In 2021, women literally run the world. The forty women who make our list this year are just a small representation of the long list of incredible women. Here are there stories.
Simone Biles, Champion Gymnast
Thanks to a global pandemic, the greatest gymnast in history was forced to spend part of the last year finding some equilibrium in a life that had previously been all about the work.
“I lived, I traveled, I did things I couldn’t do because of gymnastics,” she says. Now, as she prepares for the 2021 Olympics—maybe her last—the 24-year-old is approaching her sport with a new sense of joy.
Simone Biles is the greatest gymnast in history. No caveats, no gender qualifiers, no getting around the fact that at 24 she’s broken just about every record there is to break. Twenty-five World Championship medals, four never-before-been-done moves named after her, and a performance level so fearless, it raised the bar for the entire sport. And she’s still at the top of her game, making her one of the best all-around athletes of our time, a competitor whose name will forever belong in the same breath as Serena Williams and Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps.
But for all the gold and GOAT talk, it’s easy to forget that this is a woman who redefined the limits of what the human body is capable of while carrying the mental burden of competing for an organization that failed to protect its athletes—including her—from a documented culture of abuse. And that was before the stress of 2020 hit and the fate of the Tokyo Olympics, which were meant to be Biles’ last, became uncertain.
But more on all that later. Right now Simone Biles is just like the rest of us, signing onto Zoom from home, waiting to get back out there.
During the last year, Biles used her unexpected downtime to buy her own house in Texas, a space she designed for her and her two Frenchies, Lilo and Rambo.
Biles spent most of quarantine here during the early, anxious days of the pandemic, grappling with the fact that her chance to finish the career she’d sacrificed her entire life for might be stolen by the pandemic. Navigating a postponement would mean another year of pushing her body to its limit, and Biles’ job relies on her body—a finely calibrated machine conditioned by thousands of hours of workouts to peak at precisely the right moment every four years.
Then it became official: In late March, Texas went under total lockdown. No more training. For seven weeks Biles sat idle, weighing how to commit herself physically and mentally to the uncertainty. It took a toll. “I got to process all the emotions,” she says. “I got to go through being angry, sad, upset, happy, annoyed. I got to go through all of it by myself, without anybody telling me what to feel.”
She became depressed. She thought of quitting. But that didn’t last long. “I wanted to give up,” Biles says. “But it would have been dumb because I’ve worked way too hard.”
The decision to stay in gold-medal shape, even if the next Olympics weren’t for another year, wasn’t just about keeping her body in peak condition. It would also mean shouldering the mental burden of another year of having to compete as part of USA Gymnastics, the governing body of the sport. “I think that’s been the hardest part,” Biles says.
USAG has come under sharp criticism—with many powerful words from Biles herself—for failing to protect its athletes from a documented culture of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Biles is the only known survivor of sexual abuse who is still actively competing for the organization, according to Insider, and her presence in the gym is a source of constant pressure on both USAG and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (also accused of failing to protect its athletes) to conduct further independent investigation. “I’m still here, so it’s not going to disappear,” she says. “We have power behind it.”
Biles bears the responsibility gracefully, despite the unfairness of asking survivors to be the spokespeople for their own abuse. I ask her how she deals, especially in a sport in which mental focus is so important to winning medals. “Probably by compartmentalizing,” she says. “I try not to think about it because I can’t afford to—if I let them rule me, they’re winning.”
The gymnast has already achieved an unmatched level of excellence, so choosing to put herself through another year was to prove to no one but herself that she could, that at 24 she was better than ever, and that even after everything she’s been through, she still loves her sport. “I know I’m doing it for me,” she says. “I do it because I still have such a passion for it.”
Naomi Osaka, Tennis Superstar
This summer’s Tokyo Olympics are extra special for Naomi Osaka — it’s not only the Japanese 23-year-old’s first Games, but also her homecoming.
“I have never competed in an Olympic Games before, but I can say, as an athlete, I’m excited to be competing in the most prestigious athletic event in the world,” Osaka said. “Like most competitors, I’ve been waiting for this opportunity my entire life, and the fact that they are being held in my birthplace of Japan, I just feel like I can’t stop smiling about it.”
While Osaka is filled with excitement about this year’s games, she also feels immense pressure to perform.
“You have to mentally prepare for these large-scale moments, and there are a lot of pressures associated with the Olympics because your country is looking up to you,” Osaka said.
Osaka has recently spoken out about her mental health and how the scrutiny that comes with being in the spotlight as an elite athlete affects her.
While competing at the French Open in May and June, Osaka said she didn’t want to do post-match interviews because they triggered her anxiety. She added that she’s struggled with depression since 2018.
Osaka was fined $15,000 for skipping a press conference. She ultimately resigned from the tournament, but the decision prompted a debate of how governing sports organizations treat athletes from a mental-health perspective.
Osaka, who also withdrew from Wimbledon in June, said in May that the pandemic allowed her to slow down and focus more on her emotional and mental well-being.
“I get impatient at times and have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy every moment,” she said. “This has helped me on the court to calm my nerves and dismantle some of the pressures that come with the stage.”
Osaka said that focusing on gratitude and remembering that success isn’t built overnight help keep her humble through the ups and downs.
Like all athletes, Osaka’s training regimen had to change a lot during the pandemic, and once the postponement of the Olympics was officially announced, she tried to stay positive.
“It was tough at first, but I appreciate that it would have hit some athletes harder,” she said. “In tennis, while the Olympics is the pinnacle, in my opinion, we are lucky enough to have some other big events throughout the year. While it was disappointing, I put it into perspective and realized that it was a much tougher year for so many people.”
Osaka flipped her mindset and decided to enjoy the downtime and break from endless travel between tournaments.
Usually, Osaka’s training is always focused on the next major tournament, and her schedule varies accordingly.
“I also have to change surfaces from hard courts to clay to grass, so all of that is a factor into my movement and on-court practice as well,” she said.
Over recent years, Osaka has centered her passion for activism in her athleticism.
At the 2020 US Open, during the height of the Black Lives Matters protests, Osaka used her public platform to highlight racial injustice.
Throughout the tournament, she wore seven face masks, each bearing the name of a Black person who had been killed by police violence or racial profiling, as Insider’s Darcy Schild reported.
“There was a lot happening in the world, and there were issues that were bigger than all of us, and I felt I needed to say something, even if it wasn’t through words,” Osaka said. “I didn’t feel that with all that I was seeing in the world around me I could just show up and play as if nothing had happened, as if lives were not unjustly taken.”
Osaka hoped the move could spark further conversations about systemic oppression.
“That was the very least I could do,” she said.
Dr. Jill Biden, First Lady of the United States
After Joe Biden was sworn in as president of the United States of America on January 20, Jill Biden took her rightful place as First Lady. She previously served as Second Lady under the Obama administration and has worked as an educator throughout her life — a role she has continued even after she moved to the White House.
On June 25, she joined a broadcast of the Daytime Emmys to co-present (alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) a posthumous award to Alex Trebeck. Biden called the late TV game show host “warn and funny” and said she loved how “he brought our families together every evening, racking our brains to keep up with the smartest contestants. Thank you, Alex. We miss you.”
It is the human moments like these that remind us that the First Lady’s role in the U.S. Government system doesn’t come with a job description. Each First Lady carves out her own priorities and platforms. As Biden settles in a job with which she is no doubt familiar, we surmise that her areas of interest may be similar to those from her days as Second Lady: working with and advocating for military families, highlighting the importance of community college education and women’s issues ranging from breast cancer prevention and gender equality in the United States and abroad.
VP Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States
Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote in an equally divided 50-50 U.S. Senate, but the Biden administration has made it clear that bipartisanship is high on the agenda.
