2016 has been… complicated. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And this year was packed full of women who were up for the challenge. At Brit + Co we are endlessly impressed, inspired and awestruck by all the amazing feats women are accomplishing on the daily. And so in a climate where a handful of important women’s issues are currently up in the air, we’d like to serve up a reminder of what a powerful force women can be. Introducing: The first B+C curated list of movers, shakers and history makers — our Boss Babes of the year. Consider this a list of women who stood out to us as role models in 2016. You might already know some of them. Some of them might be new faces. Get to know them, because they’re all about to do big things.
Phoebe Robinson is the voice millennial women are desperate for in the Trump era that is upon us. Robinson made her break in the biz with the debut of the now hit podcast 2 Dope Queens. There, Robinson and The Daily Show alum Jessica Williams banter about anything and everything and always something that matters. Phoebe also has her own podcast Sooo Many White Guys. The interview-style show is all about provoking honest conversations with women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. If you prefer to have her endless words of wisdom in written form, she also happens to be the author of the best-selling book You Can’t Touch My Hair, a unique set of essays that manage to cover issues related to race, gender and pop culture, all in a non-lecturey kind of way.
Soaring past President Obama and even Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez is the most followed person on Instagram. With 105 million followers and counting, when she speaks, people listen. And this year, the Selena had a lot to say. Back in 2015, Gomez went public about being diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder Lupus. Since then she has also been very transparent about dealing with mental health issues and even went to rehab for that reason back in October of 2016. In a speech at the VMAs this year, Selena was brutally honest about how hard of a year she’s had. She told the audience, “If you are broken, you do not have to stay broken.” Selena’s transparency about her physical and mental issues are what has landed her a spot on this year’s list.
As Lena Dunham waves goodbye to Girls with the show’s upcoming and final season, Issa Rae has swooped in to debut something similar albeit distinctly different. In Issa’s new series Insecure, she plays a young woman who works at a nonprofit and is currently feeling a little bit restless. The show manages to hit on all things adulting, those late-twenty-something / early-thirty-something woes that are oh-so-relatable, and from a black woman’s perspective to boot. Apparently, we’re not the only ones binging the show. Issa was just nominated for a Golden Globe for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy.”
Hailey Gates is that girl that is just so damn cool, it’s almost annoying. But then you remember all she’s doing/has done and you go straight back to fangirling. The NYU grad has booked some major modeling gigs, but right now it’s her journalism skills that are kicking ass. Gates is the host of the Viceland show The State of Undress, an investigative docu-series that is diving headfirst into the political and social issues that surround the world of fashion. The series was just renewed for a second season and was also given the prestigious Front Page Award for TV Special reporting by the Newswomen’s Club of New York.
You might not know Jessica Anteby by name, but you probably already follow her on Instagram. She’s the brains behind the viral, meme-based account Beige Cardigan. The curated feed is essentially FuckJerry for women. That’s not just a conceptual comparison, either; FuckJerry’s founder, Elliot Tebele and Anteby married in 2015 and Beige Cardigan falls under Tebele’s media group. Basically, the pair are a millennial power couple if there ever was one. But Anteby doesn’t spend all her time working on curating the perfect Instagram. When she’s not prompting you to tag all your friends in that all too accurate meme, she’s working as a personal stylist in NYC with private clients all around the city. (Photo via @jessicaanteby)
Healthcare shouldn’t be complicated. And more importantly, it shouldn’t be inconvenient. Katherine Ryder is working to fix both of those pains with her new start-up Maven Clinic. The online medical hub is reinventing what it means to “go to the doctor.” Maven is a 21st-century take on telemedicine that’s not necessarily a replacement for a trip to the doctor, but a solid middle (wo)man between those terrifying 2am moments when you decide to Google your symptoms and the times when a visit to the doctor’s office is actually necessary. Dealing with everything from mental health to maternity leave, Maven uses video appointments, messaging, phone calls and doctor-moderated public forums to finally make health care convenient. (Photo via Maven Clinic)
The vitamin industry is complicated. But Katerina Schneider doesn’t want it to be. When the former investor was pregnant, she started throwing out everything in her house that had murky ingredients listed. She realized that was pretty much everything. After that, she decided to start a vitamin company with one core mission: traceability. Her brand Ritual just launched in October and is everything the vitamin industry currently isn’t. The trendy packaging is a plus, but it’s the alternative ingredients that set this product apart. Schneider and her team of scientists have ditched some common multivitamin ingredients (think: vitamin C, zinc, etc) for a few others they’ve found many women to actually be deficient in. It’s important to Schneider that you know why everything is there and where it came from, which is why every ingredient has a dedicated page on Ritual’s site.
