Whether you are pro or anti-Disney, the fact remains that their Princesses don’t often give young girls the most realistic of expectations. That’s why when one of our readers send us this amazing article, “Mother shuns Disney Princess ideal and dresses daughter up as five REAL heroines from history to commemorate fifth birthday” we all stood up and said that’s awesome. This mom, while not only putting on a fabulous photo shoot, turned a birthday present into a valuable lesson for her daughter. Who better to teach a little girl to cultivate her brains, her perseverance, and to have the courage of her convictions, (not to mention iconic style) than Amelia Earhart, Coco Chanel, Susan B. Anthony, Jane Goodall, and Helen Keller?
To say the least, we approve, and it made us all stop and think about which women we admire the most. Here are just a few of ours, both famous and not, who have inspired us.
J.K. Rowling gave our entire generation the greatest gift I can conceive of- imagination. In “Harry Potter” she wrote for us beautifully flawed and real characters who showed us what friendship should be, and that family is not always blood. She gave us a series of books that taught us about the trials we would face in our lives from friends, family, and foes alike. She told us that it’s alright to not always know how to handle seemingly impossible situations, and that through the support of our loved ones and an unbreakable desire to do what is right (even when we’re not sure what it is), we will persevere. Not everything will work out (which might have been the most important wisdom she imparted), sometimes unbearable sacrifices will be made, but through a combination of books and cleverness, ferocious bravery, and unwavering loyalty we can get through even the darkest of times.
What better advice could our generation have been given? And who better to give it than J.K. Rowling? Look at her life when she first started writing. A well-educated woman who was having economic hard times after her divorce, is working and living on welfare, and writing in her spare time to have an outlet for her creativity. Sound familiar millennials? Then after beginning what was to become the most successful book series in the world, publishers routinely said “er, no thanks.” But she kept trying, kept writing, and kept persevering. And thank God she did. Imagine your life without “Harry Potter”- it’s more disappointing than when you finally admitted at age 17 your Hogwarts acceptance letter hadn’t just been lost in the Owl Post.
Aside from being a beloved author, she’s also a just a good person. She gives broadly to charity, so much so that despite her unfathomable success, she was knocked off Forbes billionaire list because she gave $160 million to charitable organizations. When asked about it she stated, “I think you have a moral responsibility when you’ve been given far more than you need, to do wise things with it and give intelligently.” She’s also written three books for charity and raised over $30 million dollars in the process for organizations linked to poverty, multiple sclerosis, children’s welfare and illiteracy. I think we can all agree with the Doctor (Who), when he exclaimed to the heavens, “Good ol’ J.K.!”
One of my earliest memories was sitting cross-legged in front of the TV watching “Sabrina.” That movie contains one of my favorite lines of all time “I have learned how to live, how to be IN the world and OF the world, and not just to stand aside and watch. And I will never, never again run away from life.” While not an original Hepburn statement, she became an icon throughout my life. In “Roman Holiday” she portrayed the woman who was torn between duty and going her own way (a struggle I feel strongly.) In “Breakfast at Tiffanys” she does what I could never do- she throws away responsibilities and reinvents herself. But Audrey is so much more than her characters on screen: she is the epitome of class, an icon that generations have looked up to. She was strikingly intelligent, she was compassionate, she was humble, and she was willing to let down her hair and laugh at herself.
To me, Audrey symbolizes the old world elegance to which I will aspire, but will never reach. She shined with an ease of self that can only be attained through simplicity and happiness. And beyond anything, Audrey cared about women and their happiness. I’ve scarcely seen a woman age more elegantly either. In her later years, she worked avidly as a UNICEF ambassador, and she remained a well of inspiration for young women. I feel like our generation of women have learned how to stand up for ourselves and how to fight- but somewhere along the way we lost some class and elegance. There is a time to pull out the claws- but we often forget how effective a cool, classy demeanor can be for getting our way. Audrey Hepburn was a fighter, but she always went to war with perfect hair and a large smile.
Anne Frank is one of the most infamous Jewish Holocaust victims. More importantly, she was anyone and everyone. Despite her horrific reality, she symbolized the human spirit as a vivacious, free soul that could not be broken. She understood that creativity rationalized her longing to be self-critical and curious.
As World War II raged, Anne received a diary from her father on her 13th birthday, in the hopes that it would be a tool to help keep her spirit alive. He feared that her animated interior would be silenced by their grim future. They were clearly on the same page, as one of the first sentences in her diary reads, “I hope I can confide in everything to you.”
Anne dreamed that someday her diary would be published and that she would be a famous journalist. While her aspirations eventually became reality, she died before she got to see her dreams realized. The Nazi’s eventually found her family in hiding and took them away leaving her father as the only survivor. Her father knew of Anne’s dreams and published her diary, titling the memoir, “The Diary of a Young Girl.”
She is a woman I admire because she lived at a time when the world was at its scariest. However she surpassed all the fear, and still managed to write about optimism. She was a beacon of hope in a world of the hopeless. More importantly, she was anyone and everyone all at the same time.
To conclude with my favorite quote from her, “We all live with the objective of being happy, our lives are all different and yet the same.”
Marie Curie was a scientific genius, an innovator, and a selfless humanitarian. She worked for everything she ever accomplished to become the first woman ever to receive scientific recognition and acclaim. She grew up in Russian-occupied Poland into a family of educators who were not particularly well-off, so the Curie sisters had to work from an early age. She and her sister supported themselves through their full education, an unheard of feat. She continued to go on and do so many incredible things in the face of discrimination and decorum. She received two nobel prizes in her lifetime, one in physics and one in chemistry, which was unheard of for anyone, but especially for a woman. The second one she received after her husband’s death and after she had begun a fairly public affair with one of her grad students. The Nobel committee “suggested” that she decline the award because of the affair, but she refused to do so. She attended the ceremony and then later melted both of her nobel prizes, saying that the gold could be put to better use. Right on, Marie.
