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
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.
Julie Klausner is hilarious and wise. The author, podcaster, and comedian lampoons the self-delusions and foibles of modern womanhood — dating, dieting, douchebags — with deft wit and eviscerating sarcasm. Her first book, I Don’t Care About Your Band, is a funny, vulnerable, self-deprecating look at her dating history, and has been optioned by HBO (with Lizzy Caplan in the lead!). Her podcast, “How Was Your Week?” was named one of the 10 best comedy podcasts of the moment by Rolling Stone. Her Twitter feed is addictive. Pay attention: Julie Klausner is blowing up.
Julie Zeilinger is the kind of accomplished woman you’d like to be when you grow up — except she’s still a teenager. Making the rest of us look like slackers, Zeilinger founded The FBomb, a blog and community for and by teenage girls “who care about their rights as women,” when she was just 16 years old. Utilizing the medium to its fullest potential, Zeilinger fused a generation gap when she created a space where young feminists could connect with one another, feel a little less alone in their beliefs, and have their voices heard. For decades, adults have been talking about the future of feminism — the FBomb allows the future of feminism to join the conversation. With her first book, A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not a Dirty Word, released this year, Zeilinger — currently an undergrad at Barnard in New York City — is a role model for young girls (and their moms, too!).
South African-born and New York-bred, Jean Grae is widely regarded as one of the most underrated MCs in the game. Coming up in the mid-’90s in the hip hop group Natural Resource, Grae later struggled as a solo artist to find her footing in a rap landscape that was overpopulated with hyper-sexualized female artists. Refusing to assimilate, Grae has truly epitomized the spirt of an independent artist. At her core, she’s an innovator, with raw and incredibly personal lyrics that touch on the kind of shared female experiences that no other rapper has dared explore, like the complexity of mother/daughter relationships.
In the two years since she graduated from college, Elizabeth Herman has traveled around the world to countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam and Egypt, interviewing current and former female combatants for a long-term documentary project entitled “A Woman’s War” about the impact of conflict. The work was named a 2011 Finalist of The Aftermath Project, a 2011 Top Finalist of the Fotovisura Spotlight Grant and shortlisted for the 2011 Lucie Foundation Scholarship. Elizabeth, a former Fulbright fellow, was also recently granted the 2012 Tim Hetherington Award to continue working with women of the Bosnian War. And she also somehow manages to find the time to run a blog focusing on the importance of narrative and language called “The Stories We Tell.”
Kate Zambreno’s novel Green Girl — a finalist in the Morning News’s 2012 Tournament of Books — has been almost universally praised in thinky literary circles. It’s the story of Ruth, a somewhat infuriating American girl drifting through London, selling perfume, getting drunk, having sex, being beautiful, obsessing over fashion, and struggling to carve out her identity. Ruth is a challenging character and a controversial one — Zambreno calls her an antiheroine, a “hot mess” — but that search for identity is infinitely relatable. And does a girl really have to be palatable? Nice? Of course not. She also writes a fantastic blog about life, literature, and overlooked female contributions to same called Frances Farmer is My Sister.
Mac McClelland is an intrepid human rights reporter for Mother Jones magazine and the author of For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question, a book about the time she spent living with refugee activists on the Burma-Thailand border. Whether she’s going undercover as an online-shipping warehouse worker in Mississippi, winning numerous awards for her coverage of the BP oil spill (including the 2010 Sidney Award and 1st place in Outstanding Beat Reporting from the Society for Environmental Journalists in 2011), or writing frankly about how violent sex helped ease the PTSD she experienced after working in post-earthquake Haiti, Mac’s badass attitude mixed with her old-school reporting skills always makes for reading that is as provocative as it is enlightening.