Gilmore Girls at 20: The incredible life lessons we learned watching the TV show, from feminism to self-love

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This month marks the 20th anniversary of the Gilmore Girls, and the feel-good TV show has lost none of its significance. From feminism to friendship, relationships to self-love, these are the important life lessons we learned from Lorelai and Rory.

Updated on 6 October 2020: The Gilmore Girls, which focuses on the awesome mother-daughter relationship between Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel), has often been praised for its fast-paced dialogue, plethora of pop culture references, and ability to make us laugh as well as cry.

However, above all else, it was heralded as one of the most ballsy and feminist shows on TV.

So, to celebrate the fact that it’s been 20 years since the series Gilmore Girls first hit our television screens – well before it popped up on Netflix as a reboot – we’ve taken a look back at all the amazing lessons the show taught us about life. 

You’re welcome.

1) Never be afraid to shoot for the stars

Gilmore Girls - Lorelai and Rory

“I want to live my life so that I’ll be able to read an in-depth biography about myself in later years and not puke.”

As reported in 2017: The incredible women of the Gilmore Girls are all very different characters – with one important thing in common; they’re never willing to compromise or settle. Ever. 

In fact, they all have big goals and dreams and they are always working towards them in their own ways. Lorelai dreams of running her own inn, Rory dreams of being Christiane Amanpour, Lane dreams of rocking out to loud music, Paris dreams of, well, of being the best at everything. 

The thing about Gilmore Girls is that each of their fearless female characters were never afraid to think big and they were constantly striving for their goals. Even when those plans didn’t work out, the show stressed the importance of continuing to dream. 

2) Never judge a book by its cover

“I stopped being a child the minute the strip turned pink… I built a life on my own with no help from anyone.”

In a time when unconventional families were rarely shown on television, Lorelai Gilmore was a breath of fresh air. Yes, she got pregnant when she was a teenager – but she completely defies all of the unfair stereotypes that young single mums are subjected to. She grows up faster than her friends, refuses to marry her teen boyfriend (despite enormous pressure from her family), and she works incredibly hard to ensure that she never has to rely on anyone but herself when it comes to raising her daughter.

She starts out as a chambermaid, becomes the boss of a small hotel, goes back to college to get a degree in business, and fulfills her dreams of opening her very own Dragonfly Inn – and, in doing so, proves once and for all that you should never underestimate anyone, or judge them before you get to know them.

3) Take every opportunity to batter down the patriarchy

“Lorelai? It’s my mother’s name, too. She named me after herself. She was lying in the hospital thinking about how men name boys after themselves all the time, you know, so why couldn’t women? She says her feminism just kind of took over.”

‘Nuff said, to be honest. All hail Lorelai!

4) You don’t need a relationship to be happy

“I don’t want to be that kind of girl. The kind of girl who falls apart because she doesn’t have a boyfriend.”

Yes Rory enjoys romances during the show – but the men she dates are just footnotes in a bigger story. Because Gilmore Girls isn’t about finding The One, it’s about realising that you are The One. And, come the end of it all, Rory is single, unwilling to let any relationship define her or hold her back, and 100% in control of her own destiny.

You go, girl.

5) It’s OK to ask for help when you need it

Gilmore Girls
A scene from Gilmore Girls: A Day In The Life.

“I cannot do this alone. I need my mommy and I don’t care who knows it.”

Yes, Gilmore Girls is all about strong and independent women, but the show makes it abundantly clear that there’s no shame in leaning on your friends and family when times get rough. It doesn’t make you any less badass, or any less inspiring.

In fact, knowing when to ask for help is one of the greatest skills anyone can learn in life – and easily one of the kindest thing you can do for yourself.

6) Women can absolutely make the first move (duh!)

“[Saying hello isn’t too forward], it’s the appropriate way to indicate you’re open to a social engagement. Unless, however, you are approaching a weasel. Then I believe the proper signal is just to offer him your hindquarters.