To that end, she has a lot of work to do, and she’s digging in.
Harris recently relaunched the annual ladies’ dinner for female senators, which had been skipped as part of Covid-19 protocols last year. The private dinner was held at the Naval Observatory on Tuesday, June 15, for all female U.S. senators. Harris, herself, is a former U.S. Senator from California.
It was the first known time that Harris hosted lawmakers in the vice-presidential residence since moving in April, a process that was delayed due to renovations. She invited all 24 female senators: 16 Democrats and eight Republicans.
“What a wonderful bipartisan… dinner at our @VP’s residence!” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) tweeted. In photos, Harris is seen toasting the group from her seat at the table between Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Aka.)
The senators dined on mahi-mahi and ended the night with strawberry rhubarb croustades and vanilla ice cream, according to a menu shared by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) The meal was paired with wines from Harris’ home state of California.
The Vice President even made the cheese puffs herself, Stabenow tweeted to her followers.
Afterward, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) told Fox News that Harris was a gracious host and that the dinner was a “lovely event,” while adding that it “wasn’t a policy discussion at all.” Pushed on whether there was any policy talk, Blackburn said it was an “evening of relationship-building.”
Blackburn said the dinner is an annual bipartisan event for the women of the Senate, but that last year’s gathering had been canceled due to Covid-19.
Harris is a former U.S. senator from California -- the chamber’s only Black female senator while she served -- before being tapped as now-President Joe Biden's running mate during the 2020 election.
Now as vice president, Harris returns to the Senate to be the tie-breaking vote and Pres. Biden has tasked her with spearheading the administration’s efforts on voting rights. The Senate is also negotiating on the President’s key priorities including an infrastructure package. Harris had recently returned from her first foreign trip as VP to Guatemala and Mexico as she sought a serious strategy for stemming migration from the Northern Triangle.
The senators who attended included Tammy Baldwin, Marsha Blackburn, Maria Cantwell, Shelley Moore Capito, Susan Collins, Catherine Cortez-Masto, Tammy Duckworth, Joni Ernst, Dianne Feinstein, Deb Fischer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Maggie Hassan, Mazie Hirono, Amy Klobuchar, Lisa Murkowski, Patty Murray, Jacky Rosen, Jeanne Shaheen, Debbie Stabenow, Tina Smith and Elizabeth Warren.
Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex
From her home in Santa Barbara, Calif., actress-turned-princess Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, continues to take the strides necessary to protect her family by any means possible.
Much has been said, leaked, rumored and confirmed in the whirlwind around the royal couple, who left Great Britain last year, first for Canada prior to settling into life in Southern California.
The Duchess is the mother of two royal children with direct, albeit lengthy, paths to the throne of the United Kingdom. Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, 2, and Lilibet Mountbatten-Windsor, who will be one month old on July 4, have been the subject of her, and her husband’s, concerns since the beginning of her pregnancy with Archie.
Hounded unbearably by the paparazzi and cut off from her social life in London, the Duchess confided in an interview taped earlier this spring with Oprah Winfrey that she reached deep levels of depression. Together with His Royal Highness, the Duke of Sussex, the royal couple planned an exit from the confines of traditional royal life.
Now, in the midst of an ongoing effort to clarify the reasons, which are many, for their exit from royal duties, they offered a proverbial olive branch to the head of the family: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Their second child's given name, Lilibet, is after Elizabeth; while her middle name, Diana, is an obvious ode to Harry’s late mother, the Princess of Wales.
Lilibet, who was born in Santa Barbara, may not be eligible for any titles as the U.S. Constitution bans titles of nobility for American citizens. On Lilibet’s birth certificate, the Duchess is listed simply as Meghan Rachael Markle.
The Duchess in particular has been clear about her intentions for – and costs of – protecting her children: without royal titles, the children don’t qualify for palace-provided security. This means that as her children grow older, enter into kindergartens and schools, the security made available to their parents as the Duke and Duchess won’t follow and protect the great-grandchildren of the British monarch.
For Meghan, the angst of her children’s vulnerability was unbearable. Her husband, Prince Harry, is, of course, the son of a woman driven to death by the paparazzi even with a security detail in place.
At least in Santa Barbara, the press and paparazzi are kept largely at bay by the American ideology that the privacy of children of celebrities, presidents and personalities should be respected.
However untraditional raising royal children in the United States may be to one of the most traditional families in the world, the Duchess of Sussex and her family continue to make the hard decisions necessary, and to ensure that the tragic fate of other royal outsiders is not ever repeated.
Amanda Gorman, Youth Poet Laureate
Who knew? The Youth Poet Laureate sensation, Amanda Gorman, who wowed us during American President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January 2021 contends with speech and auditory processing challenges.
Never would this have been imagined while listening to Gorman’s truly memorable performance that day. This is a quintessential example of how one’s passion for her art is more than enough to rise above a diagnosis, inspire others and be remembered. It also illustrates that where a deficit exists, there are ways to compensate for it.
In addition to the auditory processing disorder, which had been diagnosed when she was in kindergarten, Gorman has speech articulation-related challenges which make it difficult to pronounce certain words and sounds. Consequently, she learned how to read later than her peers and depended upon special accommodations in school, given to students with disabilities. But once she learned how to read, she began to immerse herself in books, started to write her own material and discovered how adept she was at these pursuits. An appearance at the Library of Congress, the publication of her first book of poetry and being named the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate soon followed.
It takes a great deal of courage to reveal one’s vulnerabilities, and when they come to light, the wow-factor that already surrounds an exceptionally talented person is elevated to a whole new level. The true strength of that individual surfaces when what had been overcome along the road to glory becomes known.
Mackenzie Scott, Philanthropist
Imagine for a moment being obscenely, outrageously rich. I know you’ve done it before. You probably have a list of priorities—college trusts for generations to come, a big yacht, a private island with a private jet. Forget that list. That list is puny. This is the kind of rich where nothing except a second home on an exoplanet is out of your reach.
That is the position in which MacKenzie Scott found herself in July 2019, when her divorce from Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, was finalized and she became the owner of four percent of Amazon’s stock. She was a single woman in her 50th year with about $38 billion to blow. Since then, Amazon’s share price has grown like the piles of cardboard boxes it leaves on homes’ doorsteps, so estimates of her wealth are even higher, something like $57 billion. And that’s after giving $5.9 billion away.
People have given away that much before. But not usually so fast. Or without starting a foundation first. Or without any of the recipients asking for it or even knowing in advance. Or with so few strings attached; the organizations can use the money in any way they see fit. According to Candid, an organization that tracks spending in the charitable sector, Scott was responsible for 20 percent of all the COVID-19-related philanthropic funds given away globally last year, and almost 75 percent of those given by individuals. More than half of the money given to BIPOC communities by rich people last year came from her.
Scott was rich before her divorce, of course. Increasingly so, during her 25-year marriage to Bezos. But perhaps because the wealth was not strictly hers to dispose of, she was not noted for her extravagant giving. In fact, she was not noted for her extravagant anything. She drove a Honda minivan. She wore a $700 jersey dress to the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar party. Some of the dinners she hosted at her home were potluck.
So it’s probably not surprising that even before the stock transfer made her one of the richest women in the world, just a month after her divorce was settled, and two years ago this month, Scott signed the Giving Pledge, a public promise to give away the bulk of her wealth.
“We each come by the gifts we have to offer by an infinite series of influences and lucky breaks we can never fully understand,” she wrote in her pledge. “In addition to whatever assets life has nurtured in me, I have a disproportionate amount of money to share.”
