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Who Are Your Role Models?

Who Are Your Role Models?

People everywhere have been celebrating the news of Misty Copeland’s promotion to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, making her the first African-American woman to ever hold that role. With her now-famous muscular body, Misty had been told for years that she didn’t have the right body for ballet. Instead, she broke a major barrier and proved everyone wrong.

“A few years into her ballet career, she realized that it was rare for a dancer to be both curvy and black. But today she champions the fact that she’s not wispy or pale — and what it means that she’s so close to the apex of the ballet world without being any of these things. ‘I will always have breasts,’ she says. ‘I will always be more muscular. I will always have brown skin. I will never look like the dancer next to me.’

“Over time, she started to feel more at ease, pointing out that she was, in fact, different from the other dancers there, especially when it came to the stage makeup ballerinas must wear. ‘I’d be wearing the same color pancake makeup as the white girl next to me, and it became a struggle within myself,’ she says. ‘I learned to speak up and say I don’t feel comfortable.’

“‘Had I had this very easy path, I’d be a different person,’ she says. ‘I talk about it because it hasn’t changed. Until I can see America represented in the American companies, we have to have the conversation. The people who say, ‘Oh, just let it go,’ they don’t understand what it means for someone who looks like me to look at me and be able to see their future.'”

— Kayleen Schaefer for Yahoo! Style

“Copeland had an unusual body: her shoulders were sloped, her legs were long, her knees were hyperextended, and she was effortlessly flexible and strong even as she was very slight. She was in the habit of entertaining her siblings (and slightly weirding them out) by linking her hands together, putting them over her head behind her ears, and then getting her elbows to bend in the wrong direction. She also had a natural ability to quickly memorize and mimic any movement she saw.”

— Rivka Galchen for The New Yorker

What an incredible, inspiring woman. It makes you think of all the people she’ll become a role model for, a whole new generation of girls and dancers. Who are your role models? I actually have a list of women written on my computer desktop that I look to whenever I’m feeling shaky or need to remind myself of the right direction. They include Tina Fey, Nora Ephron, Anne Lamott, Pilar Guzman and other smart, strong women. Now I’m adding Misty Copeland to the list.

Who Are Your Role Models?

Who Are Your Role Models?


What about you? Who are your role models?

P.S. 15 career tips from smart women, and what I’ve learned in my career.

(Photos by Carlos Serrao for Under Armour; Emily Weiss for Into the Gloss; Jim Lafferty for Pointe Magazine.)

  1. I love Misty Copeland! As someone who did years of ballet, dealt with all the body issues that come with that, and watched other women around me deal with it, I love seeing a role model is who shows that ballerinas can be STRONG in addition to being graceful. So good for all the little ballerinas out there to see!

  2. How incredible that is for her to make it to that role!! I hate that she thought she had to have a certain body to even do ballet. She looks beautiful and dances so gracefully. I would say my role models are any one who has a dream and puts their mind to it! :) It’s so great to see so many girl bosses now-a-days. Anyone can truly be or do anything they put their mind to and I think that’s beautiful! xo
    http://www.GlossyFinds.com

  3. I am definitely inspired by Misty Copeland’s story! Female role models of mine include Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, J.K. Rowling, Meg Cabot, Natalie Coughlin, Gretchen Rubin, my boss, my mom, my grandma, and my mother-in-law.

  4. Perfect article! I so needed this reminder, that when I’m feeling doubtful (and believe me), its been a shaky four months. I made a promise to myself today of all days to summon every strength within and keep moving. Keep self talking in the affirmative always. Thanks for writing this article. I posted it to my Facebook page and maybe on my blog, if you don’t mind. Just let me know if you do. Thanks. Best.

  5. Atul Gawande. His works remind me consistently why I went into medicine in the first place, especially when some of the BS surrounding the medical world weighs on me.

    • Anna says...

      Thank you, Georgia. I’m a med student and know the feeling. Added Atul Gawande to my reading list.

  6. Anna says...

    Love this post.
    When I need to toughen up and get through something hard I post quotes by Tavi Gevinson, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey and some fictional characters- Katniss Everdeen and Christina Yang around my workplace. Sometimes I just tell myself to Katniss up or chanell my mom who is a powerhouse.
    And when nothing else helps and I want to crawl in a ditch and cry, I turn to this (I have made my own modified version, shameful, I know): https://goo.gl/yL4mUK

  7. I Loveeeeee her… such an amazing story and woman.

  8. my mom.

