When I was younger, when teachers posed the question to ask me who I looked up to, or to write an essay about someone I thought of as an icon, I could never really find a good person. There were my parents, but I never actually looked up to them as a kid, I more so appreciated them. I never found myself taking celebrities into account or anyone else in what I wanted for my life and what I could take from them to add to my own. The difference between then and now is that I've grown much more comfortable with my own life and identity and have clearly established goals for myself, so it's easier to find a person in the media that I can look up that coincides with what I want or admire in someone.
Below, are five women who have inspired me to do more, be more, and thrive.
1. Viola Davis
Viola Davis is a woman with broad success in the media and underestimated. She has won an Oscar, an Emmy, two Tonys, done Broadway, done off-Broadway, she's been in television, and she's been in film! She is quite literally a jack-of-all-trades in the entertainment industry. I began to know of her when I started watching "How To Get Away with Murder" on ABC and saw the character of Annalise Keating. Her acting is phenomenal and completely enthralling.
Off-camera, she is not afraid to be firm in her beliefs and not scared to demand what she has rights to. She is acknowledged by everyone to be, as she puts it (people have called her this), a "Black Meryl Streep," and has demanded then that she be paid like her. She speaks for equal pay opportunities, she acknowledges the LGBTQ+ community, her lexicon is so educated and concise. I love her, and so should you.
2. Shonda Rhimes
Shonda Rhimes is one of my favorite producers, screenwriters, and authors in the entertainment industry. She has created some of my favorite shows to date: "How to Get Away with Murder," "Scandal," and my favorite, "Grey's Anatomy." You know what all these shows have in common? They all have a strong female lead as their main protagonist. Everything she writes has rich characters with diverse personalities and backgrounds that exemplify how a show can address more than just white people. When I watch one of her shows, I am made so much more politically, emotionally, and socially aware of current events in the world because she does not back down from implementing them into the atmosphere of her series.
Although her beliefs are more aligned with mine own, she does portray both aspects of the argument in everything she establishes so that each side is represented. I would never have had Viola Davis on my list if it wasn't for her amazing wit in casting, but furthermore, I would never have found shows that make me so emotionally invested if not for Shonda Rhimes. She is a gem that is ever so bright, but also one that's tough to break, because she will not give in to demands she does not agree with and isn't afraid of chopping an actor off her show if they are not in line with her values. Not all fans agree with her methods, but you know what I see? I see a woman who deserves the utmost respect, because she is true to who she is, and I completely respect and admire it.
3. Marsha P. Johnson
If you know who this amazing woman is, then you are already winning at life. Marsha P. Johnson is known for being an LGBTQ+ activist, a drag queen, and for being one of the initial instigators of the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969. The reason I look up to Marsha P. Johnson is that she gave way to so much progress in the LGBTQ+ community for spreading word of the riots and establishing essential transgender communities in New York City. The gay rights movement grew exponentially because of the occurrences of Stonewall. For those who do not know the exact details of the Stonewall riots, read this. Marsha's eccentric personality and activism led her to being considered a vanguard for the gay liberation movements and it's thanks to women like her that progression within the LGBTQ+ community has gotten as far as it has today. Even after her untimely murder, we remember her as a beautiful soul with even more beautiful goals and accomplishments.
4. Michelle Obama
Imagine being the First Lady of the United States for eight years, almost a decade, and consistently being referred to in the media through racist undertones, body-shaming commentary, and degenerative remarks about your life... Michelle Obama dealt with all of the negativity with intellect and grace. She is a graduate of two ivy league schools, Harvard and Princeton University, making her the most educated First Lady we've had to date in this country. Michelle Obama is a pioneer among African-American women, and it brought me so much joy to see her make history as the first African-American First Lady.
Her beliefs and good-natured soul are why people wanted her to run as president in the past elections! She is an advocate for educational rights, immigration rights, and LGBTQ+ rights, all firm things I personally believe in. To me, there could not have been a better woman to spear this country during the time she was in the White House. Together with Barack Obama, they were a power couple to be feared and admired, because they could set out to do anything their pure souls wanted to. Even now, she still does so much community service for the country and continues to grace us with her compassionate energy.
5. Ellen DeGeneres
Back when Ellen's self-titled show was airing, her character started out as straight, but throughout the course of the show, she began giving subtle clues to her character's sexual orientation up until her iconic, "Yep, I'm gay" declaration. This declaration not only allowed her character to come out, but also herself. She was the talk of tabloids for a while. She appeared on Oprah Winfrey's show that gave visibility to much-needed conversations, but even then it was visible that the general public had a distaste for her. DeGeneres underwent so much hate and scrutiny that it's unimaginable now to think how bad it must have been for her on a personal level; however, like the stand-up comedian that she is, she played along, made jokes, gave sarcastic wit and braved through it all to be where she is now. She is a historic figure, no doubt about it. Her character gave way for so many other shows to begin the momentum too.
The reason I appreciate Ellen is that she is always doing so much humanitarian work and is so kind-hearted. She, like any human being, has her slip-ups, but she is truly generous and valuable to us all. It's no wonder that Obama graced her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.