Warren Buffett’s a signatory to the pledge, as are Bill and Melinda Gates; Sara Blakely, who invented Spanx; and Michael Bloomberg, among more than 200 others. But in her first year of giving her money away, Scott has been behaving quite differently from her fellow philanthropists. And in doing so, she is quietly changing the way the trillion-dollar-a-year philanthropy business operates.
Sharon Stone, Actor & Activist
Sharon Stone speaks candidly about her decision to come forward with details about her sexual abuse in her new memoir, The Beauty of Living Twice.
She recalled horrible memories from her past for the book, including a time when she and her sister, Kelly, were sexually abused by a grandfather when they were younger. Detailing that she and her sibling “made this decision together” to reveal the abuse in her memoir, Stone said, “We spoke to my mother and at first she was very stoic and wrote me a letter about how disconcerting all this information was. The whole pious, horrified, I-don’t-really-want-to-talk-about-it-directly kind of thing.”
Following a familial confrontation at her sister’s home, “Mom had a major breakthrough,” said Stone.
“When I finished the book, I read it to my mother over a three-day period. And I had the flu at the time. I was in bed and she got in bed with me as I finished the book, and then I recorded an hour and a half of her talking,” she added. “And then I rewrote a lot of the book. That’s when I dedicated the book to her.”
The Basic Instinct star says her memoir is coming after decades of reflection and coming to believe that as women reach the age of 40, “white male society starts to tell women you don’t have worth.”
“I think that as we grow older, we have this societal pressure when people start to try to tell us that our worth is diminished,” Stone told Oprah Winfrey during a taping of Super Soul Sunday. “I think when we get to 40 as women, that’s an incredibly powerful place. Though the patriarchy tells you that your worth diminishes after 40, I don’t believe that at all. Your worth becomes so much more.”
The actress also spoke to Winfrey about a near-death experience and her recovery after having a near-fatal stroke, alongside the trauma and abuse she experienced as a child. Her outlook on her openness is simple: it’s better to share these aspects of her life publicly. Otherwise, “People will make it all up for you,” she said about keeping details to herself. “There’s been pretty much an adult lifetime of people making up my life for me,” she said. “I’ve had quite a bit of tummy trouble waiting for this book to come.”
“Now I’m going to go out in the most menacing, disruptive, psychologically aggressive period that our world has been in since the ‘60s and be vulnerable and open,” Stone said. “I understand that I’ll be met with a certain amount of that. But I don’t want to gird my loins. I don’t want to be defensive. I want to prepare to be open and present. Because that’s the purpose of my journey.”
Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
On January 20, 2021, Vice President Kamala Harris, a daughter of immigrants, and Sonia Sotomayor, the nation’s first Latina Supreme Court justice, met on the largest stage in the United States of America to reset a nation in crisis.
Harris and Sotomayor exchanged only a few words as they recited and repeated the vice presidential oath, but their presence marked perhaps the strongest visual cue of an abrupt change of course.
In choosing Sotomayor to administer the oath, Harris picked an ideological sister who has journeyed the same path, littered with familiar obstacles, to mark a turn in the direction of the country. As Sotomayor delivered the 71 words of the oath, Harris became the first female Black vice president, a woman born of an Indian mother and a Jamaican American father, and she joined Sotomayor in a small society of women at the top echelon of government.
Harris was inspired by Sotomayor’s legacy, a source familiar with the decision said. For progressives -- especially young women, daughters of immigrants, African Americans, Indian Americans, Jamaican Americans, Latinas, children of the projects -- the sight of the two women together sent a strong signal as the new government settled in for a bumpy ride.
Issa Rae, Actor, Writer and Producer
Issa Rae, the "Insecure" star, used modern tactics to grow her audience and made timeless moves to build synergies across her businesses.
After an 18-month break, Insecure is back. Rae needed that time off to live life. “Insecure takes nine months out of my life. I’m pulling from life experience, and if you’re not living, then what are you really making?” she recently said.
Her break also included four movies, a newly launched record label, a coffee shop in Inglewood, and more projects on the way. The multi-hyphenate shows no signs of slowing down.
Rae says she models herself after Oprah, Diddy and Ellen. But those three came up in a different time. Some of their tactics aren’t relevant for Rae, who started on the Internet. She developed her own playbook, but still learned from those who came before. Her journey is more relatable for the rising media mogul.
In 2007, Rae launched "Dorm Diaries," a YouTube series on black life at Stanford University. To get the word out, she used Facebook. The social network had just expanded to let anyone become a user. While many of us frantically hid our profiles from potential employers, Rae went all the way in.
“It started with Facebook randomly, trying to add friends. When they opened it up to the world I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to add all the Senegalese people.’ And that was a community, an African community where we shared stuff amongst each other,” Rae said. “Three shows down the line when I launched "Awkward Black Girl," I already had a fan base from the other two shows. I really learned from my mistakes, learned what people wanted to see, then studied the analytics. By the time that show came out, there was an audience. It wasn’t huge or anything, but it was enough for them to share with their friends, and they would share with their friends.”
"Awkward Black Girl" took off because of its strong base and word of mouth. Rae launched a Kickstarter for season 2. She nearly doubled her $30,000 goal.
Similarly, Rae’s Facebook groups brought together awkward black folks from all walks of life. Her content attracts those who can watch her show and say “YES! That’s def me.” Her audience is used to being the only ones in the room. Rae’s official Facebook page now has over 250,000 fans.
Rae built up her leverage. When HBO came around in 2013, it took some time but they got it right. Now, anyone who’s seen both Awkward Black Girl and Insecure can see the differences. The premium cable show has more sex appeal than Awkward Black Girl ever had. It’s HBO, what did we expect? But despite the glamour and glitz, the show maintains its awkward-as-hell identity.
Rae doesn’t own Insecure, HBO does. But she uses its intellectual property for a growing number of ventures. There are four key areas.
First, she uses Patreon to host behind-the-scenes interviews with Insecure cast members. She also grants exclusive access to events and offers other perks. That Patreon revenue is used to support other diverse and talented creators.
This challenges a misconception on Patreon. It’s often viewed as a donation platform for budding creators. But why should creators leave Patreon after they break out? Sure, Rae no longer needs that revenue to live life. But it’s more valuable to shift it to initiatives or philanthropic efforts that fans value. Otherwise, it’s harder to convene these passionate customers.
Second, she teamed up with Atlantic Records to launch her Raedio record label. The artists she signs will likely get their music played in Insecure and Rae’s other digital properties. Raedio recently acquired a music supervision company to oversee the use of music in both film and TV. Raedio also partnered with Kobalt to collect publishing revenue and manage its library. Kobalt exec Jeannette Perez said it’s the first time they’ve worked with someone who bridges all her companies together.
Third, she has an upcoming show on HBO Max called Rap Sh*t. It follows a fictional South-Florida-based female rap group trying to break out. All these initiatives start to converge.
Fourth, she’s launching a new mobile game, Insecure: The Come Up. Fans of the TV show can bring the game to life as Insecure animated figures. They’ll be able to unlock parts of Los Angeles, improve their community, and get involved in all the uncomfortable situations they desire.
It’s quickly become an entertainment universe. Each business reinforces another.
Christine Lagarde, European Central Bank President
European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde has some advice for young women in finance: “Don’t underestimate yourself, ever,” she said just last month.
The first female European Central Bank president also supports gender quotas on boards of banks.
“I wouldn’t say binding targets, but I would say targets for which management is accountable,” she said. “There might be circumstances where you simply are close to target, not on target. And you want to just reassess and identify why you missed the target. But targets, absolutely.”
