The very first episode of Girls (season 2 starts January 13 on HBO Canada) hit me like a ton of bricks. In it, Hannah (Lena Dunham) hassles Marnie (Allison Williams) while they’re bathing together in their decrepit shower. “I never see you naked, and you always see me naked when actually it should be the other way around,” she says, naked and chomping on a cupcake. “You are beautiful—shut up,” maintains the prudish Marnie, who tugs at her tightly fastened towel as she shaves her legs. Replies Hannah: “I don’t need that—I need to see your boobs.”
I know what it’s like to feel like an ugly duckling. When I lived in Montreal two summers ago, I found myself in the odd position of befriending a crew of babely arts students years younger than me. My hometown friends were stylish, but my newly acquired posse’s art-school educations and access to cheap Quebecois vintage meant they resembled exotic Olsen twins. These girls—including my gorgeous actress roommate, who starred in an independent film that summer—could get away with acid-washed jeans and occasional bralessness. While I elected to go to a party in scavenged Forever 21 separates (and a bra, it must be noted; without one I tend to look like the matriarch of an Italian peasant family), they would wear floor-length caftans. In the thick of an extended (read: sexless) period of depression, my self-esteem was at an all-time low. As we all grooved to The Dream in the middle of a Mile End loft party, I couldn’t figure out how girls this fabulous wanted to be friends with me: a covert, unlovable weirdo with thighs that rubbed together when she walked.
A destructive theory often perpetuated in popular culture says that ultra babes choose to befriend less attractive girls as gatekeepers, in order to make sure that they get all the attention in the room. These less-comely friends feast on the scraps of the hot girl’s good fortunes, sleeping with her castoffs and downing free drinks. (See the truly deplorable Paris Hilton film, The Hottie & the Nottie, Neil Strauss’s pickup-artist manifesto, The Game, and the ever-changing Rhoda/Mary dynamic in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.) Magazines such as Us Weekly like to pit celebrities against each other, turning Hollywood into one big “Who Wore It Better?” But in my experience, my gorgeous girlfriends—and their sincere appreciation of my own form—ultimately made me feel better about myself.
“If you have a friend who sincerely sees your beauty, whether it’s inner or outer, gosh that makes you feel good,” confirms Carlin Flora, author of the upcoming Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are. “Every single female friendship I’m in requires the give and take of, ‘You look so pretty!’ ‘So do you!’ adds actress Allison Williams, who is adamant that Marnie’s compliments to Hannah are always sincere. “It’s just part of the deal. And obviously, when it’s disingenuous, it loses all its value.”
This is something I’ve learned via my Montreal set. With her huge eyes and red hair, my friend Sara looks like a punk rock Ariel, but she frequently compliments me on my skin. I’m an hourglass by design, but my gamine actress roommate wishes that she had more curves. Sure, I’m jealous of our friend Tess, who can wear cheetah-print palazzo pants scavenged from the Salvation Army and look like she belongs in Vogue, but ultimately, she and all of my other gorgeous friends have inspired me to cultivate my own sense of style and beauty because they rock theirs so well.
That has meant chopping off my ombré locks into a jet-black bob and buying a ’90s maxi dress that hugs my curves, defiantly, like a second skin. When I wore it out to the opening of a new bar in Montreal, I appreciated my friends’ compliments though I didn’t seek out their approval—I had made a new rule of no longer searching for anyone’s validation but my own. (It’s not easy.) The best part of the night came when we returned home to my friend Tess’s house for a spur-of-the-moment sleepover. We drank beer, ate poutine and took silly iPhone photos. For once, we were all wearing caftans.