I was eleven years old the first time I was asked to write a short piece about my idol. I barely knew what an idol was at that age. I unknowingly idolised just about every actress that appeared on disney channel, but when I was asked to write about which individual inspired me, my mind went blank. I’d never really grown up wanting to be like others, that being celebrities or public figures- not so much because I didn’t care, but because there wasn’t really anyone presented in the media that I could relate to.
Thankfully today, people and organisations are beginning to see the importance of representation in the media- from seeing Lgbt+ characters in animated kids shows, Black people being cast in main roles of films which aren’t about race, and Asian women being protagonists in popular films (wasn’t To All The Boys I Loved Before the cutest movie ever?!). The first time I ever witnessed some sort of representation relevant to me was in 2009 (I was ten), when the Disney film The Princess & The Frog was released and Tiana, the first black disney princess, was added to the Disney franchise. This was groundbreaking for little girls across the world, who could now go to Disney Land dressed up as a Disney princess who looks just like them.
All in all, seeing powerful and inspiring women who look like you is vital to both children and adults. It’s one thing to admire someone who has achieved all that you want to achieve, but another to admire someone who not only has achieved all that you want to achieve, but also looks like you and/or comes from the same sort of background as you. The world isn’t lacking strong women of colour who are successful and inspirational, they just aren’t being given the same spotlight that their caucasian female or male counterparts are.
Here’s a short list of five women of colour, who have inspired me as I’ve entered adulthood…
Serena William’s inspires me because she is right up there with the best of all time in her field, and yet she still falls victim to racism and sexism and misogyny. I vividly remember a conversation that I had with a male teacher (and self proclaimed tennis fanatic) several years ago, in which he explicitly stated that whilst she was good at what she did, she was only good in the women’s league and could never win against the best male tennis players because… well… she’s built like a woman.
Serena’s strong, athletic physique has been the butt of constant misogynistic ‘jokes’ online, with men debating on whether they think she’s feminine enough to be deemed attractive, or woman enough for them to want to sleep with her. Serena’s resilience, confidence and ability to never let the negativity stop her from doing and wearing what she wants is undoubtedly inspiring.
Oprah set out with a goal to start her own talk show, which first aired in 1986 and became The Oprah Winfrey Show that she’s most famous for today. Since then, she has launched her career into a huge empire; She is one of the most influential public figures out there. Whilst she grew up in an economically troubled neighbourhood in Mississippi and was raised by a single mother, she went on to not only become the first female black billionaire, but the only black billionaire between the years of 2004 to 2006. She’s gone on to explore acting, featuring in blockbuster movies like The Colour Purple, and she’s earned prestigious awards such as the Bob Hope Humanitarian award, A Golden Globe and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
I never did consider or call myself a feminist, but I don’t think you can really be a woman in this world and not be.Oprah Winfrey
Naomi Campbell is an Icon- no negation needed. As a notable supermodel who’s been working in her field for decades, she’s graced almost every high fashion runway there is, alongside white models who were the face of beauty for as long as we’ve ever known. What’s my favourite thing about Naomi, you ask? Her resume. Naomi’s worked with everyone who’s noteworthy in her field of work, and just imagining how many pages long her resume would be if she wrote down all of her work and experience, inspires me to get my shit together and get myself out there. She’s a living reminder and proof, that a black woman from London can go on to do big, great things.
Michelle Obama is most famous for being the first African American First Lady of the United States, and wife to the first African American President, Barack Obama. She was not only a Princeton graduate, but she also attended Harvard Law school. During her time as FLOTUS, Michelle worked on numerous projects and used her influence to raise awareness for the increasing rates of child obesity and gay rights- she also started a mentoring programme for girls from under-privileged backgrounds and neighbourhoods. The speeches she gave as First Lady were truly passionate and real- so much so that the first lady who’s followed her, often doesn’t hold back from plagiarism.
No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half its citizensMichelle Obama
Roxane Gay is an author, contributing writer at The New York Times, and a visiting professor at Yale University. I first heard about Roxane when I watched her Ted Talk Confessions Of A Bad Feminist. It’s her humour and honesty that makes her relatable, and was what prompted me to read her popular essay collection Bad Feminist, in which she discusses what it means to be a modern day Feminist (I definitely recommend it). Roxane uses her writing to discuss issues such as race, sexual assault, sexual identity and disability. All in all, she’s a great writer and activist for young modern women to follow and be inspired by.
The notion that I should be fine with the status quo even if I am not wholly affected by the status quo is repulsiveRoxane Gay