Only two percent of top-level appointees in private sector banks are women, she noted. “There is a long way to go. Grit your teeth and smile. It helps.”
The former French trade, agricultural and finance minister entered politics after a career as a lawyer. She later became the first female head of the International Monetary Fund before taking the top post at the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank in 2019.
The Kardashians, Media Moguls
After 14 years and 20 seasons, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” aired its final episode in June.
Shown in dozens of countries, the program has made megastars of Kim Kardashian West, her mother Kris Jenner, and her sisters Kourtney, Khloé, Kendall and Kylie. With Forbes estimating Kim’s net worth at $1 billion, it’s made them very wealthy too.
Regardless of whether you love them or loathe them, it’s hard to deny their influence stretches far and wide. Here are just some of the ways the famous family made an impact.
Part of their success comes from their willingness to be seemingly open on camera.
“They consciously and deliberately played themselves,” said Dr. Meredith Jones of Brunel University in London, explaining how that level of authenticity is appealing to audiences.
Jones is hosting her second Kardashian symposium - or Kimposium - later this year and she is an expert in popular culture and gender studies. For her, humor is also one of the key reasons the show has achieved longevity. “People don’t think of the Kardashians as being funny, but they really are quite good at producing humor,” she said.
“While the women constitute a matriarchy, the men, like Scott Disick, are these kind of comic fools and so in many ways, in a patriarchal society.”
The ensemble never shied away from talking about beauty or beauty secrets.
“I would say that Kim in particular has had a profound effect on global notions of what we think a beautiful woman looks like,” said Jones. “Part of that is in the ways that she presents herself as a work-in-progress.”
The show frequently depicted the Kardashians’ glam squad, providing professional services such as make-up, tans, styling and haircare. “Audiences will identify with people who look more like them, so if this were a show of tall, thin, blonde women, I don’t think it would have been nearly as successful,” said Jones. But, she pointed out, in recent years especially, the Kardashians’ appearances have become less relatable.
“There is a limit and I think their fans realize that,” she said.
The Kardashians are inextricably linked to social media: Kylie and Kim are in the top 10 most-followed accounts on Instagram, while Kendall, Khloé and Kourtney all feature in the top 20.
For Jones, the family members are pioneers, shaping the way we use social media to present a curated form of our identities and images. “It’s impossible to separate their images and their success from the success of Instagram,” she says. It wasn’t long before the Kardashian family began to monetize their following.
“They created influencers,” said comedian Marcy Jarreau. She’s one half of the "Kar Dishin It" podcast, which breaks down the reality show episode by episode, and discusses the latest Kardashian headlines.
Fellow comedian and host Jessica Jean Jardine said, “They made it not weird to use social media, which was designed to be a peek into your life for your friends, as an entire marketing and distribution system for their own businesses.”
It’s these businesses, which include Kylie’s cosmetic lines, Kim’s beauty and shapewear products and Khloé’s size-inclusive jeans brand, that have helped earn the family millions of dollars.
“All of Kim’s famous friends are doing the exact same thing,” said Jarreau, “but they have done it the best.”
We’ve seen them tackle complex issues, such as Caitlyn Jenner, who used to be married to Kris, coming out as transgender and her subsequent transition; Kim and Kanye West’s use of a surrogate, their divorce proceedings - and all kinds of blended family situations.
“The idea of your life, your relationships and your occupation staying constant, I don’t think that is what people relate to anymore and they model that over and over,” said Jardine, adding they “created a mirror” for people who live in non-traditional family structures.
Kim credited Kanye with changing her attitude to her business ventures. Having endorsed products such as toilet paper and bespoke emojis, she now focuses on marketing things that fit her brand.
“He’s just taught me as a person to never compromise and to really take ownership,” she said. “Before, I was really the opposite. I would throw my name on anything.”
PM Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she didn’t think she was tough enough for a life in politics, in a wide-ranging interview where she also discusses preparing for Covid-19 and how relations with the US have evolved.
“The biggest barrier for me was probably the fact that I didn’t necessarily think that the traits that I held and valued the most were those that would be easily accepted in politics,” Ardern said. “You know, I talked a little bit about feeling like I wasn’t really tough enough for the environment of politics.”
Ardern said that line of thinking assumed politicians “need to be really thick skinned” and can’t be a “sensitive person” or “outwardly display your compassion or empathy.”
Ardern has led New Zealand’s center-left Labour party since 2017 following a period when a slew of middle-aged male leaders -- four in less than a decade -- had failed to ignite enthusiasm in voters.
Her nomination energized voters and she ended up as Prime Minister following the September 2017 election in coalition with the conservative New Zealand First Party and the liberal Green Party. In October 2020, Ardern won a second term in office, this time in a landslide victory that allowed Labour to govern alone.
Although she hasn't been recipient of the constant commentary on clothing or the blatant sexism experienced by previous female politicians, women of her generation should not trivialize their own experiences, Ardern said.
New Zealand may be a country of just 5 million people, but Ardern has attracted global headlines for being an unusually young Prime Minister, for giving birth while leading a country and for her swift, effective action against Covid-19.
Ardern discussed what it was like preparing New Zealand for the pandemic and the extreme lockdown measures her government enacted. “I literally felt like we were preparing New Zealanders for war,” she said, recounting how she heard people had stopped to watch her announcement about the country’s Covid-19 alert system on their phones in the supermarket. “The magnitude of it felt really significant.”
Ardern enacted what she called a “little stamp it out strategy, which has enabled us to eliminate Covid-19,” instead of trying to flatten the curve of infections as many other nations attempted. The choice came off the back of a meeting with her chief science adviser, who said flattening the curve wasn’t going to work in New Zealand, citing the rate of infection and hospital capacity.
Ardern also highlighted how she is cautiously optimistic about international relations now that Joe Biden is US President. “The change of leadership in the United States for us, undeniably, has created a change in tone,” she said. “The issues of global importance, such as climate change, we were incredibly pleased to see that was one of the first moves that was taken by the Biden administration.”
Ardern revealed how her childhood experience of living in a small town called Murupara, where many people fell into poverty following job losses, had made her question why some people lived comfortably and others didn’t. “It took me a long time to decide that politics is the place to do something about it,” she said.
Katherin Jansen, Vaccine Research at Pfizer
For the pharma behemoth Pfizer, the race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine was not just about bringing a quick end to the global pandemic. It was also about the company’s reputation among scientists, politicians and the public, and it’s about pride: demonstrating that one of the world’s biggest drug makers is as nimble — and more formidable — than any upstart biotech.
Pfizer and its upstart rival, Moderna, were the first companies to launch large clinical trials to prove their vaccines’ efficacy, and on the same day: July 27, 2020. But Pfizer was counting on one scientist to give it an edge: Kathrin Jansen.
The company’s head of vaccine research and development, Jansen, has led the development of the world’s two best-selling vaccines, against human papilloma virus and pneumococcus, at two different companies. Since March 2020, when Pfizer partnered with the German startup BioNTech to develop a vaccine against Covid-19, Jansen has led a 650-person team night and day on Zoom meetings from her Manhattan apartment, occasionally making the trip to Pfizer’s vaccine headquarters in Pearl River, N.Y.
“I stay out of the way,” she said, “Because I’m not needed in the laboratory.”
For all the pressure, William Gruber, a longtime Pfizer vaccine executive, said of Jansen: “She does not sacrifice quality for speed. In other words, it’s got to be right. She is a hard-nosed scholar of vaccine development.”
Jansen and her industry were put to the test, as the world was desperate for a weapon against the pandemic. Developing a vaccine this fast had never been attempted. But Jansen was – and is – known for her calm, but commanding, manner and devotion to data over groupthink.
