Millennials, We Need To Talk About #GIRLBOSS

Sometimes in Netflix, on my way to West Wing re-runs, I’ll come across an intriguing new show title card on the streaming service’s “home” page. Such was the case a few weeks ago with Girlboss, the 13-episode Netflix-original series that is [loosely] based off Sophia Amoruso’s memoir-ish book of the same name (but with a hashtag, #GIRLBOSS).

A girl dressed in what I assume to be the hottest new bohemian chic look is sitting on a 70’s-style orange couch in the middle of a San Francisco street. She is giving her audience a “don’t mess with me” stare behind her wide, Almost Famous sunglasses.

I immediately become amused that Dean Pelton from Community is in the first trailer scene, and then I’m swept back to my high school ought years as “TKO” by Le Tigre begins to play. Also…is that RuPaul playing a sassy neighbor?!?

Okay…this is enough for me to watch the first episode, I thought.

Dear Millennials,

I’ve known girls like Sophia Marlowe in my life. Pixie dream girls with DGAF attitudes. Guys I know would look at her and think “edgy” and “cool” because of her bad attitude. I wanted to like her. I really did. I gave it my best shot, waited for the backstory to see how she got here, and then…

Um, is she really stealing that rug?? Am I supposed to be okay with this?

What I’m really not okay with is every single review I’ve read that labels Sophia Marlowe as “someone who is misunderstood.” That’s not an excuse for disrespecting others. While struggling with Sophia’s blatant disregard for anyone but herself for the first 11 out of 13 episodes, I spent the majority of my time thinking,

if this is what we are defining as successful, we’re screwed.

Unfortunately, I feel like this is exactly how other generations view the majority of Millennials—narcissistic, entitled, moody, and annoying. Sure, Sophia is also creative and towards the end, hardworking, but she is not a likable character. Now listen…I am a feminist and I know that women don’t have to be liked, but the way I disliked Sophia Marlowe was different from the way I dislike Don Draper, for example. Nothing about her character or the choices she made helped me to empathize with her, in any way. After getting fired from a shoe store because she took personal calls instead of helping customers and eating her manager’s sandwich, she storms down the street before stopping and asking herself, “Why am I such an asshole?” I don’t know, and the worst part? I don’t care. 

So dear Millennials: regardless of whether or not you got something more out of this show than I did, please remember that going from a shoplifter who doesn’t know what a URL is to successful online business CEO within one year is not realistic. However, working hard for something you believe in is realistic, and I know that many of you are accomplishing your goals right now. Keep working, keep learning, be kind and respectful to others, and kick some ass.

Time to pick up the book…

I binge-watched all 13 episodes of Girlboss in one weekend, so on Monday morning, I ran out to my local library to grab a copy of #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso. I had to know which parts of the story were true and which were fictionalized.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t know anything about #GIRLBOSS or Sophia Amoruso before I watched the Netflix show. However, I have called many of my girlfriends a #GIRLBOSS. I had no idea where it came from, but I liked the phrase. I was honestly surprised to learn that this was the platform and the story from where that phrase originated.

Sophia pares her personal journey with life advice — lessons she learned along the way for other aspiring #GIRLBOSSes to learn from. The book definitely helped me to break apart the two Sophias. The book makes Sophia sound much more frugal and level-headed than her fictional Netflix counterpart, among other things.

Here are the most core differences between #GIRLBOSS, the book, and Girlboss, the Netflix series that helped me break apart truth from fiction:

Book vs. Netflix: Core Differences

Poor Little Rich Girl

Another differentiator that changed my mind quite a bit was how Sophia’s parents were portrayed in the TV show. In the book, Sophia talks openly about the changes that happened in her life as a result of her parents’ financial stability. At one point, she was pulled out of Catholic school because her parents went bankrupt. She made it clear that she didn’t come from money.

However in the TV show, Sophia’s father is portrayed as having money but never being around. This is made apparent in the flashback episode when Sophia first meets Annie and she’s living with her dad. Everything about her life growing up signified that she was a latchkey kid with daddy’s credit card. It didn’t make me feel drawn to her character or her purpose whatsoever. In fact, the more I learned about her past in the series, the more distant I became.

Her dad, played by Breaking Bad star Dean Norris, is portrayed as a corporate suit, an “all work no play” figure who doesn’t understand or believe in his daughter. I mean, how dare he show up to a dinner with his daughter on time and then question her about an area rug she drags into a restaurant and admits she stole from a store. How DARE he?! Then, how dare he question his daughter’s strange behavior when she does show up at a restaurant on time (with her new boyfriend in tow) showing him “graphs” that don’t actually relay any information while she’s asking him for money. How DARE he?! And THEN, when he does go against his better judgment to co-sign a loan on office space, Sophia gets upset and storms out when he tries to protect himself and his assets by negotiating a price that he can afford just in case his daughter—who has shown a pattern of flaky behavior—decides to not pay the year’s rent in full. HOW DARE HE?!

