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The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry

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On the left: Daria (smart). On the right: Quinn (pretty).
Ruth: I'm her sister.
Chick: [doubtfully] Her sister? She's a blonde, good-looking kid, ain't she?
Ruth: [grimly] Yes, she's a blonde, good-looking kid.

There are two sisters, close enough in age to have a relatively equal relationship, but light years apart in personality. More often than not, they can be roughly described as follows:

  • The Beautiful Sister: An attractive, outgoing, fashionable, popular, but unintellectual character. If older, she'll be more mature sexually. Can range from smart yet Book Dumb to The Brainless Beauty. Endlessly criticizes her sister for her unyieldingly contrarian social attitude.
  • The Smart Sister: A bookish, explicitly smart character. Very often a Deadpan Snarker and The Snark Knight. Very socially awkward and subject to far less male attention, although this often has more to do with her personality than her appearance. Endlessly criticizes her sister for her willing or apparent shallowness.

While it is usually made clear that they love each other, the sisters are constant verbal combatants. Most of the time they find each other incomprehensible. Sometimes they both harbour a secret inferiority complex. After all, calling someone "The Smart Sister" implies that she isn't pretty, and vice-versa. The sisters may become love rivals, but often they prefer very different types. The smart sister is usually the more sympathetic of the two, either an explicit Creator's Pet or the character preferred by fans. This is often the result of writers themselves having been the Smart One growing up and thus often projecting their own feelings onto her, though many a reader can relate (and project too).


A special, female variant of Sibling Rivalry and Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling. If either or both sisters get on okay with people they aren't related to, but the Glorious War gets nasty, then, well, Friends Are Chosen, Family Aren't. Cain and Abel can kick in when the differences of opinion go really wrong.

Can overlap with Polar Opposite Twins and is a Sub-Trope of Sibling Yin-Yang.

See also Bratty Teenage Daughter and Tomboy and Girly Girl.


Example subpages:

Other examples:

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  • The Ballad, Twa Sisters (also known as Two Sisters, Cruel Sister or The Bonny Swans) collected by Francis J. Child depicts the rivalry of two sisters with horrific results. The eldest, referred to as darker and "coal-black", grows jealous of the younger, "bright as is the sun" sister as she wins the favor of the man they were romantically competing for. The eldest murders the youngest, nearly getting away with it had it not been for divine intervention at the end. The eldest is usually depicted as being not as beautiful as the younger, but clever enough to almost get away with murdering her sister. That would make the eldest the smart sister, while the younger is the beautiful one.

    Comic Books 
  • The Mighty Thor: Amora the Enchantress and her younger sister Lorelei. For years Lorelei tried to best her sister in her own field of expertise (supernatural beauty and magical seduction) and always failing pretty spectacularly. In more recent times the younger sister has tried to pivot away from emulating her sister and has become something of a Classy Cat-Burglar on Earth. Though they snipe at each other over petty things, Amora has shown genuine care and concern over her little sister (at least in times of existential danger), though Lorelei's hatred of her legendary, overshadowing sibling shows no signs of fading.
  • In Patty-Cake, the title character frequently got into squabbles with her older sister Sandy.

    Films — Animation 
  • Mirabel and Isabela from Encanto are this for most of the film with Isabela playing The Beautiful Sister. They become closer towards the end of the film when Isabela confesses her unhappiness and lack of desire to marry Mariano and Mirabel realizes they're not so different.
  • In Frozen (2013), Elsa, though a striking beauty, is The Smart Sister who is aloof and pragmatic. Anna is The Beautiful Sister who is a Genki Girl and so desperate for romance that she accepts a proposal from a man she just met. A bit of a subversion as the sisters actually don't share much animosity towards each other and wish they were closer. Most of their conflict stems from a misunderstanding where Elsa thinks she needs to keep her distance after accidentally injuring Anna with her powers as children, and present-day Anna doesn't even know that Elsa has powers because her parents agreed to let trolls erase that part of her memory in a misguided attempt to protect her. Once Elsa's powers are out in the open again and she lets down her walls, the two get along very well despite their different personalities.