Women need to stop conforming to this boring narrative that they’re prizes to be fought over and won; take control of your own destiny, walk up to the guy or gal who’s caught your eye, and strike up a conversation. As Lorelai says, it’s completely appropriate. And, if that fails, we guess you always could go down the weasel route…

7) It’s OK to make mistakes

“Yeah, everybody screws up Lane. That’s what happens. It’s what you do with the screw-ups, it’s how you handle the experience, that’s what you should judge yourself by.”

Everyone makes mistakes, because nobody’s perfect – the true skill is in how you handle it. Take Rory, for instance; when newspaper mogul Mitchum Huntzberger tells her she doesn’t have what it takes to be a journalist, she drops out of Yale, stops talking to her mother, and lets her entire life fall apart. Her wallowing doesn’t last for long, thankfully, and she pulls herself together and goes back to college and aces all her courses.

It’s clear she’s learned from her past mistakes when she graduates without any job prospects or offers; instead of wallowing, she embraces the challenges ahead and allows herself to get excited about her newfound freedom. It all pays off, too; she winds up securing an amazing job as a journalist on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign trail. Incredible.

8) Don’t be afraid to be afraid

“I love the idea of being married to you, but there are just a lot of things right now in my life that are undecided. And that used to scare me, but now I kind of like the idea that it’s just all kind of…wide open. And if I married you, it just wouldn’t be.”

It’s okay to be scared sometimes; in fact, a healthy dose of fear is good for all of us. Throwing ourselves out of our comfort zone, too, is a total must… and this is exemplified when Logan pops the question to Rory. She realises that nobody (repeat this: nobody) is ever worth changing yourself into something less than you truly are, and that’s why she says no.

So what if she doesn’t have a plan? So what if saying yes is the safe, easy option? Rory’s a total #queen who wants to see the world, on her own terms, and getting married is absolutely the wrong decision for her at this point in her life. All hail a happy ever after that DOESN’T comprise of a Prince Charming and a diamond ring, eh?

9) Women can do anything

“We could be running our own inn in less than a year.”

Literally every single woman in Star Hollow is a total badass. Whether they’re the the town’s mechanic, a dance instructor, an antique dealer, a journalist in the making, a hotelier, or organising charity functions, each and every single one knew the meaning of power, hard work, and self-love. More importantly, they aren’t tearing each other down, either; the relationships between women on this show are celebrated and revered, rather than mocked and turned into a farce.

As Lorelai would say, ‘I am kayak, hear me roar’.

10) Stand up for what you believe in

“Do you think Amy Schumer would like me?”

Amy Schumer is famed for speaking her mind and standing up for women’s rights, so we’re going to give a resounding HELL YEAH, she’d love Rory and Lorelai. All she has to do is check out Rory’s dorm room at Yale (think posters for Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League) to know that she’s found her spirit animal.

11) Ignore the pressures put upon you to look a certain way

“Who cares if I’m pretty if I fail my finals?”

Women are constantly taught that they have to conform to narrow beauty standards set by the media – but Lorelai and Rory refuse to kowtow to any of that nonsense. There are more important things in life than dieting, blow dries, and makeup, you know. Things like, say, friendship. And education. And coffee, probably. 

12) Unleash your inner Nasty Woman

Of course. We’re girls, so we must be fighting over a boy. You sexist, white-haired …”

Paris is our spirit animal, in all honesty. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything, she says exactly what’s on her mind, and she’s too smart to let anyone belittle her. Sure, when she and Rory first meet, they’re sworn enemies. But, as time goes by, they come to respect each other – and later become best friends.

The most awesome part in all of this?  We finally get to see a realistic friendship between girls that allows them to be intellectually competitive without tearing each other down. Big up to a show that finally realises the importance of the sisterhood.

13) Read more amazing books

“I just take a book with me everywhere. It’s just habit.”

From The Awakening by Kate Chopin, to Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women, Rory is rarely seen without a book in her hand. In fact, over the course of seven seasons, she devours 339 feminist books – and has inspired her very own reading challenge in the process. How many have you ticked off the list?