“She’s exactly who we needed in that position,” said Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She fights for the vaccines she thinks are important, he said. “People who think pharmaceutical companies are evil should spend time with people like Kathrin Jansen.”
Melinda French Gates, Philanthropist
Melinda French Gates met with Biden administration officials and lawmakers in June to discuss issues such as paid leave. As one of the biggest names in philanthropy for her connections to the Gates Foundation and her signature on the Giving Pledge, the invitation is an official endorsement of her role in shaping policy through philanthropy.
She visited Capitol Hill to meet with senators including Patty Murray of Washington, French Gates’ home state. French Gates, who announced her divorce from Bill Gates in May, visited the White House to meet Ron Klain, the chief of staff; Susan Rice, the domestic-policy advisor; and other senior administration officials.
A spokesperson for French Gates said, “Melinda French Gates met with leaders in Washington, D.C. to discuss the continued global response to the pandemic and thanked policymakers for their leadership in the global vaccination effort. Melinda also highlighted the need for a federal paid leave policy to support our economic recovery and get people back to work.”
French Gates' investment firm Pivotal Ventures aims to advance social progress in the U.S. The company, which French Gates founded in 2015, advocates policies such as paid leave and childcare - part of President Biden’s infrastructure plan.
Paid leave allows workers to take time off without missing a paycheck. French Gates has said it’s important for Congress to expand paid family and medical leave in the U.S., especially as the economy recovers from the pandemic.
Biden’s American Families Plan is designed to offer more affordable childcare and boost the pay of childcare workers. The White House has estimated that it could benefit 5 million children in the U.S.
Ambassador Susan Rice, Government
On paper, the job of running the little-known Domestic Policy Council is a small role for someone who made the short list for vice president and later hoped for a top national security job.
Yes Susan Rice, one of the few senior Black women officials in the West Wing, has been brought in with a mandate to elevate the council and to operate as part of a policy troika alongside Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, and Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council.
“She has made it so that she’s always going to have a seat at the table, or she’s going to break in the door,” said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary. “People knew that when she came in.”
This was not where she originally thought she would end up. But during the transition, when it was unclear whether Democrats would win control of the Senate, Rice’s conversations with the Biden team switched from cabinet positions, like defense secretary and secretary of state, to White House roles that would not require Senate confirmation.
Democrats gained control of the Senate in January, but Rice had already been named to her current post. The domestic policy job typically goes to someone who is not a household name, but is steeped in domestic policy.
The staff and budget of the Domestic Policy Council is a small fraction of what Rice had when she oversaw an almost 400-person National Security Council during the Obama administration. Rice currently has about 40 people reporting to her, with plans to add more by drawing on employees working in government agencies.
“The Domestic Policy Council has never been as robust in terms of process and inter-agency coordination as National Security Council and the National Economic Council have been,” said Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff. In accepting the position, he said, Rice told him she wanted the resources to make the Domestic Policy Council more of an internal force.
“We wanted her to have an N.S.C.-like process,” Klain said. “She’s said, ‘Well, then I need an N.S.C.-like staff and budget.’ We weren’t quite able to match the N.S.C., but we did significantly plus up the number of staff she has.”
Now, Rice occupies the West Wing office that was previously inhabited by Stephen Miller, President Donald J. Trump’s top policy adviser. Aware of the symbolism of a Black woman who has been vilified by conservatives occupying the space where Mr. Trump’s most hard-line immigration adviser used to dictate policy, Ms. Rice has decorated it with Haitian art and scented it with sage.
Instead of having a principal deputy serving under the director, she has appointed four senior deputies who are experts in their fields. “I’m not a health care policy expert,” she said. “The single deputy structure means everything is a bottleneck. I’ve got these high-powered deputies and that’s how we’re going to get stuff done.”
Dr. Amani Ballour, Pediatrician and Humanitarian
Dr. Amani Ballour is afraid of loud noises. The sounds remind her of the fighter jets and ferocious shelling that forced her to reluctantly flee her native Syria in 2018.
The 32-year-old pediatrician does not find relief in the quiet of her sparsely furnished two-room apartment in Gaziantep, Turkey. In the stillness, she remembers the young patients she calls “my children,” those who survived and the many more who didn’t.
For two years, from 2016 to 2018, Ballour ran an underground field hospital known as The Cave in her hometown of Eastern Ghouta, near the Syrian capital Damascus. There, she witnessed war crimes including the use of chemical weapons and chlorine bombs, and airstrikes on hospitals, attacks that targeted a place of refuge and those already wounded. Her work in that role formed the gravitational center of a new, aptly named documentary, “The Cave,” from National Geographic Documentary Films that was nominated for an Oscar this year.
As the conflict dragged on, the patients, some as young as a few days old, continued to pour in by the thousands, injured from the battles, weakened from the war, some with shrapnel wounds, others with missing limbs, and many coughing and suffocating from chemical attacks that had been repeatedly condemned by the rest of the world.
“There was no safe space,” Ballour says. “Imagine being the victim of an airstrike, you’re treated in hospital, and then bombed there too. The hospital was hit many times. I’ve been asked to verify how many strikes. Believe me, I couldn’t count them all.”
In 2018, Assad’s Russian-backed forces intensified their attacks on Ghouta and, according to Ballour, offered the remaining residents a choice: Leave in buses or stay back and be killed. So she and her team made the difficult decision to close down the cave and leave, moving first to Idlib in northern Syria and then crossing into Turkey, where Ballour has been for the last two years.
In January, she was awarded the Council of Europe’s Raoul Wallenberg Prize for her humanitarian efforts. Last weekend, she attended the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, Calif. And, today, she and her husband are applying for asylum in Canada, hoping to start afresh and move forward.
But the memories of the war continue to haunt her and make it difficult for her to work with children again. “When I see sick children, they remind me of my children in Ghouta,” she said referring to all the children who came through the cave and she considered her own.
“I can’t forget them.”
Oprah Winfrey, Media Mogul
Oprah Winfrey, the first black female billionaire, has emerged as a generous philanthropist. Winfrey has advocated for girls’ education across the world and Oprah’s Angel Network has raised more than $50 million for charitable programs.
The Oprah Winfrey Show was the number one talk show for 24 years, garnering Winfrey all kinds of awards and accolades – and money. “The first couple of years were fine. It was great. I was making money, I was having fun,” Winfrey said. “But the remaining 22 were phenomenal because I stopped trying to do a show and told my producers we have only one intention and that is, how do we serve our audience and be a force of good in their lives?”
With that mind for more than three decades now, just ahead of Father’s Day, June 20, Winfrey joined forces with actor Sterling K. Brown and several other celebrities for a special celebration of Black fatherhood and contribute to the undoing of inaccurate portrayals of Black fatherhood in the media.
“I wanted to turn the table on that narrative of Black fathers not being present in their children’s lives,” Winfrey said on June 14. “It’s chipped away at the fabric of who we are as a society and a world,” said the OWN network founder. “The images on the evening news or portrayals in films, gangsters, stories that show absentee fathers, or focus on men being in prison, away from their children and not caring about their children, that’s what you’ve heard, but that isn’t what we know and feel.”
Winfrey recalled that while filming her hit show she witnessed firsthand how uncommon seeing a Black father was for her audience. “I remember the very first time I was doing a show on parenting, on single parents. And my way of showing or widening the screen at the time was just to include a Black father in that group of parents, but not make a big deal about it,” she recounted. “I remember a woman standing up and later saying she had never seen a Black father reading to his children. That was not an image anybody had seen on screen. And so, a lot of the white people who were watching the show were like, ‘That’s a foreign concept to me.’”
