Despite 2018 seeming like it was perhaps a giant dumpster fire for women around the globe, woman did a tremendous job of getting. shit. done.
From the bravery shown by the women of the #MeToo movement, to historic wins for women in the midterm elections in the US (particularly of women of color), to Spain appointing a majority-woman cabinet, to Iranian women watching the World Cup in a stadium next to men for the first time in decades, to women in Saudi Arabia finally being legally allowed to drive, the list is long. It was a good year for us.
In honor of International Women’s Day, I’m sharing a little list of badass women I’m currently obsessed with right now. I cut this list down from 17 to 6 because, holy hell, there are a lot of women that deserve some bragging right now and each one deserves her own blog post. I bow down!
Please leave a comment to let me know who I left out, and who else I should be obsessed with at the moment (because there’s always room for more in my closet shrine!)
1. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
If you were alive during 2018 (which I’m assuming you were since you’re reading this article) you probably didn’t escape the year without first hearing about Free Solo.
Perhaps you weren’t interested or didn’t really understand, but surely you’ve heard about the epically superhuman efforts of Alex Honnold, a free solo expert who achieved his dream of scaling 3,000ft of a vertical wall in Yosemite National Park without a rope.
It has rightly been dubbed as one of the greatest athletic feats in the history of mankind (NBD) and watching the event is equal parts exhilarating and holy-shit-I’m-sweating-in-places-I-didn’t-even-know-could-produce-sweat terrifying.
When you hear about Free Solo, people normally talk about two things:
- 1) how amazing Alex Honnold is (and he is amazing)
- 2) what a great film Jimmy Chin produced (one of the greatest adventure photographers of all time)
Ok great, enough about them, let’s move on to the real star of the show.
What no one ever seems to talk about is the co-director and all around inspirational badass Chai Vasarhelyi and her role in all this.
So who is she? I’m glad you asked. Chai is an uber-ambitious 39-year-old woman who grew up in Manhattan and when to college at Princeton. She finished her first documentary, A Normal Life, at age 24 that told the story of 7 college-aged friends in the middle of the Bosnian Conflict.
I can’t even tell you one interesting thing I did the year I was 24. Her film won the Tribeca Film Festival. Casual.
Moving on! She spent the next decade making films about Senegal, honing in on her knack for storytelling and showcasing raw human emotion. Let’s fast forward a bit because I could literally talk for hours about her and we’ve got a lot of women to cover.
Chai found herself in the presence of Jimmy Chin (who she initially blew off because why not, you do you, girl). He asked her for some tips on his film, Meru, which had been kicking around for years, not managing to make it into any film festivals. She let him wait in limbo for three months before she got back to him and agreed to take a look.
Chai turned the now famous Meru from doomed, super bro climbing porn film, to a genuine story that went on gain high praise from elite film festivals everywhere.
How’d she do it? She insisted on re-shooting basically everything except for the actual climbing. All of the storytelling, all of the interviews with the climbers, all of the interviews with the family members. She revisited all of that and pulled out real human emotion that she felt viewers could connect with. And she was right.
And as a surprise to literally no one, she did the same thing for Free Solo.
She took what easily could have been a niche climbing film and turned it into an oddly relatable and universal story: perfection vs death, love vs. focus, ethics vs. filming an incredible feat. For her efforts and diligence, this documentary made people feel things other than fear and exhilaration.
She gave the audience and understanding of the complexity of the whole project. Oh, and she’s married to Jimmy Chin in case anyone actually cared. And they just took home an Oscar!
2. Jacinda Ardern
You didn’t think I was going to write this list without mentioning one of the most badass world leaders of all times, did you? Especially from the country that was the first to give women the right to vote!
As a leader of the first Labour government in New Zealand in a decade, Jacinda Ardern shares values common of a leftist party: investment in health, education, climate action, public housing, and social justice. Excellent start, but hundreds of politicians share those values and push those agendas.
So what makes Jacinda so special?
For starters, Jacinda has absolutely no time for what others expect of her outside of her job responsibilities.