  9. Hi Jo,
    Very nice article about the importance of role models, and in Ms. Copeland’s case, persevering in the face of not fitting in or being typical-believing in yourself, your ability, and the benefits of extremely hard work. My only criticism is that you, like many others are only now adding Ms. Copeland to your list of role models since ABT has designated her a principal ballerina, a distinction that for years, years, has been a topic of discussion-how and why such a gifted dancer had not been given this distinction. I have admired Ms. Copeland for years. She has brought classical dance to the common man and dismissed the stereotype of a ballet dancer’s appearance. I felt goose bumps when I read she had been named principal dancer, but I didn’t need that designation to make her a role model. Ms. Copeland’s work and determination to become an outstanding world-class ballerina is what makes her a role model, not ABT’s long-delayed and some would argue late decision.

  10. Amanda says...

    There are also some amazing women who just won the 2015 women’s World Cup. Their dedication and cohesion as a team was fascinating to watch. I am sure there are some great role models to be found in that bunch! Go USA!

  11. As a twentysomething trying to find my path, I have quite a few role models…but I do want to chime in and agree with the two above readers…

    Jo, I found your blog when I moved alone to a new state right after college and have read it almost every single day since (almost four years)…sometimes if I am facing something you’ve written about, I’ll go back and find the post and it helps me to know that you’ve experienced something similar or something that I can relate to (law school, having zero money, dating before Alex, dating advice of us interviewing HIM!, the honest talks, loss, love of travel…the search bar is the bomb!)…and also maybe more importantly, the fact that when I imagine my future that I hope it to be something like yours and how you have carved out your life. It helps to be able to imagine my future in a creative, off-the-beaten career path (like yours) and see a career and family life mix of what I hope for actually existing. Thanks for that, Jo! <3

    • Haleigh Martin says...

      I have had a similar experience, and i could not have said it better than Callie. Jo, I look up to you…the way that you continue to challenge yourself and evolve as a creative entrepreneur, for the way you express yourself when you write about feelings, for the enthusiasm you have for thoughtful, interesting sentiments. Thank you for sharing honest slices of your life. Also, your pinterest is a dream :)

  12. You’re so wonderful, Joanna. Thank you so much for consistently sharing strong, inspiring, genuine women. (Additionally, I can’t get enough of Malala Yousafzai. But that’s probably a given.)

  13. Molly says...

    You! I would add you, Joanna to that list of inspiring role models on your computer. You constantly uplift me, and inspire me. Thank you for being you, and for sharing with your readers!

  14. Emily says...

    While Misty certainly works hard, the promotion is not without controversy. http://haglundsheel.typepad.com/haglunds_heel/2014/03/misty-copeland-life-in-motion-an-unlikely-ballerina.html Her being a minority female isn’t a barrier to promotion – Hee Seo (a Korean) was promoted 3 years ago, and there are numerous women of colour in leading roles across the country& in Europe. As with any other dancer, male or female, minority or not, it’s experience, talent, work ethic, aptitude (& to a small extent, box office preference) that cause one to be promoted or not. She does seem to have an excellent PR team though.

    • ne says...

      Read the article, very interesting. :)

    • Kim says...

      Fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Susannah says...

    My dad was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for over five years. He lived in unimaginable conditions, withstood torture and starvation, and came out of the experience with not one ounce of bitterness. Over the years I’ve met many of the men he was there with and to a man they tell me how much they enjoyed being cell mates with my dad, how he made the experience easier. He even performed surgery on one man using a makeshift scalpel! He is such a strong and wonderful man and I’d like to think I’d face adverse conditions as bravely as he did (although I hope I never find out).

    • Betsy says...

      That is an amazing and inspiring story. Your dad sounds like an incredible person!

  16. Shannon says...

    Misty Copeland has amazing legs!! It’s hard to look at someone like her and realize she has had barriers to tear down. Because when I look at her I see beauty and strength and so much more. Sometimes I forget people struggle – we all struggle – with body image and acceptance. Misty Copeland, if you are reading this you are amazing!

  17. Martha says...

    Not so much a ‘world saving’ role model, but I really love Chrissy Teigen. Yes, she’s a model married to John Legend…BUT she’s still so real. She has stretch marks (with no baby), eats spaghetti in bed after a late night, and can laugh at herself. Just really love that.

  18. Judy says...

    I read Elisabeth Elliot’s biography when I was a new Christian. She and her husband served the Auca Indians in Ecuador, and the Indians speared her husband and four other missionaries to death. Elisabeth and her 10-month old daughter returned to the Aucas and brought peace to them by forgiving them. INSPIRING. FEARLESS.

    Also, Corrie ten Boom, Malala, Dorothy Day, Zora Neale Hurston, Mother Teresa, so many worth emulating! Great post, Joanna! XOXO.

    • Elisabeth Elliott has such an incredible story – Corrie ten Boom was my first role model (along with the nuns in The Sound of Music who dismantled the Nazis’ cars.)

  19. Cindy says...

    I don’t know if I would call her a role model, but when Lena Dunham did her series of videos a while back in which she gives advice to various readers, I thought to myself, “This is a great time in history to be a woman.”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my goodness, can’t tell you how much i agree with that last statement.