  • Lily Allen has a song Back to the Start that's all about this trope and Lily reconciling with her sister. Lily apparently was the smart one. (Not that Lily Allen herself is unattractive, but her sister "[was] and always will be/The taller and the prettier one".)
  • Ashlee Simpson has a very intense take on this trope in Shadow, written about her difficult, envy-ridden relationship with her sister.
  • The Kinks' song "Two Sisters" contrasts a beautiful, fashionable jet-setter with her sister who's more of a dowdy housewife-mother. The latter envies the former before finally deciding she's better off.
  • In this case, six sisters (or, according to one side's opinion, only four). And it isn't pretty. Seventies/Eighties singing family The Nolan Sisters appear to have split into two separate rival factions who are mutually not at home to each other. Let us call these the Provisional and Official wings of the Nolan family, as it does appear to have got this bloody and this Irish. Relations were soured when the oldest sister made abuse allegations against her (now deceased) father that were hotly denied by the horrified rest of her family. It was pointed out that the oldest sister is bankrupt and in desperate need of the money only a shock/horror autobiography could bring in. Offered a lucrative reunion tour and recording deal, the rest of the sisterhood retaliated by cutting the oldest out of the contact. On top of this, a sixth sister who left the band just as they became famous was miffed to discover the sisters were reforming, and she had not been invited. Lawyers have been brandished and opening shots fired. Official family history has been airbrushed to make it look as if there were only ever four Nolan Sisters (Maureen, Linda, Bernadette, and Colleen). Anne and Denise Nolan are said to be just a wee fecken' bit offended that they no longer exist, and are seeking to prove their corporeal integrity, to the satisfaction of Church, State and Courts. (If nothing else, they are credited on the first few LP's and an awful lot of TV work the girls did....) Watch this space.
    • Family relations have "normalized" somewhat and something of a Good Friday Agreement has been entered into following the tragic and premature death of Bernadette Nolan. However, the youngest and most successful Sister, TV presenter Colleen, almost immediately set about getting her retaliation in first, via an autobiography serialised in the Daily Mirror. This could run on for as long as the other Troubles.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Older Than Dirt: In Mesopotamian Mythology, Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld depicts the divine sisters Ereshkigal and Inanna in this way.
  • In Pacific Mythology, Pele (the goddess of fire) and Poli'ahu (one of the four goddesses of snow and ice) are like this. Not only because they are, you know, diametrically-opposed Elemental forces, but because they often competed over the same mortal men, most memorably a young ali'i (chief) by the name of Aiwohikupua. They also competed in holua sledding, which (to make a long story short) is why there are glaciers on Mauna Kea, and why Mauna Kea is dormant (which was said to be Poli'ahu's home, gifted to her by her and Pele's father.)
  • In the Book of Genesis, Leah and Rachel have this, over their shared husband, Jacob. Jacob fell in Love at First Sight with Rachel, and since he didn't have any money for a proper bride-price (having run away from home after stealing his older twin brother's inheritance), he worked unpaid for her father Laban for seven years. When the wedding day finally arrived, however, the woman under the bridal veil (presumably not see-through like those of today) was not Rachel, but her Hollywood Homely older sister, Leah...and Jacob didn't notice this until after the wedding festivities (and wedding night) were over. note  When he confronted Laban about the Bride and Switch, Laban nonchalantly replied that it's not acceptable in Padan-Aram to marry off a younger sister before an older one...and that he'll give Jacob the right girl this time, in exchange for another seven years of unpaid work. Leah becomes pregnant with Jacob's firstborn son, and Rachel becomes jealous. (Leah is overjoyed because she believes that bearing a son for Jacob will make him love her more, as well as elevate her social status in general.) They end up in a "who can have more babies" contest, even getting their servant-girls Zilpah and Bilhah involved at times when they get slammed by the Law of Inverse Fertility. Their sons become the founders of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. (And Leah's only known daughter gets...raped by a Canaanite prince.)

    Visual Novels 

    Web Comics 
  • A Magical Roommate: Aylia (Bookworm) and Alassa (Beautiful) hate each other because of this. Notably, Aylia doesn't want anything to do with Alassa, who is so proud of herself that she HAS to be better than her book-crazy sister all the time; Alassa used to have Aylia wrapped around her finger until Alassa's prideful abuse broke Aylia's Cool Big Sis perspective. Unfortunately, Alassa is so utterly proud and spoiled that she won't put any real work into anything, not because she's lazy, but because it agitates her to do anything other than compete. The author specifically states that Alassa might have developed some serious talent "if she hadn't put so much work into being stupid".
  • Pacificators has an interesting case: two of the main characters, Larima and Taffe, are a pair of orphaned sisters. They usually get along reasonably well... but the entire time, there is constant tension between the two. Finally, in Chapter 42, they had a huge fight (off-screen), because Taffe was pissed that Larima almost got herself killed. note 
  • Robin and Roz DeSanto of Shortpacked! are an odd take on this with Robin being a Cloudcuckoolander Manic Pixie Dream Girl and Roz being a Depraved Bisexual Anything That Moves Nymphomaniac Cam Whore.
  • In Sticky Dilly Buns, Amber and Ruby are a textbook case, apart from a moderately substantial age difference. Admittedly, Amber (the pretty one) doesn't want to fight, and sometimes tries to negotiate a truce, but she doesn't seem to have a clue how to talk to her sister, while Ruby (the smart one, a Broken Bird who blames Amber for her condition, with some logic) isn't ready to stop, and keeps finding new grounds for resentment, legitimate or dubious.

    Web Original 

    Web Videos 
  • Pleasantly averted in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Jane and Lizzie support each other and admire the other, Jane and Lydia esteem and try to correct each other, and Lizzie and Lydia are too busy being sarcastic towards each other and too certain that their way of living is the good one to be rivals.
  • Taylor and Sarah from lonelygirl15 have elements of this, although they mix and match characteristics from the types; Sarah is attractive, intelligent, emo, and a Deadpan Snarker, while Taylor is more bookish and computer savvy but also sportier.