Dr. Candice Bridge was already breaking down barriers as the first black woman to teach chemistry at the University of Central Florida, but now she’ll also claim her place in the history books with the new forensic science techniques she’s currently developing to aid in sexual assault investigations. The $324,000 grant she recently received will enable authorities to identify perpetrators of sexual assault even when traditional DNA evidence doesn’t exist, potentially adding more justice and efficiency to a slow and often flawed process. (Photo via Release Wire)
That old “salmon swimming upstream” metaphor might resonate all too well with journalist Megyn Kelly. The lawyer-turned-reporter-turned-talk show host identifies as a political independent and has been at Fox News for the past six years. Kelly is often commended for bringing balance to the conservative-leaning news network. This year, Kelly strapped on her fiercest battle gear and went to bat with the most outspoken Republican of them all, the now President-elect Donald Trump. After she moderated a Republican presidential debate last August during which she asked Trump if he had the “temperament” to serve as president, a feud sparked between the two of them. Donald proceeded to bully her and her show The Kelly File via Twitter for months. Eventually, she was able to get Trump to agree to a video interview where the two discussed a wide range of topics and (somewhat) put their feud behind them. Kelly has since penned the autobiography Settle for More, which details the feud in extensive detail.
Hillary Clinton’s night didn’t end in victory on November 8, but election day wasn’t a total loss for women in politics. Catherine Cortez Masto, the granddaughter of a Mexican immigrant, became the first Latina elected the join the Senate as Nevada’s representative. After her win, she tweeted, “I’m proud to be Nevada’s 1st female and our nation’s 1st Latina senator. It’s about time our government mirrors the diversity of our nation.” Throughout her term, Masto has pledged to protect Planned Parenthood, women’s access to healthcare and pass an equal pay legislation.
Cecile Richards is a fighter. As the president of Planned Parenthood, she doesn’t really have another option. The organization has never had an easy go of it, but with a Trump presidency upon us and a new Supreme Court Justice who will likely be pro-life, Richards and her team are going to have to strap on their sturdiest work boots. But damn, are they ready.
In 2012, After George Zimmerman was acquitted of Trayvon Martin’s death, Alicia Garza, a journalist and activist, posted a message on Facebook that read, “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter, Black Lives Matter.” Patrisse Cullors then shared the post with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. And just like that, a movement was born. Cullors and Garza brought their friend Opal Tometi on board and together they’ve sparked an awakening across not just the nation but the world.
We don’t know her real name, but Emily Doe’s story has forever changed how we deal with rape culture and sexual assault cases. Emily was attacked by Stanford swimmer Brock Turner when she was unconscious after a party on campus. You know how the rest of the story goes. While Emily has not revealed her identity publicly, she shared a letter with Buzzfeed that was brave, honest, angry and eye-opening. While Brock’s sentence was arguably shorter than it should have been, the case prompted the California State Legislature to pass two bills on sexual assault: one that broadens the definition of rape beyond just penetration and another that enforces a three-year prison sentence for sexual assault of an unconscious or intoxicated person.
