TV & Movies

How Adulthood Changed What I Think of ‘The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’

written by MICHELLE LEMA
the sisterhood of the traveling pants"
the sisterhood of the traveling pants
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

The year was 2005, and low-rise jeans were in. Gossip Girl wouldn’t premiere for another two years. Ugly Betty wouldn’t premiere for another year, but Real Women Have Curves had already shaken up the movie scene three years prior. Joan of Arcadia had just racked up a handful of Emmy Awards after two seasons, and audiences had been falling in love with Gilmore Girls since way back in 2000. Aside from all of these shows and movies being iconic in their day, what they had in common is that their stars eventually ended up in a movie about magical pants. America Ferrara as Carmen, Blake Lively as Bridget, Alexis Bledal as Lena, and Amber Tamblyn as Tibby took to the screen and joined a long line of movies that revolved around four friends living their lives.

There’s something magical about the number four in a friend group. Movies like Now and Then, Waiting to Exhale, and even 80 for Brady take advantage of this known formula. It works, and we’re likely to see it again and again. That magic took place again during this year’s awards season, when America Ferrera was nominated for her outstanding work in Barbie, and her fellow Sisterhood co-stars joined her to celebrate and show support. It was an iconic reunion that had me immediately needing to rewatch the movie that started their real-life friendship. So, I journeyed back to 2005 and watched the movie again. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is about so much more than pants, but what I thought it was about in 2005 compared to what I now know in 2024 is completely different. Here’s what I think of the movie, nearly two decades of life later:

1. Nothing will ever be the same again.

One of my biggest takeaways: The movie goes deep on so many difficult topics. The characters are dealing with grief, death, love, fear, and betrayal all at once. One of the most poignant moments for me was at the very beginning of the film. As they’re about to embark on their summer journeys, the characters say, “Nothing will ever be the same again.” If that isn’t the truth right up front, I don’t know what is. Throughout the movie, the only consistent thing the four friends face is change.

When I first watched the movie, being nearly 20 years younger, I hadn’t experienced as much change as I have now. Back then, change felt like something I could control and choose for myself. But, like in the movie, as I grew up, I learned that, although it is inevitable, you can’t control change. In life, nothing is ever going to be the same again, ever. This may seem like a melancholy viewpoint, but now that I’m older, I see it as a promise that life, unpredictable as it is, is best led when embracing change, even if that means accepting grief, loss, and love.

2. Getting comfortable with mortality is a challenge.

While her friends travel for the summer, Tibby stays home, works at a local store, and films a documentary about those around her. Bailey, a younger kid with a knack for connecting to people she interviews, helps Tibby with her film. Later, we find out Bailey has leukemia and is dying. When I first watched the movie, I was thrown by this revelation and desperately wanted Bailey to get better—but she didn’t. This time around, knowing it was going to happen, I paid attention to the scenes leading up to it. There’s a really beautiful scene where Bailey and Tibby are on a picnic blanket, looking up at the stars, and Bailey says, “I’m afraid of what I’ll miss.” That line really struck me, as I’ve heard people close to me express this same fear when facing death. And to hear it spoken with such clarity from a young character is heartbreaking.

It’s uncomfortable to talk about death, to think about it, or to acknowledge it. Tibby struggles with this and even avoids going to see Bailey in the hospital, not wanting to accept it. What I didn’t see the first time I watched the movie was that these moments between Bailey and Tibby were all about facing mortality for the first time. If you were to ask me 20 years ago what I thought The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was about, I would not have said, “Death.” But it’s a major theme that this rewatch revealed to me. And it’s not just Tibby and Bailey who are grappling with the concept. The movie begins with Bridget’s mother’s funeral, and Kostas (whom Lena meets in Greece) reveals that his parents died in a car crash. While it might seem like too much grief, the movie somehow maintains a joyful hope throughout, which, in the end, is a lesson in facing death and mortality. The best way we can honor those we’ve lost is to find the light that they left us and carry it on. In Tibby’s case, it’s to make her documentary about Bailey.