All those bogus questions about family woman usually get when they run for public office? Nope! Jacinda wasn’t having any of it. She was elected and promptly announced her pregnancy like it was NBD, had the baby in a public hospital and became the first world leader ever to go on maternity leave, where she graced the world with a charming Facebook Live video of her and her daughter Neve.
When she was ready to go back, she went and her partner (not husband, mind you!) stayed home with the baby. I love a good gender role swap!
She continued her year getting shit done as the Prime Minister and also being an amazing parent.
She brought her new baby to the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit where she spoke moments after handing off the babe to her partner (She also got her baby a special UN pass for the event). Through her actions, she is normalizing being in a position of power as a new mom, breastfeeding at work, and having her partner be the primary caregiver.
Enough about her baby. Let’s talk about her career accomplishments. In her short time as president, she has already:
- Introduced the Families Package that delivers more money to families with children and reduces child poverty
- Passed a bill to allow leave for victims of domestic abuse
- Made the first year of tertiary education or training fees free
- Increase student allowances and living cost loans by $50 a week
- Passed the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill, setting minimum standards for all rentals
- Passed law banning overseas speculators from buying existing houses
- Set up a ministerial inquiry into mental health crisis
- Introduced legislation to make medicinal cannabis available for people with terminal illnesses or in chronic pain
- Increased the minimum wage to $16.50 an hour (and announced this year another bump up to $17.70 by April of this year)
- Set the zero carbon emissions goal and began setting up an independent Climate Commission, ended all new bids on offshore oil and gas exploration
- And announced a phasing out of single-use plastic bags nationwide
Oh, and she greeted the Queen of England wearing a traditional Maori cloak. What’s that? A country treating its indigenous population with even an ounce or respect and dignity!?
3. Melise Edwards
Melise has become one of my favorite women to follow on Instagram. Not only is she a sponsored rock climber, but she’s also an actual brain scientist AND social justice warrior.
She refuses to sit behind her climbing success without also tackling issues for women and communities of color in the outdoors. She refuses to accept the erasure of dark-skinned women in outdoor advertising and when she gets hate mail for it, she straight up calls those bullies out.
Her passion and dedication is infectious and makes me want to do better:
“I yearn for the day when multiple women of color can be featured for an advertisement or photoshoot within and beyond the outdoor industry; for the day we don’t need to have several white women or men in the shot for the photo to be inherently successful.
I yearn for the day POC can get paid and aren’t questioned or criticized for wanting to get paid for their work and time. This means valuing their time, chronic advice, labor and the information they provide enough to actually compensate them. (E.g. how do I make my company more diverse?) .
I yearn for the day when more people of color make up the staffing at large companies and folks don’t call on *that one POC you know on Instagram* to ask for chronic free education and labor.
Companies: Diversify your staff. Diversify your marketing. Take actual efforts to support POC in the outdoor community beyond superficial displays that do not get at the root of the problem (e.g. inviting a panel of POC to talk for free at your events.)
Finally, please stop asking POC to only come to your events to talk about diversity instead of their amazing careers in the outdoors, recent adventures or athleticism. We can all do better when we learn how rampant these issues are in our community and seek to change them. I believe in you all.”
4. Cristina Mittermeier
In case you haven’t heard, global warming is real. It’s happening right now and us humans who have expedited global warming are generally not being helpful at all.
Good thing there are people like Cristina Mittermeier to show us the way forward. (And if I haven’t lost you at this point, congrats, you understand science!)
The Mexico-city born marine biologist has some notable accolades but her strength goes beyond her studies and awards. Cristina is an expert storyteller and sheds light on what’s going on in the world, whether at the bottom of the ocean floor or in some of the most remote indigenous villages in the world. She photographs them, tells their story and gives hope for the possibility of a mindful, sustainable future.
At her core, she wants her audience to really truly think about what it means to be a human and our undeniable link to other species and the responsibility to look after fellow life forms.
In 2005, she created a league of Conservation Photographers (hello new dream job!) to help give a platform for photographers working on environmental issues. She’s also co-founded a nonprofit called Sea Legacy, with legendary photographer Paul Nicklen, that works towards protecting the world’s oceans through storytelling.
If that’s not enough to convince you to be obsessed with her as well, I’ll leave you with this quote.