  20. Whitney BG says...

    My dad -he’s the most intelligent, spiritual, and thoughtful person I know. And my (younger) sister. She is well-read, confident, thoughtful, driven and authentic in every way.

  21. Becca says...

    Bjork is my role model! A true artist who forges her own path.

    • Mary Jenkins says...

      My aunt is my role model. She was a wonderful, present mother to her own two children, and she was also a mother figure to all of the cousins, myself included. Anyone who was having a hard time was welcome at her home. I remember my brother calling her one night in the middle of the night asking if he could come stay (he was on a road trip that had gone awry) and she said, yes, of course! the bed will be ready! her door was always open. She has inspired me to have more of an open-door policy at our home and be ready and willing to help anyone who needs it and treat everyone like family.

  22. My Mom is my role model. At age 38 my Dad, also 38, died in an accident leaving her with five children ages, 17, 16, 14, 9, and 4, and very little life insurance/ financial means. My stay at home Mom had just gone back to school so she finished her degree. She had a previously lost a child, born with Spina Bifida, and after we left home she cared for her Mom and her MIL.
    As I posted once on Facebook, she raised five kids and put us all through college….WITHOUT the first glass of wine or girl’s weekend, AND on a teacher’s salary!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      wow, amanda. what a FORCE.

    • Amazing! This type of woman is really my inspiration – the women that just “keep doing it”! Brava!

  23. Trena says...

    While I commend Misty, and I love her as a dancer, I think it is unfair to paint her as the “first” ethnic woman to succeed in American Ballet. Maria Tallchief, as Native American woman, was the first in 1942 to smash those barriers. She was Balanchine’s darling and helped put American ballet on the map. Also, she was the first American Prima Ballerina.

  24. I’m going to chime in with a man amungst all the amazing women named so far.
    Fred Rogers has taught several generations of children to be kind and accepting of others. His foundation continues to do great work for children.
    My mother-in-law is a great role model! She worked her way through college (her father said what do you need to go to college for? Your a girl!), went to study in France, had 3 kids, was a teacher, had meningetis and encephalitis, recovered, went back to teaching, takes care of her 90-something year old father and aunts, and is THE BEST Nana to her grandchildren. She’s a great role model for my children!

  25. Maire says...

    My aunt is one of my biggest role models. She is a wife, a momma and a politician! Her entire career she has worked in politics and has been a huge advocate for workers and for education. In 2012, she finally decided to run for General Assembly in New York. She won, and I am crazy amounts of proud of her at all times. And in her personal life, she not only takes care of her biological kids, but also has a “kid” from Big Brothers & Big Sisters from years ago that she still is in contact with even though he is a father himself now…and she has also unofficially mentored another kid from a family of African refugees who last year earned a scholarship to a SUNY school! She has the best heart!

  26. Her strength inside and out is inspiring. Fair play to her and may she have continued success.

  27. I am so proud of Misty for not giving up and aspiring to live her dream! My personal role model is Patti Smith because she is an innovator in the field of music and poetry from the punk rock period into today. She uses her work to promote causes that need awareness which I am even further moved by! I would give anything to meet her some day!! xo

    (=’.’=)
    -Lauren
    adorn la femme

  28. Diana says...

    Also Steph Davis, Anna Akhmatova and Miriam Toews

  29. janelle says...

    love the tumblr link Joanna!

  30. Farah says...

    this is a fabulous post! Misty is definitely a new role model for me. Wish I had someone like her when I was little! I also appreciate reading all the comments. So many women contributing to our greater world.

  31. My parents. Though they both have good careers, they always put our family first- sometimes by delaying work projects (especially my mom), sometimes by working late at night to be able to come to basketball games (especially my dad). My dad is still doing this, choosing not to pursue a more prestigious job out of state so they can live by their children and grandchildren. A lovely example of keeping priorities straight.

  32. This is great news I loved reading about it, and all of your role models, which have become my own now as well!!
    I really like Pilar Sordo, (and have read every single one of her books) a Chilean Psychologist who is the real deal and down to earth woman full of great advice.

    Alina
    http://www.eclecticalu.blogspot.com

  33. There are so many that it’s hard to narrow one down, but Julia Child is always one I go back to again and again. She was strong and smart, and started pursuing a life that she wanted on her own (because she wasn’t considered “pretty enough” to snag a man). Paul fell in love with her because of her strengths, intelligence, and independence. She married a man who treated her as an equal, and they lived a very real, though unconventional life together. She wanted children, but couldn’t have them, and chose not to focus on that and be bitter. She decided she wanted to learn how to cook at 38(!) and wasn’t put off by the fact that it was all men in her classes. She worked her ASS off to get her books right, and then just as hard on her tv shows. She took care of Paul after he started having strokes and fading into a grim shadow of his former self. She continued her life even after he died.
    She did this all with a smile and a laugh.
    Badass.