14) Don’t ever let anyone judge your sex life

“It’s times like these that you realize what is *truly* important in your life. I’m so glad I had all that sex.”

In Star Hollow, sex is never a taboo topic, girls are never slut-shamed, and women can enjoy as many damn relationships as they want. Take pleasure where you can find it, ladies, and date whoever you like. Just try to remember where you leave your underwear, yeah?

15) Treat yo’self – and be unapologetic about it, too

“Get back in your pajamas, go to bed, eat nothing but gallons of ice cream and tons of pizza.”

From coffee to takeaways, the Gilmore Girls indulge in anything and everything – and, while some people (looking at you, Luke) try to shame them out of their vices, they aren’t prepared to give them up for anyone. Because why the hell should they? Eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and don’t ever be apologetic about it.  

16​​) ​​​​​Find the silver linings where you can

A scene from Gilmore Girls: A Day In The Life

“Well, we like our internet slow, okay? We can turn it on, walk around, dance, make a sandwich. With DSL, there’s no dancing, no walking, and we’d starve. It’d be all work and no play.”

Life’s too short to spend time dwelling on the shoulda-coulda-wouldas, so make like the Gilmore Girls and make a point of searching for the silver linings in life – they may not be obvious at first, but trust us when we say that they’re there. That could be making the most of a slow internet connection (see above), or refusing to let the stuff you can’t control get on top of you. 

Whatever happens, try to remember that an optimistic, mug-half-full-of-coffee mentality will help you deal with the bad times.

17) Celebrate the amazing women in your life

“I just want you to remember three things when you’re sitting up there. I love you. You’re the greatest kid in the world. And you’re in a skirt, so keep your knees closed.”

We always say congratulations to our pals when they get engaged, or announce that they’re having a baby – but what about the women who ace that first job interview, get accepted onto their dream college course, nail that promotion, pass their driving test, break up with that toxic boyfriend, start volunteering at a local shelter, or speak up for something they’re passionate about?


It’s time to start celebrating all the amazing things that women do, rather than focus on the stuff that falls into that old-fashioned narrative of ‘love, marriage, baby carriage’. Look at Lorelai’s excitement over her daughter attending Yale; she goes around telling absolutely everyone about it. And we mean it when we say everyone. Now that’s the way to blow someone’s trumpet for them!

18) And, on that note: stop wishing, start doing

“You won’t get anything unless you ask for it. And if you ask for it and you don’t get it, maybe it wasn’t worth having in the first place. Some things are just never meant to be, no matter how much we wish they were.”

Life doesn’t hand you everything you want on a golden platter, you guys – and that’s something Lorelai and Rory Gilmore learn throughout the entire run of the Gilmore Girls. And, sure, their fairytales do come true – but it’s all because they ask for what they want (Rory writes to every newspaper in the country for an internship, remember), they forge their own opportunities, and they work damn hard to make their dreams come true. Inspiring stuff, right?


My mother never gave me any idea that I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do or be whomever I wanted to be. She filled our house with love and fun and books and music, unflagging in her efforts to give me role models from Jane Austen to Eudora Welty to Patti Smith. As she guided me through these incredible eighteen years, I don’t know if she ever realised that the person I most wanted to be was her… Thank you, Mom. You are my guidepost for everything.”

Lorelai and Rory remind us that our mums really can be our best friends, biggest champions, tutors, pupils, partners in mischief, allies… and, on occasion, enemies. Remember when Rory moved into the pool-house at Emily and Richard’s and refused to even give her mum the time of day? It was horrible, and worse than any TV breakup. When they finally made it up, we were all cheering – but we couldn’t help feeling bad about all the time together they’d lost out on. Because watching these two on screen just makes us want to spend more time guzzling coffee, chowing down on Chinese food, and cuddling up on the sofa with our mummy dearest.

Call her now, get a date in the diary, and hang out ASAP. You only ever get one mum, so make the most of her.

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Images: Netflix/Warner Bros/Gilmore Girls

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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