“To roam the farthest corners of the Earth, where wild creatures live, is a privilege reserved for an adventurous handful. But even though most of us may never feel the chill of Arctic air through the frozen flap of an icy tent, images can help us understand the urgency many photographers feel to protect wild places. My work is about building a greater awareness of the responsibility of what it means to be a human. It is about understanding that the history of every living thing that has ever existed on this planet also lives within us. It is about the ethical imperative—the urgent reminder that we are inextricably linked to all other species on this planet and that we have a duty to act as the keepers of our fellow life forms.”
5. Mirna Valerio
There’s a myth in the medical world that fat people cannot be considered fit.
There’s phony talk about the importance of BMI (spoiler: it’s absolutely worthless for determining health) and the unarguable need to shed pounds to achieve health.
This simply is not true and Mirna Valerio is here to prove it.
Mirna has essentially been an outdoors obsessed athlete all of her life. From field hockey and lacrosse in high school to now being a full-on ultramarathon runner in her adult life. She started blogging (Fat Girl Running) in 2012 as she was training for her first marathon and as her support systems grew, so did the haters, flooding her inbox with negative comments. But Mirna never let the haters get her down. She loves her body and is consequently chasing our stereotyped perception of what fitness and health look like.
“They don’t like to see me on a cover of a magazine because I do not represent what fitness means to them,” she says. “I want to continue sticking my big ass into places where people think I don’t belong. That has been the nature of my life—I’m going to do it and I’m going to do it proudly.”
“We are much more than our bodies. Whether it’s body image, our choices to be moms or not, our career choices—we are more than our bodies,” Valerio says. “We’re so powerful beyond our wildest dreams.”
As a runner, author, and educator, Valeria has secured her voice encouraging everyone, especially the youth, to get outside where they can test their own mental and physical strength. She advocates for green spaces in cities and supports more price-public funding for school trips.
“It’s not just a necessity for urban kids, but it’s a necessity for kids all over no matter what their level of privilege is and no matter what their level of exposure and access is,” she says. “Whenever I think of the outdoors, it’s not only a place to be myself and live in my introverted ways, but I also look at the outdoors as a place of bonding with other people and having these really deep, profound experiences with nature that you can’t have looking out a window.”
6. Pattie Gonia
Pattie Gonia is the world’s first backpacking queen and honestly, this is exactly what we need right now in these trying times.
Some days the news is so dark and our world leaders are so questionable that you might want to crawl into a tiny cave and not come out until everything is fixed but then, like a ray of sunshine and hope, emerges Pattie Gonia, the viral drag queen who dances on top of mountaintops in platform heels and everything in the world seems a little more manageable.
Pattie graced us with her presence less than six months ago but has already made waves across the world.
Pattie is portrayed by fellow Nebraskan photographer and Eagle Scout Wyn Wiley. If you aren’t familiar with various state identities in the USA, let’s just say that Nebraska is not the easiest state to be apart of the LGBTQ group.
Nevertheless, Wiley unapologetically embraces his inner queen and we’re all a lot better because of it.
But Pattie Gonia is more than a feel-good IG feed to make you smile. Wiley’s ultimate goal is for Pattie Gonia to inspire more people to get outside and enjoy mother nature, especially those who have historically been excluded from the outdoor community, including the LGBTQ community, people of color, and bigger folks.
He hopes to achieve this by having Pattie Gonia lead groups of newbie hikers and using sponsors to help provide gear for those who can’t afford it, because let’s be honest, outdoor gear can be as expensive as hell and historically, spending leisure time outside is a huge fucking privilege.
On a more personal level, Pattie is a way for Wiley to explore his more feminine sides.
“In my normal life, I’d say I’m pretty straight-passing,” he says. “But when I put those boots on, it feels like a girl when she puts on mascara for the first time – it unlocks a different side of you that you haven’t seen before. I think femme is important. I think masculinity is important. I think it’s all inside of us.” If everyone accepted this gender fusion, the world would be a much better place.
Trust me. Better yet, trust Pattie.
Spill! Who are some badass women you’re obsessed with right now? Comment below and share some inspo!