Sara Ziff is a model, a community organizer, a documentary filmmaker, a native New Yorker, a Columbia graduate — and a bit of a hell-raiser. Scouted at age 14 by a photographer in Union Square, Ziff rocketed to the top of the industry in her teens, walking for designers including Christian Dior, Chanel, and Marc Jacobs at all the world’s fashion weeks, all the while notching up magazine covers and ad campaigns for the likes of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. Her and other models’ experiences in the industry — of long hours, few breaks, the pressure to delay educational opportunities, and few consequences for superiors who engage in sexual harassment — formed the basis for her acclaimed 2009 film, Picture Me. Following the release of Picture Me, Sara worked with the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School to form the Model Alliance, a nonprofit that aims to give fashion models a voice in their work, and to promote fair labor standards throughout the fashion supply chain.
Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart is a New York City-based writer and actor, and one of three subjects of a new documentary that examines social pressure on female sexuality called Sexy Baby. And she’s only 15. Bonjean-Alpart is also a member of an all-teen, all-girl theater troupe called The Arts Effect, which writes and performs plays based on teen girls’ struggles to navigate an increasingly complex, increasingly technology-obsessed world.
Where would feminist dialogue of today be without the contributions of Jennifer Baumgardner? The author, filmmaker, and activist is a thought leader for modern feminism, spearheading groundbreaking campaigns like 2004’s I Had an Abortion project and 2008’s It Was Rape project, both of which encourage women to speak out about events that are shamed and misunderstood by mainstream society. Baumgardner was also Ms. magazine’s youngest-ever editor and has written about grassroots activism, bisexuality, and the obsession with female sexual purity.
Long Island teenager Samantha Garvey has an exceptional mind. This past January, 18-year-old Garvey became a semi-finalist in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search after spending two years researching aquatic ecosystems. As if her study wasn’t challenging enough, Garvey, along with her entire family, had been living in a homeless shelter at the time. Since Samantha’s story broke, her family has been moved into a three-bedroom apartment, she has attended the President’s State of the Union Address and she has received a fifty thousand dollar scholarship from Ellen Degeneres. Throughout it all, Samantha has remained devoted to her studies and love of science.
Any dessert lover worth their salt (or, in this case, sugar) is likely a big fan of Christina Tosi: she, along with mentor and Momofuku chef David Chang, is the talent behind the New York City sweet spot Milk Bar, beloved by foodies and non-obsessives alike. This past May, Christina was named the Rising Star Chef by the prestigious James Beard Foundation and is the author of her own cookbook, aptly titled, Momofuku Milk Bar. If you need to convinced of her delectable brilliance, one taste of Milk Bar’s famous Compost Cookies (filled with goodies such as chocolate, pretzels and potato chips — trust us, it works) should do the trick.
Amanda Kludt is so good at working her way up the food-blogging chain that the website she used to edit, Eater New York, actually created a new national position just for her: Editorial Director. Now she works with Eater editors in 17 cities across the country, covering restaurant reviews, events, food industry news, and all the delicious gossip that goes on behind the scenes. It makes sense, since Amanda got her job at Eater in the first place by being enterprising and all-around awesome at what she does. “I constantly read Eater, and when I heard they needed someone to take over, I begged them,” she told Elle. “I was the most obsessive, so I got it.”
Jamala Johns is a photographer, art director, blogger, woman-about-town and founder of Le Coil, a curated online collection of images of women with natural hair. In the mainstream media, black women are predominantly seen with chemically straightened hair; finding images of black hair in its natural, curly state, whether it be of celebrities or models in magazine photoshoots, is very rare. Le Coil isn’t just a collection of gorgeous photographs — many of of them taken by Johns herself — it’s inspirational, aspirational, motivational and celebratory. Beautiful, proud, stylish ladies sadly underrepresented in other venues are at the heart of Le Coil, thanks to Johns’ vision.
— Dodai Stewart, Jezebel.com
When 30-year-old then-Georgetown Law Student Sandra Fluke was denied the chance to testify before a Congressional committee on the role birth control plays in the lives of women on Catholic university campuses, she ignited a firestorm of controversy that incensed conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh so much that he devoted several days worth of his program to hurling sexist insults at her. But Fluke didn’t fight fire with fire; instead, she responded with dignity, poise, and class, and has emerged as an important voice of reason in the political cacophony that has been the War on Women.
Friends Mayaan Zilberman and Nikki Dekker founded the Lake & Stars lingerie brand. The designers work in beautiful silk prints and laces to create unique long-line bras, high-waisted briefs, and bodysuits that are simply out of this world. Zilberman and Dekker are often inspired by vintage lingerie, but thankfully without the kitsch (and without the problematic, unexamined reification of bygone generations’ understanding of a woman’s role) that that phrase implies. Their brand imagery explores a more personal and idiosyncratic kind of sexuality, and steers well clear of the woman-as-object tropes of most lingerie modeling (and of the high-def, artificially-colored-and-flavored aesthetic of the brands that dominate the industry, such as Victoria’s Secret). And when it comes to its models, the Lake & Stars has some of the best casting in the business: not only do they always make sure to have a truly multi-ethnic cast, including plus-size models, but I’ve also seen them hire “real women” of various ages who they feel represent the qualities of the brand. I don’t think there’s another lingerie company on earth that would hire a breast cancer survivor as a model. The fact that they don’t make a big deal about any of that — no press releases touting the brand’s body-positivity, no self-congratulatory show notes — suggests that inclusivity comes to them innately.
If you’re not already reading Sheila Heti’s second novel How Should A Person Be? (which had its long-awaited U.S. release this week), you should be. Heti’s rousing, unapologetically messy, beautifully written, insightful and provocative book explores the frustrations and rewards of female friendship, and of trying to make art as a young woman in the 21st century. “I look at all the people who are alive today and think, These are my contemporaries,” writes Heti. “These are my fucking contemporaries!” In making an argument for the importance of female subjectivity, and in doing her part to help throw into question the public/private hierarchy women are taught to adhere to, the one that tells us our feelings and private experiences are not matters of any wider importance, Heti is doing something very exciting within the form of the novel.