While the concept may have been foreign to some viewers, Winfrey had known her whole life that Black men do take care of their children. The talk show host was born poor to a single teenage mother in Mississippi. As a teen she was sent to live with the man she knew as her father, Vernon Winfrey, in Tennessee.
Vernon truly did not know if she was his child, but the possibility was enough for him to step up. But Vernon is anything but an exception. Winfrey says she grew up knowing countless men just like him.
“I saw that over and over again in my father’s barbershop. Men would come in, hardworking men, doing everything they could in their lives to support their families, working sometimes two and three jobs to do that,” she added. “So that’s the story I know of Black fathers — the ones I grew up with and the man I know. The narrative of the absentee father, it’s not accurate that that is the only picture.”
Megan Rapinoe, Professional Footballer
Megan Rapinoe is still reeling from the summary judgment that struck down part of the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s equal pay lawsuit.
The two-time World Cup champion, who was just named to the team’s Tokyo Olympics roster, attended the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of the HBO Max documentary LFG, streaming now. The documentary follows the team’s equal pay lawsuit and the crushing blow in May 2020 when a judge ruled in favor of the U.S. Soccer Federation on the most consequential aspects of the lawsuit.
The summary judgment is still surprising to Rapinoe, and some of the team’s members are seen reacting emotionally in the climax of the documentary.
“I just will never not be shocked by the summary judgment,” Rapinoe said. “I’ll never not be shocked by the things that they say. I’ll never not be shocked by the positions that they’ve taken.”
Rapinoe is referencing the federation’s controversial 2020 filings, which implied the men’s team deserves higher salaries and funding due to their biological advantages and responsibilities. The fallout from the filing led then-U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro to resign and the team to hit back by wearing their warm ups inside out before a game a few days after. The federation also apologized for the filings and hired a new legal team to take over the lawsuit.
“It always hurts really to have, you know, not just anybody say that about you, but to have someone who sees you so up close all the time and understands all the work that you put in,” she says of the relationship with the federation.
“It was almost a little bit natural and probably cathartic to be able to not have to be superwoman all the time,” Rapinoe says. “Just to be able to kind of say how difficult it is and how much of a toll it takes and how we wish we could be putting our talent and resources and creativity and intelligence to something else. But you know, this is what’s required at the moment.”
“This is something that goes so far beyond even our team or what we’ve had to deal with,” she continues. “We need to be able to stand up there and be really proud of something for basically all women in the world.”
Esther Perel, Therapist
On the first season of her eponymous podcast How’s Work? With Esther Perel, the renowned relationship therapist mused that “We take home to work, and we take work home.”
That was 2019. Two years and one global pandemic later, and those already fuzzy boundaries have blurred even further. “People who work remotely, they›re not working from home,” Perel said. “They are literally working with home. There is an immediate collapse of all their roles.”
As Perel explained, America’s work culture had already shifted to an “identity economy” pre-COVID. We’d come to view our work not only as a means of income, she said, but also a source of fulfillment, purpose, and community. Which made it all the more devastating when the workplace ceased to exist as we knew it, and all the more important to understand and cultivate the new ways we relate to one another.
The second season of How’s Work?, that premiered April 6 exclusively on Spotify, explores the specific tensions, conversations and challenges that arose between coworkers in 2020. As with the first season, each episode features a real therapy session between Perel and two anonymous individuals. But while the new season might have been recorded against the backdrop of the pandemic, Perel found that her patients didn’t necessarily want to discuss the health crisis directly. Rather, it acted as an almost invisible force, catalyzing other difficult conversations that had been bubbling under the surface and were suddenly exacerbated: about racism, inequality, money, gender, burnout, and more.
“They were often quite brave,” Perel said of her patients, who included co-founders, direct reports and managers and same-level colleagues. “It›s easier when you bring your spouse or your boyfriend or your girlfriend, your partner in life. Then you have a kind of intrinsic motivation. But to bring your manager to have a difficult conversation about money, about gender, about race, about jealousy in the workplace, about why promotions sometimes trump friendships? These kinds of conversations in the context of everything that was going on was very, very powerful.”
Perel herself has felt a major shift in the way she practices therapy and the way she relates to her patients. Couples answer Zoom calls from bed; she’ll sometimes go on long walks while conducting a session. For the first time in her life, she doesn’t have an office, an experience she likens to being “a painter without a brush.” Said Perel, “I am myself in lockdown and I too experienced the isolation of being in a small room where I›m trying to have an opening to the world, through a conversation, right?”
Donatella Versace, Fashion Icon
Donatella Versace is ready to leave behind the dark times. For resort 2022, the Versace chief creative officer presented a joyful collection, which felt like an ultimate mood lifter.
“I think there’s a renewed sense of optimism right now and I wanted this collection to speak to that,” Versace said. “This season is about having fun with fashion again and it feels right to put something positive into the world. We will never return to the old world or to the old ‘normal;’ there’s no going backward. This is what the new-now looks like to me.”
For new-now, Versace intended a new version of things that are familiar but that can be interpreted through different lenses to obtain something exciting and fresh. In this perspective, she took signature shapes and motifs and applied them a psychedelic filter.
A trippy, swirling print, inspired by ’70s music posters, with the wording “Love.Versace.Medusa” rendered in bubbly fonts, was splashed on T-shirts tucked into A-lined miniskirts or on men’s plissé shirts and shorts. The same psychedelic vibe was infused into another pattern that peppered the marble-printed denim outfits.
The lineup’s print extravaganza also included chain motifs used on draped silk dresses and plissé skirts, while the Greca monogram, which debuted with the fall 2021 show, made a comeback in the Resort 2022 collection in new color variations on an array of items, from shirts and suits to windbreakers and accessories.
Versace’s original glamorous and precious spirit resonated in the use of metallic chains inlaid into the garments, creating charming trimmings and precious embellishments.
If tweed jackets and separates with a bourgeois feel were twisted through acid colors and intentionally unfinished details, offering a new, unapologetic take on the Ladies Who Lunch look, latex dresses in candy colors were designed for the fiercest girls in town.
For Donatella Versace, it’s certainly time to have fun and break free.
Leyna Bloom, Groundbreaking Supermodel
Meet Leyna Bloom, the first trans woman of color in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue
“Trans people are not used to having moments like this,” the model and actress said. “It’s kind of like you have to be pinched: ‘Oh, this is really happening.’”
Model and actor Leyna Bloom will be the first transgender woman of color to grace the pages of Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue when it lands on magazine stands this month.
But Bloom, who’s both Black and Filipina, is no stranger to firsts: In 2017, she became the first trans woman of color to be featured in Vogue India, and in 2019, she became the first to star in a film that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival for her appearance in “Port Authority.”
“These are huge moments,” Bloom said. “But it’s just like, why has it taken so long?”
Bloom said she is also one of the few Black transgender women to have signed with a talent agency, which she sees as a path to better representation for trans women of color in the fashion and entertainment worlds.
“I think more agencies, more movies, more films, more fashion shows need to not only hire trans talent but also make sure that the people they are hiring — the crew, the casting directors — represent that, also,” she said.
Bloom, a native of Chicago, is only the second trans woman to have been featured in Sports Illustrated (Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio became the first last year). In a statement, the magazine said Bloom’s “presence as the first trans woman of color to be in our issue is a result of her lifetime dedication to forging her own path that has led to acceptance, love and change.”
Bloom is also busy pursuing an acting career. She recently starred in the final season of the hit Netflix series “Pose.” She said it was her first time acting under the direction of another Black trans woman, writer and director Janet Mock.
“I feel like we need more people investing into trans narratives and stories that are not about sensationalizing and sexualizing our experiences but that are about normalizing our experiences so we can just live and breathe in those spaces,” she said.
