This is Love.

Girlhood and love all wrapped in a bundle of pink ribbon and platonic soulmates.

by Alexandra Adler / Garnet & Black

You’re in the bathroom with the loves of your life: your best girlfriends. Maybe you met a few weeks ago or maybe a lifetime ago; either way, you’re here now. Standing in front of the overcrowded mirror, trying to get your eyeliner just right. In the back of the room, your friends debate over which outfit to wear and you offer to share a pink top that would fit the Barbie theme perfectly. Someone’s party playlist plays over the TV speaker that is definitely annoying your neighbor. Steam floats through the air from someone’s curling iron as sweet perfume laces the air with the scent of vanilla. Hairspray coats everything, but it’s worth it for a flawless '90s blowout. One friend is locked away trying to finish her homework before it’s time to go. Compliments are thrown around the room, fostering a safe space of love and appreciation. In this space of girls and makeup, you’re safe. This is love.

In these sacred spaces, you ask­ your friends for validation and comfort. “Is this skirt cute, or should I change?” or “Eyeliner, or no eyeliner?” Every mirror picture only makes everyone’s confidence grow. Digital and film cameras capture every moment of group photos and sassy selfies, leaving everyone to race in the morning to see who can post the first photo dump to their Instagram. Girlhood is laughing and making jokes that only your special group can understand, even if it leaves a morning of cleaning up clothes, shoes and makeup in its wake. It’s the more grown-up version of a middle-school sleepover, staring at the mirror playing Bloody Mary, but now instead of being scared of the reflection, you gaze into it with the surrounding love of your friends. This is girlhood.

You’re walking in a pack to the nearest bar or party aware of everything, even the slightest sound of footsteps. Someone is looking behind the group out of habit to watch for any dangerous figures. You’ve already established your plan for who is going to drive later, ensuring no one goes home alone. All locations are shared, and phones are charged before the night begins. The night out starts with crowding in someone’s room and spending time together, but once you leave that space, the dangers of the world become real again. This is girlhood.

You're taking a quick trip to the crowded Starbucks for the first pumpkin spice latte of the season, more than ready to romanticize fall and plan your first sweater-weather outfit. You are dragging each one of your friends along for hot girl walk before class, the time where you get to discuss anything and everything you want. This is the time before classes or work that make you begin to worry about this woman you should be. The woman everyone is telling you to be. This is girlhood.

Inside the safe haven of cute clothes and your best friends, the pressure of appearing perfect on social media and fitting into the male gaze, all the while also being a total girlboss, is taken away. None of these girls are here to judge you or make a predatory flirtatious move; they are there for the shared experience and the comfort of friendship. You are free to be whoever you want, surrounded by the people you love most and who will keep you safe. This is girlhood. This is love.