She was also selfless and concerned for humanity. She persisted in her work on using radium to isolate cancer cells, even after her husband died and was a single mother doing it all herself. She cared about the impact, and if she wasn’t going to do the research, who would? During World War I she designed a portable x-ray machine, knowing that many soldiers had injuries too critical to make it to a hospital for treatment. She then drove it around in the field herself, doing what she could on the ground. She saw a problem and where she could make a difference. There was no hesitation for Marie Curie.
I’m sure Marie faced many walls and a lot of discrimination, but she powered through all of it. She found her passion and was determined to make it work. She was never ashamed of her intelligence or her abilities, and made her mark unabashedly on the scientific world. Her drive, her passion, her brashness, and her humanity combined make her a massive hero in my mind.
This woman. I tell you what. She’s a mama, a yoga teacher, a studio owner, an author, a life coach, and I’m pretty sure she just became a film producer as well. She manages all of her own social media accounts and she listens when anyone asks her a question. She answers honestly and openly. She’s hilarious and she makes mistakes. She yells at her kid sometimes and she says sorry. She gets caught in negative thought about people she loves and calls herself out on it, publicly. One has to wonder when she sleeps. I happened upon this goddess in NYC last spring during a yoga conference. Her lesson was simple and seemingly impossible: If you want compassion from others, you have to first be able to give it to yourself and to those whom you think least deserve it. Woof. My world opened up when she explained that notion. I realized that living a yogic lifestyle (or any lifestyle for that matter) is work. Difficult, beautiful, challenging, rewarding, forgiving, frustrating work. And it kicks serious ass. There are no rules and you can live the life you choose. It’s that simple and that difficult all in one. As a yogi, we are taught that we are all equal and we are all connected. As you can imagine it’s been difficult not to put her on some sort of pedestal. I do my best to keep my view of her grounded because, while she is a huge inspiration to me, she is living her own life with her own struggles and unveiling her own truth. Just knowing that she is no better than me and I no better than her, keeps me focused on my goals of infecting this world with laughter and joy while staying present and open. Thank you, Elena.
Not only do I share a name with this amazing woman, I also get to call her my auntie. She was born during a time when women, and black women in particular were seen as less capable than men. She often encountered this idea in her twenty some years of work. She started her own tech company in 1991 and began kicking ass and taking names. Her company, ITS Inc. became a major player in D.C. working on several government contracts. Some aunts teach their nieces how to put on makeup or do their hair. My aunt’s idea of bonding is discussing politics, religion, and the economy (with the occasional makeup tip thrown in). While she definitely bought me Barbies and Disney Princess Movies, she taught me that princess could save themselves. She taught me to admire the real princesses that history provided, like Queen Elizabeth I. My aunt, however, did not grow up in a fairytale. She was one of six children living in the West End of Louisville, Kentucky. She grew up loving bacon, but never getting to eat as much as she wanted because there were eight mouths to feed. I still remember the time I asked her why she wanted to be wealthy. She candidly told me it was because when she was little she dreamed of one day being able to afford as much bacon as she could eat. From a bacon loving kid to a successful CEO, my aunt has always believed that she could do anything she put her mind to. This idea has been enforced in my own upbringing, and when I was little that sometimes meant she charged ahead with me running to catch up. But it was all those times when she encouraged me to argue, to fight for what I wanted that has lead me to become the person I am today. She taught me how to dress, fight for my beliefs, stay strong and adapt when life hands me a rotten lemon, and ignore the people who try to stop me. When I don’t know what to do or am afraid of what someone might say, I think about what she would say (and it involves a few expletives). Cinderella isn’t allowed to curse or struggle with a decision. That is why my aunt is better than any Disney Princess and one of the best role model’s a girl could ask for.
As a child (and still today), I had many female athlete role models. I was a soccer player, among other things, and thanks to the wonder that is both a neighbor and a cousin in the college soccer world, I heard about the Women’s National Team from a young age and was told stories of their 1991 World Cup success. My amazingly supportive parents (who had no previous soccer knowledge until I began playing at age 3), particularly my dad, took me to every college and professional game that came to our general geographic area, including a few open practices held by the Women’s National Team. I had many heroes on that team, but this is a particular ode to Kristine Lilly. We weren’t the same position, didn’t have similar playing styles, and I had no desire to ever be a midfielder. But she was a beast on the field and the hardest worker imaginable. She chased down every ball, made herself available in every play, and took it upon herself to change the course of the game if her team was losing- something I applied to every game I played in for the rest of my career. And in 1995, she joined an all-male professional team based in the Washington DC area. My dad took me to nearly all of their home games to see Lilly play with the boys. I suppose this is a reflection on my dad as much as on Lilly, but thanks to watching Lilly and the others win the World Cup and play amongst the boys, it never occurred to me for a second as a girl nearing adolescence that I couldn’t be what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a professional soccer player, and if there was no league for that (as there yet wasn’t in the U.S.), then oh well, I’ll play with the boys. So thanks, Lilly, for making me the determined pain-in-the-ass I am today. Oh, and I’m sure all those boys I’ve played over the years thank you too; it’s always a good thing to be humbled by a strong woman, even when she’s 5’2.
So tell us, who are YOUR role models?
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