fat, we were still totally cutting edge." There may be nothing worse than falling over when you're by yourself, but when you're with a friend it's fine and funny. Girls do all kinds of weird, embarrassing things all through their lives, like performing self-choreographed dance routines in front of your entire school to Leann Rimes' Can't find the Moonlight; something you'd think you'd never get over mentally, but you do, because your friend did it with you and whenever one of you mentions it now, it's this hilarious thing that you share. Life is a string of cringe, and without friends to see the funny side, you'd have to stay in bed.
"You can count on each other, sleep in the same bed and share your gross stories, basically you can do everything without being judged."
A good friend recently told me a story about when she was 13 and she went to a disco with all of her 13 year old friends. Her parents were quite strict and wouldn't let her dress up, so one friend brought clothes for her to change into in the bathroom. They were all set for the disco, but one track into what was set to be the best night of their teenage lives, the friend who'd brought the clothes approached the group insisting that they all leave at once because she'd just tripped over in front of the boy she fancied and couldn't face staying. So naturally they all left at once.
In most 13 year old male friendship groups, if one person tripped at the disco, the rest would take a moment to laugh and then carry on making moves on the dance floor. But with girls, there are no questions asked and no teasing until much later in life. It's an instinct, a pack mentality; you stick together no matter how absurd the situation.
When boys get together they talk about stuff, mainly: what would you do in a zombie invasion? They argue about everything: exchange rates, the best goal scorers in the World Cup, Israel. In most instances, Tom doesn't know exactly how Jack's mother is feeling after her hysterectomy. Not to say they ignore emotional issues, nor that they don't care, but they'd just rather talk about fun stuff with their friends and keep the hard stuff to themselves or their girlfriends.
Sharing and over-sharing is a very female trait. We share every morsel of emotion, we share emotions we don't even feel, we share menstrual cycles and sometimes roll-on deodorant too. A good girlfriend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you just the same. As Lena Dunham explained in a recent interview, "I think about my best friendship - which the Marnie-Hannah friendship in GIRLS is based on - as one of the great romances of my young life." It's little surprise that the terms "friend crush" or "girl crush" get bandied around so often.
Girls need each other to feel less weird, and in a good friend, you find a second self. You don't stalk your ex-boyfriend's ex-girlfriend on Facebook alone, no. That would be weird. You stalk them with your friend, who, if she's a really good friend, will stalk them for you independently too and send you updates on work emails.
Female friend culture is so vastly different from male friend culture, and it's hard for one to understand the other. As Jeffrey Eugenides puts it in The Virgin Suicides: "We [the boys] could never understand why the girls cared so much about being mature, or why they felt compelled to compliment each other, but sometimes, after one of us had read a long portion of the diary out loud, we had to fight back the urge to hug one another or tell each other how pretty we were."
"Girls create such interesting bonds, that are very different from male to female friendships. My sister is my best friend and I consider my best friends to be my sisters too."
Girls tell each other how pretty they are all the time. Your hair looks amazing, you look so slim, I'm so jealous of your shoes, you have such good dress sense, you look really pretty today, your hair looks amazing, you look so slim… In Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Michele says to Romy: "You look so good with blonde hair and black roots, it's like, not even funny." There's no end to our compliments and the weird thing is, we genuinely mean every one of them. Every time I see my friends, I'm balled over by how good they look, how well they are dressed and how intelligent they sound. We're all completely and utterly in love with each other.
It's a sitcom-inspiring kind of love. Some of the best moments on TV and film are powered by female friendship. Apart from telling Trey that she hopes he and his penis have a very lovely night, the only other decent thing Charlotte ever says in Sex and the City is… "Don't laugh at me, but maybe we can be each other's soul-mates? And then, we could let men be just these great, nice guys to have fun with." Think of Hannah and Jessa crying together in the bath in GIRLS; or Thelma and Louise driving off the Grand Canyon holding hands with wild hair; or Bette Midler, Diane Keaton and Goldie Horn singing You Don't Own Me in white trouser suits at the end of First Wives Club; or the moment Wind Beneath My Wings plays while CC and Hilary sit on deck chairs at the end of Beaches; or the Sanderson Sisters singing I Put a Spell on You in Hocus Pocus; or the Lisbon sisters' silent suicide pact in The Virgin Suicides. All those mad women being mad together.
There's a moment in Frances Ha when Frances talks about what she wants from a relationship, and at the end of the film it becomes clear that it already exists between her and her best friend, Sophie. "It's that thing when you're with someone," she says, "and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it... it's a party... and you're both talking to other people, and you're laughing and shining... and you look across the room and catch each other's eyes... but not because you're possessive... but because... that is your person in this life." If you've found one or more of those people in your life, then count yourself very lucky indeed.
Text Sarah Raphael
Photography Petra Collins
Styling Stella Greenspan
Styling assistance Arizona Williams