The parental hostility couldn’t get any worse—until Sophia finds her mother. An aloof, pathetic dinner theater actress who serves almost as a Ghost of Christmas Future, Sophia tracks her mom down in Episode 10 after several rounds of maternal abandonment issues that keep popping up with her boyfriend and her eBay frenemy.

The parental issues in the show bugged me. Maybe I’m getting to the age where I can see the perspective of the parents more clearly, but none of this is really the focus of Sophia’s true story. In fact, I felt like these petty parental issues and frayed relationships were not built up from anything substantial. It was one of the main reasons why I felt so irritated by Sophia Marlowe. She hated her dad for no good reason and she liked her mom for all the wrong reasons. 

You don’t get any of this unwanted drama in the book. Stick with that.

The Timeline

The Netflix TV show attempted to parse every dramatic angle of Sophia Amoruso’s entire life story leading up to the opening of Nasty Gal into a timeline of (roughly) one year. After reading the book, I realized that every bizarre quirk of Sophia’s personality and her story was presented in the TV show in some way. Listen guys, I GET IT. The Netflix show does not let you forget that the show is LOOSELY based off the true story. However, these HUGE details are true of Sophia’s real life:

  • Sophia Amoruso DID steal things from stores
  • She DID get blacklisted from selling clothes on eBay
  • She DID name her company Nasty Gal after the Betty Davis song
  • She DID start her company store in a boathouse
  • She DID work as a security guard at an art academy in SF
  • She DID have a hernia that caused her to get a job for health insurance

But all of these things happened over the course of a decade or more, not a year. The shortening of Sophia’s timeframe left little room for the audience to believe that Sophia was actually maturing. Didn’t I just see her stealing a rug from a store two episodes ago? Now I’m expected to hope that her eBay business succeeds because she’s so misunderstood and she actually has hidden potential to do something great?

Sorry, I couldn’t care less if your company succeeds or fails.

Which is unfortunate, because the true story of Nasty Gal’s creation is pretty interesting. The concept of building a business empire from flipping clothes on eBay to a full-fledged operation is a Working Girl success story for the dot-com generation. In the book, the real Sophia chronicles her company’s rise by discussing the hours of work she put into designing the clothes, photographing them on her models in her driveway, carefully labeling each box for shipping and adhering to a strict turnaround schedule.

Again, stick with the book.

#Girlboss Advice

One of the most glaring inconsistencies between the two mediums is the advice Sophia gives her readers. In her book, Sophia breaks up her chapters by different facets of career and life advice. In Chapter 8, “On Hiring, Staying Employed, and Firing,” Sophia provides resume, cover letter and networking advice that seemed pretty standard compared to every other resource I’ve ever read. It felt a bit hypocritical for an unconventional CEO to be giving advice that was so…conventional—advice I could never see her younger self taking. Obviously Sophia didn’t have to follow this advice herself because she created her own company. That is commendable, and perhaps it is a reflection of all the lessons Sophia has learned over a decade of building a business, but reading it so closely next to watching a persona of her younger self beat back every single rule Sophia wrote in her book, making it feel paradoxical and therefore, disingenuous.

“Please do not wear sunglasses in your [LinkedIn] profile photo or self identify as ‘visionary’.” ~Sophia Amoruso

Photo from Girlboss, Season 1 on Netflix

However, despite the differences, I will say that both mediums have their merits. While the Girlboss Netflix series is lacking in actual feminism and likable characters, the acting, especially of front woman Britt Robertson, is superb, and the direction of the series is clever and creative, especially the episode titled “Vintage Fashion Forum” which personifies online chat rooms and the interactions that happen within them. However, be ready to put up with a lot of petty selfishness and snoozefest story lines (basically every interaction with her crush) to get a little payoff in the end.

Sophia Amoruso’s #GIRLBOSS is an interesting read lined with encouragement and empowering stories from other #GIRLBOSSes. It was unfortunate that while the author often says throughout the book that this is “#GIRLBOSS” training, it didn’t quite feel like it. In some parts of the book, it felt like Sophia was giving advice to #GIRLBOSS wannabes, instead of actual #GIRLBOSSes, writing such advice as, “don’t chew gum during a job interview.” The sections where she talks about her business journey, her vision, and her creative drive were the best parts of the book, however, and at 239 pages, it’s an easy commuter or beach weekend read for anyone looking for a unique entrepreneurial story.

Bottom line: if you’re looking for a real #GIRLBOSS, read Sophia Amoruso’s book and skip the Netflix show entirely.

Book Review:

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