We all have women we look up to and learn from, women who inspire and challenge us to be better and to think about things differently. Some of those women are close to us sisters, neighbors, friends, co-workers while others grab the spotlight and hold our attention on a much bigger stage.
This year, hot topics brought some women famous and not-so-famous to the forefront of national discussions about health, wellness, body image, self-confidence, and the politics of shaming, among other things. Whatever their views and whatever their challenges, their lives and their voices captured our attention and made us look a little bit more closely at our own perspectives.
In fact, these women inspired us to take charge of our lives, no matter what phase of life we’re in or what challenges we’re facing: from pregnancy, to aging, to cancer, to trying to raise a healthy family.
Caitlin Seida 1 of 8
When an un-flattering picture of Caitlin in her Lara Croft Tomb Raider Halloween costume went viral on the Internet with the caption "Fridge Raider," she took matters into her own hands. First, she called on those who posted the photo to take it down because of copyright infringement, and then she published her response to the hullaballoo and became a role model to many women for her ability to accept herself as she is and to own her life her story, her body, her imperfections and all.
Some wisdom from Caitlin: "I do know that when I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started getting proactive about my situation, the world changed for me. When I spoke up about it, the attitude of the world changed toward me — and in the process of dealing with my own mortification and upset, by sharing my experience with others, I apparently became someone others could look to in order to do the same for themselves."
Maria Kang 2 of 8
Also known as the "Facebook Hot Mom," Maria stirred the Internet pot big time when she posted a provocative picture of herself with her 3 young sons and the caption "What's Your Excuse?" on her Facebook page.
While the photo itself drew a huge response from the online community, much of it mean-spirited, Maria maintained that there's nothing wrong with being a fit mom. She came under fire again for her response to a Curvy Girl Lingerie's campaign to encourage women to take pictures of themselves in their underwear as a way to promote body confidence. Maria said the move was an attempt to normalize obesity and celebrate unhealthy weight.
Whatever your view of the issue, you can't deny that Maria has given us a lot to think about these past few months.
photo via Facebook
Diana Nyad 3 of 8
When Diana Nyad finally finished her decades-long quest to swim from Cuba to Miami in September, she demonstrated the importance of not giving up on yourself. The swim, which covered over 110 miles and took nearly 53 hours, was her 5th attempt at the distance.
The achievement is amazing in itself, but compounded by the fact that it has been decades in the making and that Diana was 64 years old when she finally accomplished her goal, is truly inspiring. If we ever get discouraged into thinking that we are too old or that our best years are behind us, we need only to look to Diana for encouragement.photo via Facebook
Emily Jackson 4 of 8
For so long pregnancy has been thought of as a "delicate" condition in which we must sit back, relax, and not move too much. And while the science is continually showing that exercising through pregnancy is beneficial to both mother and child, it's nice to have real-live examples of women who walk the walk to look to.Emily Jackson is one of those women. As a professional kayaker, Emily has won numerous championships — including the Payette River Games just weeks before she gave birth to her son, Tucker. Here's to more healthy, active pregnancies inspired by Emily's example.
Jennifer Lawrence 5 of 8
While Jennifer has continually proven herself to be a great actress among the best of our day it is her attitude off screen that has us captivated. Jennifer has become a spokeswoman for body confidence and against conforming to other people's ideas of beauty. Some of her more memorable comments include:
"You look how you look, you have to be comfortable. What are you going to do? Be hungry every single day to make other people happy? That's just dumb."
"I'm never going to starve myself for a part."
And, "We have to stop treating each other like that and stop calling each other fat."
photo credit Flickr user Hohum via wikicommons
Angelina Jolie 6 of 8
When Angelina Jolie revealed in May that she had undergone a double mastectomy because she tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, which made her very likely to develop the same cancer that killed her mother, she said she hoped her decision would be helpful to other women in the same situation. Her experience certainly did shine a light on the options and outcomes of being screened for breast cancer, and opened up a national discussion and removed the taboo of speaking about breast cancer and mastectomies.
Her courage in stepping forward and in speaking candidly about the surgeries and their effects on her body and her life was inspiring and refreshing, and, no doubt, encouraged many women who are at high risk for breast cancer to examine their own options more closely.
Gwenyth Paltrow 7 of 8
It's a very natural, motherly instinct to want to feed and nourish your family. It's also a very mundane, unsexy task. Until Gwyneth. While Gwyneth has been sharing all "life's positives" since 2008, this year she got a lot of attention for her efforts to feed her family well, among other things.
Of course, not everyone is a fan of Gwyneth and her somewhat clueless, rich-lady persona, but her recipes and health tips have been an inspiration to those of us who, like her, are looking for easy, manageable ways to keep our families healthy. It's encouraging to have a pretty, prominent face lead the way in the everyday concerns of meal planning and preparation.
photo credit: Georges Biard via wikicommons
Sheryl Sandberg 8 of 8
"What would you do if you weren't afraid?" could possibly be the question of the year. Sheryl Sandberg's query, and her best-selling book Lean In, changed the discussion on work-life balance and encouraged women to believe in themselves and to show that they believe in themselves. From her book, to the If I Weren't Afraid tumblr, to leanin.org, Sheryl has shown her commitment to encouraging women to rethink their views and question the things that are holding them back from achieving their dreams and becoming leaders in whatever life they choose to lead.
So, what would you do if you weren't afraid?
photo credit: Drew Altizer via Wikicommons