3. First love and first loss are equally defining moments.

While Tibby, Bridget, and Carmen are all grappling with loss in their own ways, Lena has a Mamma Mia moment in Greece on a trip to visit her grandparents. When Lena meets Kostas there, she’s forbidden by her grandparents to see him because their families are feuding. Very Romeo and Juliet. Lena tries to avoid Kostas but finds herself drawn to him. There’s a scene in which Lena is alone on a dock, and she wonders how “people like Kostas and Bridget, who have lost everything, can still be open to love, while I, who have lost nothing, am not.” She then jumps into the awaiting water, symbolically changing her perspective on love. I really didn’t think much of that moment when I watched this movie the first time, as I don’t think the concept spoke to my younger self. But, my older self, who has now experienced a first love and many loves after, had a lot of thoughts.

I think loss and love are intertwined. Of course, the loss of love can cause enormous pain. But, in my own case, after the loss of my mother, I eventually felt an invisible pull to open myself up to the world again. I had a new appreciation of life and its fragility. And while I wouldn’t wish that type of loss on anyone, in some ways, it defined my 30s before they even really began. Lena is frustrated with herself for seemingly not being as brave as Bridget or Kostas. She also doesn’t truly know the heartbreak that Carmen experienced when her parents split up. But at the same time, I wanted to tell Lena to treasure that she hadn’t experienced loss yet—it’s OK to be where you are. When she eventually opens herself up to falling in love with Kostas, she gives way to the possibility of loss in the future. First love can be terrifying because you’re putting yourself out there, not knowing what the future will hold or if it will last. But for Lena and the other characters in the movie, life is loss and love and everything in between.

4. It’s OK to be single-minded to the point of recklessness sometimes.

Bridget tells her soccer coach that her therapist called her “single-minded to the point of recklessness” in a session after her mother died. I didn’t even remember this from my first watch. Now, Bridget revealing her therapist’s assessment made me think about how words, especially from authority figures, can stick with kids for the rest of their lives. I’m no therapist, but reckless was probably not the best assessment.

Bridget is directing her grief at certain goals and achievements, like being the best in soccer or getting the guy she wants. I myself have been single-minded to the point of recklessness at points in my life. Whether that be throwing myself into a new job or trying to make a friendship work that had run its course. I hadn’t yet experienced that type of relentless drive when I first saw the movie, but now I understand it to be something like avoidance. We avoid facing something hard by fixating on something else. I now know we’re not alone when we do this. And it’s not reckless, but something we should have compassion for and help ourselves and our friends through to the other side. The other side is facing the thing that scares us most.

5. Carmen’s monologue in the dress-fitting scene was the OG Barbie monologue.

America Ferrera knows how to deliver an iconic monologue. When her character Carmen is invited to try on dresses with her soon-to-be stepmom and stepsister, they’re completely insensitive to how she might feel. Not only is she grappling with the news that her dad is remarrying (without warning), but she’s stuck trying on a dress in a shop that clearly doesn’t understand her. If the Barbie monologue spoke about being a woman today, the dress shop monologue in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants stood up for body positivity and being your own person. Of course, when the movie first came out, I knew not that there would one day be a movie about Barbie that I loved, so I couldn’t have made this comparison. But now that I’ve seen Sisterhood again, I think it’s an important moment in the movie. Carmen represents a young woman who is not afraid to stand up for herself. It’s also a testament to America Ferrara’s career and talent—through it all, she has been able to connect to the audience by taking the words that were written in the script and making it truly her own.

6. We may not always find our way back to friendships. Also, wash the pants.

As a grown adult, I am concerned about the lack of washing of these magical pants over an entire summer. I found myself fixating on it. And while I could just leave it at that, allow me to make a metaphor out of it about friendship. Pants can last for a long time. So can friendships. Now that I’ve had some friendships that have lasted decades, I definitely have a different perspective.

When I first watched The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, I was experiencing the innocence of childhood friendships, mostly with neighbors or kids at school. The four friends in the movie met as babies because their moms took a class together. So they have literally known each other their whole lives. They make a vow that they will “always find their way back to each other.” I still today have friendships that lasted this vow, but then again, I have friendships that did not. As you get older, your friends will change. Your interests and values may grow together or apart. And that’s OK—really, it’s more than OK, it’s what makes life beautiful. Much like pants that really should be washed at some point, some friendships will change in style or wash away with time. That doesn’t mean you didn’t love the pants, but you can move forward with gratitude, knowing that nothing, not even friendships, will ever be the same.