Annie Murray, Actor
Watching Annie Murphy in AMC’s Kevin Can F**k Himself will make you rethink everything you love about sitcoms. The new series, starring Murphy as housewife Allison, sheds a completely inventive light on the tropes that have defined generations of TV — and were often littered with sexist, lazy, and problematic stereotypes.
But Kevin Can F**k Himself isn’t a finger-wagging look back at popular shows that glorified the basic straight white man. It’s a dark comedy about one suburban woman who is done being the punchline and wants to deliver the punches herself.
When we first meet her, Allison’s life is defined by her messy, unappreciative and inconsiderate husband Kevin (played by Eric Petersen) who can’t do anything for himself. At her wit’s end and desperate for a new life, Allison finally decides to take control and win back her independence. She finds ways to screw over Kevin — and maybe even get rid of him for good.
The heady and complicated role of Allison called for an actress who could seamlessly bridge the character’s conflicting emotions. She’s the dutiful wife at home, but seething with anger the moment Kevin leaves the room. Murphy, now an Emmy winner following her career-defining role as Alexis Rose on Pop TV’s Schitt’s Creek, shines as the miserable, but resourceful, Allison. The leading role is on the other side of the spectrum from Alexis, but it still allows Murphy to tap into her humor and her best acting tool: physical comedy. The unexpected comedic elements of her character were a big priority for Murphy on set, and her dedication to making Allison funny, but totally unappreciated, displays the hopelessness of her situation.
“It was really important to me that the audience be able to see glimmers of who Allison used to be — before these 10 years had kind of chipped away at her personality and her heart and her mind,” Murphy said. “It was important to me that she had a sense of humor even though her sense of humor is not understood in the sitcom world, and she’s told she’s not funny.”
Murphy tapped into her character through accessing her own repressed anger. “I see bits of me, my dear girlfriends in (Allison), both positive and negative ways. I think the one thing that I was a little bit worried about was like, ‘Oh, she’s really angry — really, really angry and really frustrated.’ In my head I was like, ‘I’m not that angry or frustrated.’ And then I very quickly realized, ‘Oh, yeah, I really am,’ and I’ve just been stuffing it all down for a very long time so I could go about my day,” Murphy said.
Dana Romita, Realtor and Philanthropist
They say that real estate is all about location, location, location. But in the last year, the world-renown, perfectly situated real estate market of New York City ground to a halt. The exodus to upstate New York and the Hamptons was unlike anything we’d ever witnessed, but with each passing day and week, New Yorkers are finding their way back to the city – and the real estate market reflects it.
“We stuck with New York,” said real estate agent and philanthropist Dana Romita, who stayed in the city despite the pandemic. “We bundled up and ate dinner on sidewalk patios of our favorite restaurants in the middle of winter to support the restaurateurs. Now, as we return to some semblance of normal, the city has changed, real estate has changed, we’ve all changed, but New York will always remain.”
Romita, an agent at Douglas Elliman New York, said her current NYC and New Jersey listings aren’t staying on the market long, and even rental properties are going for over-asking monthly rent. But moving properties quickly isn’t Romita’s modus operandum. “When I list a property, I visit it and think about who would be the perfect owner or tenant for the property? I have one right now, for example, and I just know it would be so great for an English family as their New York residence, so I’m marketing it in the U.K.”
She also regularly donates her commission to charity and she’s on the board of numerous charitable foundations and endeavors, including the Bergen Family Center, Table to Table, and Madison Square Boys and Girls Club. Her parents instilled philanthropy in her from a young age: her great-grandparents operated an orphanage just outside of Rome after World War II for Italian war orphans. Her New York and New Jersey philanthropic work centers around food security for children and youth.
“We generally don’t think about food security as something dramatically affecting Americans, but it is a plight upon the children all around us. How can you expect a child to function highly in school when they’re hungry? Lord knows, I can barely make a decision on an empty stomach,” she said. The feeding programs with Table to Table ensure that children get the same level of nutrition and provision that her own children enjoy at home. “We can feed kids during the week, but what about the weekend? We’re teaching kids how to prepare easy and tasty meals with ingredients we provide so that’s there’s no interruption in their nutrition on Saturdays and Sundays.”
Romita’s own relationship with food – and feeding her loved ones – is a foundational part of her nature. “She is an incredible mom,” said longtime friend and fellow New Yorker Michael Snell of Romita. “She full-stops every morning to cook breakfast for her son who’s still at home.” Her daughter, who recently graduated from NYU, is also the recipient of mom’s cooking. “I’m always dropping something off,” Romita laughed. “It’s just who I am!”
Shani Dhanda, Differently Abled Activist
“The way in which I view disability is that my condition doesn’t disable me; I’m only disabled when I experience barriers or bias,” Shani Dhanda said in August last year.
This statement is typical of Dhanda, who at 3-ft 10-in defies expectations, and challenges people to think differently, wherever she goes.
Born with a genetic bone disorder, commonly known as ‘brittle bones disease’, Dhanda had broken her legs six times by the time she was 14. But her mother never treated her any different than her siblings, and Dhanda learned not to ask for help, but demand change.
She has worked for Virgin Media for three years as a diversity and inclusion specialist, is founder of the Asian Disability Network and Asian Women Festival, and was named on BBC‘s 100 Women List 2020. With remote work more acceptable than ever, the opportunities for the disabled community are growing, and Dhanda’s ambitions remain incredibly high in 2021 – expect to see more transformative initiatives soon.
In 2019, Dhanda launched the Diversability Card, the UK’s first official discount card for disabled people, aimed at reducing financial pressures for disabled people and their families who can incur extra living costs of up to GBP $583 per month.
Radhika Jones, Vanity Fair Editor
In the glamorous world of fashion magazines, Radhika Jones has made a statement by not making a statement. After becoming editor-in-chief in 2017, she moved the magazine away from glamorous stylized covers and instead features celebrities in normal clothes instead of ballgowns and couture.
“As the editor of Vanity Fair, but also as a scholar of literature, and someone who’s worked in media and publishing for a long time, I think that there are ways in which our cultural perceptions of things like glamour, of celebrity and fame, even of talent have been narrower than they needed to be,” said Jones. “And I think that it’s so interesting and necessary at this moment in time to be able to widen the aperture on all of those concepts.”
Jones has moved the magazine and online content to be more representative of all types of backgrounds and lifestyles and to highlight the cultural zeitgeist. Her approach is resonating with readers—twice in 2020, Vanity Fair broke its record for new monthly subscriptions, a staggering feat in the changing world of media.
Jennifer Stroup, Luxury Automobiles Brand Manager
Jennifer Stroup sells some of the most luxurious cars in the world to some of the most recognizable celebrities in the business. Her father instilled a love for cars in her from an early age, and it’s obviously paid off. Stroup works hard and plays hard.
During the pandemic, when she couldn’t host client dinners, she’d meet clients for a socially cognizant drive to Malibu. “No one needs a $400,000 Rolls-Royce automobile,” said Stroup. “It’s firmly in the ‘want’ category. That’s where I come in: I work with my clients to figure out which built-to-order automobile is best suited to them.”
We caught up with Stroup in Beverly Hills following her photoshoot on Mulholland Drive with her own purple McLaren 720 Spider.
Polo Lifestyles: First question(s), are you always just always such an early bird? What’s your daily schedule like?
JS: Yes I am an early bird! I am usually up between 5 to 6 a.m. every morning. I try to power through emails, read the news and get all my appointments lined up for the day. I also try to get in small bit of exercise, even if it is brief, and fuel up with some nourishment. I also have a few beloved furry children that I like to spend time with in the morning before my day gets hectic.