Jen Gotch is changing what it means to be a boss. Sure, she is the head honcho at the effervescent millennial brand Ban.do, but that doesn’t mean she’s flawless. The almost 45-year-old founder and businesswoman is pretty damn honest about her mental health issues. On social media she offers behind the scenes looks at Ban.do HQ, but mainly her postings on Instagram and Snapchat are formatted like diary entries available for all to read. She snaps herself mid-anxiety crisis or when she’s really struggling with depression about her recent divorce. She’s transparent and honest and everything a boss actually is behind the pantsuit persona. (Photo via @jengotch)
You know that epic girls club you always wanted to start with your BFF in her treehouse? Well, Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan have actually created it. Except it’s not a treehouse; it’s a workspace in Manhattan. And instead of trading Pokemon cards, women trade ideas and life advice. Gelman and Kassan are the founders of NYC’s buzzed-about new social club The Wing. Dubbed as a place for “women on their way,” The Wing is essentially a beautiful space (seriously, peep their Instagram) where women can work and connect with other influential women via a calendar of badass events. It’s only been open since March, but so far ladies like Glossier’s Emily Weiss and Nasty Gal’s Sophia Amoruso have spent some QT at the space. (Photo via @lololevine)
Today’s teenagers are growing up in a complicated era, and Elaine Welteroth wants to make sure they stay woke. Earlier this year, Welteroth was promoted from Beauty and Health Director at Teen Vogue to Editor-in-Chief. The promotion makes her the youngest person ever to be appointed the title at Conde Nast and only the second African-American to ever hold the title at the publication company. Since her time in charge, Welteroth has worked with the magazine’s staff to dive headfirst into covering hard news and real issues. And apparently, teens listened. Teen Vogue’s readership has tripled since adding hard news to its mix. The shift is yet another reminder that yes, teens can care about a wide range of cultural issues.
Lindy West is the author of Shrill, a book about “coming of age in a culture that demands women be as small, quiet and compliant as possible.” You’ve probably spotted commuters nose deep in the best-seller on the subway since it was released in May. A main theme of West’s writing is accepting that “fat” isn’t a bad word or something that always needs to be fixed. West’s This American Life episode about “coming out” as a fat person is undeniably one of the program’s most moving episodes of the year. (Photo via @thelindywest)
Do they need really need an introduction? They are the badass members of Rio’s USA women’s gymnastics team: Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian. Taking home a record-breaking nine metals and 8.209 points, the girls shut the competition down in literally the most epic way ever. Get used to these faces — they’re being called the greatest gymnastics team of all-time and the eldest is only 22 years old.
Misty Copeland is not your average ballerina. Last year the 34-year-old become the first African-American female principal dancer at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre. Veering away from the often unhealthy body ideals adopted by dancers in the industry, Copeland has become a sort of poster child for the “strong is the new skinny” mantra. In addition to killing it on stage, Copeland is also slated to be the lead ballerina in Disney’s live-action version of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. She also has a health and fitness book called Ballerina Body, which will be out in March 2017. (Photo via @mistyonpointe)
She might be small, but damn is she mighty. NYC-based Ashima Shiraishi is often considered the best rock climber in the world. Oh BTW, did we mention she’s only 15? Since she first discovered her talent while climbing in Central Park at age six, Shiraishi has mastered a V15 boulder problem (the hardest climb on the “v-scale” currently comes in at 16) and simultaneously became the youngest person, male or female, ever to master the impressive feat.
Beauty + Fashion
Iskra Lawrence has curves, and she wouldn’t want it any other way. The plus-size model has become a major player in the body-positive revolution that’s been brewing throughout 2016. Her Instagram is full of messages advocating self-love and acceptance. Unphotoshopped photos of her in her skivvies are everywhere through her Aerie campaign. She stripped down on the subway as an act of body acceptance and she even started a petition to get self-care class brought into schools in the UK. (Photo via @iskra)
Gigi was originally born Gregory. The transgender beauty babe is a pro at all things makeup related, but she’s also famous for fearlessly documenting her transition from male to female through her Youtube channel, which has more than two million followers, NBD. Gigi has used her massive following on social media to help bring awareness to transgender issues, the LGBT community, and anti-bullying. She has been awarded the LogoTV Trailblazing Social Creator Award and has also starred in her own web-based reality show, The Avenue. Prepare to be seeing a lot more of this pretty face and brave spirit.
Take one look at Miki Agrawal’s resume and your first thought will probably be, “Does this woman sleep?” She was a pro-athlete for a sec. She runs Wild, a chain of farm-to-table restaurants in NYC that are purifying your love of ‘za and she’s also the author of the best-selling book Do Cool Shit, a manifesto on paving your own way. But the entrepreneur’s biggest success might be founding Thinx, those period panties that everyone has been talking about this year. Girl, we’ve got our eye on you.
Which women have inspired you this year? Share with us on Twitter @BritandCo.
(Unless otherwise noted photo via Getty Images)