Polo Lifestyles: Second question, how did you get started in the business and what was your path like?
JS: My dad didn’t have any sons, and I loved cars so I would always go to car shows with him. I started working within the NASCAR and American Le Mans circles and then found that my days would be better spent in the sales industry. I transferred to the West Coast shortly after that. With a total of 22 years within the automotive sales arena, I can definitely say that I am within my specialty and enjoy what I do.
Polo Lifestyles: As life is full of ups and downs, what has been your greatest challenge in business and how did you overcome it?
JS: My biggest challenge has been being a woman in a primarily male-dominated industry. I overcame it through building my in-field experience with an almost-thirst for knowledge, ultimately allowing me to become one of the top global sales advisors in the business, consistently year after year.
My job doesn’t stop at selling a car, I assist in making a lifestyle decision – one that affects my clients every day, so the confidence that I back when helping someone choose a luxury automobile is based around my knowledge and addition to that person and what kind of positive addition it would be to their life. Continually providing that level of service is a 24/7 task, and it is not limited to one client, everyone is treated in the same highlight as they should be.
Polo Lifestyles: Where, in your opinion, is the luxury automobile industry headed in the next 18 months? And what will surprise us?
JS: In 18 months, which will be December 2022, I believe the luxury car market will be somewhat normalized with the supply versus demand and I think we will see an uptick in electrification offerings from the luxury and sporting car sector coming to market during this time.
From a design perspective, we see all luxury manufactures taking a turn to focus on the minute details that would impact the driver and, in many cases the passenger, experience. Refined materials, higher value leathers and wood applications and a much stronger focus on design-centric performance will be a great addition to any line that it is applied.
Polo Lifestyles: What would clients say is the Jennifer Stroup signature?
JS: My smile, definitely. And that I go the extra mile for them: I really do all kinds of things for my clients. I’m even the godmother of one of my client’s children. There’s a lot of trust built into the relationship.
Polo Lifestyles: And power.
JS: Yes, and power.
Later this year, Stroup will launch two brands of luxury electric cars in the United States, Pininfarina and Rimac, as the industry’s attitude toward fuel-less luxury automobiles shifts considerably.
Tt'Shauna Lightbourn, Model and Coach, & Aubrey Chandler
The magical moments that transpire between model and photographer transform a digital image from “Okay” to “Yes, please.” Photographers have their favorite models, and models, in turn, have their preferred photographers.
Such is the case of model Tt’Shauna Lightbourn and photographer Aubrey Chandler, who approached Polo Lifestyles earlier this spring regarding an idea for an editorial shoot in West Palm Beach. Chandler had previously shot an editorial fashion piece for Polo Lifestyles in 2018. She pitched the idea of posing in couture at a ranch setting and introduced us to Lightbourn, her muse for the shoot. The daughter of Bahamian and Haitian immigrants, Lightbourn’s presence, while wearing the new Carolina Herrera collection and diamonds from Provident Jewelry, in front of the camera was captured perfectly by Chandler.
Lightbourn may be new to Polo Lifestyles, but she’s been on the Miami fashion scene for some time. Between modeling editorial and runway, she teaches aspiring models runway techniques and studies natural healing.
The all-female creative team of Chandler, Lightbourn, makeup artist Darcy Goicochea, stylist Giselle Knee and assistant Joyce Carpio met at Olexa Celine’s Sebilion Ranch in May to squeeze in as many wardrobe and locations changes as possible before the afternoon rain fell and ended the photo shoot naturally. Miami-based Junior Olympic equestrian champion Mateo Coles joined the ensemble in a co-starring role opposite Lightbourn. Both Lightbourn and Coles share mixed Haitian heritage and accompanying presence in front of the camera. U.S. Polo Assn. dressed Coles in a yellow polo with white breeches and riding boots to complement Lightbourn’s couture looks.
Rashida Jones, Actor and Producer
When it comes to fame, actor Rashida Jones has seen it all. Growing up in Hollywood as the daughter of superstar music producer Quincy Jones and Mod Squad star Peggy Lipton, Jones watched as some people rose to success — and others seemed to fade away.
In her own household, Jones’ mother felt uncomfortable with her quick rise to fame at such a young age and became more introverted, while her father continued to become more famous.
“It changed the dynamic of our household,” Jones says. “People think [fame is] this wonderful, magical heal-all, and it’s actually the opposite. It can be a poison. It can be intoxicating and destructive.”
Initially, Jones wanted no part of show business or fame. Instead, she focused on academics, aiming to become a lawyer or a judge. But then, as a student at Harvard, she began doing comedy shows, and her attitude shifted.
“I had a ton of friends in college who became comedy writers,” Jones says. “And I think being friends with funny, witty people at a certain age makes you want to, I don’t know, do that for a living.”
Jones went on to co-star in seven seasons of the NBC comedy series Parks and Recreation. She currently co-stars with Kenya Barris in the Netflix series #blackAF. In the new film, On the Rocks, Jones plays a writer and mother who suspects her husband is having an affair. Her father, played by Bill Murray, gives her advice based on his own, outdated view of masculinity.
Jones filmed On the Rocks shortly after losing her mother to cancer and becoming a mother herself. It was a tumultuous time, and she nearly turned down the role, but she’s glad she didn’t.
“In a weird way, this movie was kind of a salvation for me because (director) Sofia (Coppola) is such a tender, present director and friend,” Jones says. “To land in this world for a couple months when I was kind of going through the hardest period of my life was like a real gift.”
Jones has been open about the casting difficulties around her biracial ethnicity. “Inherently, being biracial, you just live in the middle,” she said. “The nice thing is that there is some part of that which makes you like a bridge, in a sense, because you kind of always feel like a bit of an outsider. But when I was younger, there were (fewer)biracial people on TV and film. People were confused how to cast me. I remember having panic to be cast in something with a family. I had to have a discussion with the director, the writer, whomever, and say, ‘I want to be represented the way my ethnicity is in real life. I don’t want to cover up anything.’”
Shamin Abas, PR and Events CEO
“How have you been handling the last year?” may be the most over-asked question of 2021, but the answers never cease to amaze. Human beings, when faced with the unknown, can be incredibly resourceful and resilient.
There was this weird temptation, perpetuated and reinforced by Netflix and Disney+, to wait out the pandemic in front of the television. A meme to this effect circulated on social media: “For the first time in history, staying home from work and day drinking makes you a hero.”
But not all of us are wired to watch the world spin off its axis from the comfort of our living room. Entrepreneurs, industry leaders, event planners, media titans and mavens and others analyzed the evolving situation and retooled business models and methods that were adaptive to the environment and limitations.
Shamin Abas is no stranger to retooling her business model in the first place. She launched her firm of the same name in West Palm Beach, Fla., before moving her headquarters to New York City. When the pandemic hit NYC hard last spring, she moved and retooled her communications and PR firm once again, moving to and setting up shop in Sag Harbor, N.Y.
“I’d been coming to Sag Harbor for a few years,” Abas said from the cottage she rents in Sag Harbor.
“As the pandemic worsened in NYC, I decided to head here again, thinking I’d be here for six weeks max.” As weeks turned into months and then the year-mark passed, Abas stayed put in Sag Harbor, taking advantage of the area’s low contagion factor, high vaccination rate and the community’s affinity for intimate gatherings. She also reignited a long-time love: horses.
“Legend was love at first sight,” Abas said, referring to her ex-racehorse. The personal and emotional connections she’s missed with other humans during the pandemic, she’s found with Legend. “Now, I design my day and schedule around being with Legend.”