    • I second that. Julia was amaaaaaaazing.

  34. Diana says...

    dian fossey, jane goodall, tzeporah berman, sylvia earle

  35. Definitely Eleanor Roosevelt. She didn’t shy away from being outspoken & taking a stand. So much of her wise advice remains relevant today.

  36. Misty is definitely one of my role models! I’ve always done ballet (but was never going to be a professional) and can only imagine how much emotional and physical strength it has taken her to get where she is today. Other role models include Taylor Swift and Emma Watson – I love both of them for their sense of style, outspoken feminism and generosity towards fans. The world would be a much better place if we all made a choice to be nice when we woke up in the morning.

  37. Definitely Nora Ephron. I miss her without ever having met her.

    (also…how cruel the ballet world can be! I was told at 13 in ballet class that I had hyperextended elbows and would probably never “make it.” I developed a complex about my elbows as a result, but it also helped me realize that maybe I should focus more on my schoolwork!)

  38. Lucy says...

    Power and grace. What an inspiring woman.

  39. Maya says...

    Great post cup of jo ladies!! My role model from afar is Maya Angelou. I like to think I was named after her ….. And my role model in- person is my mother. She was a single mom, raised two daughters, and worked fulltime and she got her masters. I don’t know how she did it!!

  40. Lisa says...

    Misty Copeland definitely is one of my role models! Amazing mixed-race girls doing beautiful art are what I aspire to be…. Corinne Bailey Rae, Marianne Pearl, Zadie Smith, Alicia Keys…the list goes on and on.
    But obviously, greatness has nothing to do with race so I wanna add Toni Morisson, Angelina Jolie and Joan Didion to the list :-)

    Thanks for sharing this and love from Germany,

    http://www.fatcatconnection.com/#!on-almightiness/cmbz/559ae52a0cf28e68712c7f4e

    Lisa

  41. jeannie says...

    I adore Misty Copeland. I find it inspiring that she pursued her dream in spite of naysayers. Off the top of my head I can’t think of one particular person who is my role model. I admire Elizabeth Alexander and how she dealt with the sudden death of her husband. I also am inspired by Michelle Obama, especially her grace in the face of negative press and by the way she raises her daughters.

  42. Daniela says...

    Every single woman in a STEM field or in any non-traditional job.

    • Daniela says...

      I did, is really cool! have you seen thebrainscoop.tumblr.com (also on YouTube)? Emily is Chief Curiosity Correspondent of The Field Museum in Chicago and she is amazing! One of the episodes was about women in science.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      so, so cool. going to check it out right now… xo

  43. In light of the recent news of her retirement, Sonia Manzano aka “Maria” on Sesame Street. Growing up, she was the only woman who represented anything that looked like me on tv (who wasn’t a maid or seductress). Plus, she tackled issues like breastfeeding, death, and asking for a raise at work!

    • Yes!!! I saw an awesome clip this weekend of her breastfeeding on Sesame Street — amazing!

  44. Amy Lauree says...

    Awesome post!
    Tina Fey, Anne Lamott, Cheryl Strayed, Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer, Brenee Brown (researcher on vulnerability), Mindy Kaling- all off the top of my head.

  45. Patricia says...

    Gloria Steinem, Francoise Gilot, Maxine Hong Kingston, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

  46. her body… wow…
    Malala, Lena Dunham, Padma Lakshmi, my mother

  47. Katy says...

    Lena Dunham because she is fearless! She is also smart, funny, and has wisdom beyond her years! The world is a better place with her in it.

  48. stella says...

    Love this. I am now adding Misty to my list too.

    My mother started her photography career when I was a teenager. I am so thankful because I was old enough to notice and appreciate her work ethic and style. She stayed true to her voice and continued to capture the moments that inspired her. I always reflect back on those days when I make a career decision.

    I also look to Nora Ephron, Cheryl Strayed, Ellen and Mindy Kaling for motivation.

  49. Rosie says...

    Oh my goodness, I have a total girl crush on Misty. She is beyond beautiful and obviously a badass. I think ballet is one of the most moving things to see live. Last time I saw the NYC Ballet, I teared. I need to make it a priority to see her perform!

    And I have to agree with May above. Joanna – you are your own type of badass. What you have built here is pretty wonderful and I so admire your voice.

  50. Jane Goodall

    I remember watching a documentary about her in my 5th grade class and being astonished at how determined she was. Her laser focus and passion was shocking to me.

    • jill c. says...

      i admired jane goodall throughout my childhood and I still admire her today…such an amazing woman!

  51. Di says...

    While I agree that Misty’s journey is amazing and such a victory for many minorities, I think taking responsibility for mirroring the diversity we appreiciate in the world around us is an individual responsibility. as much as I love Cup of Jo and read daily, I would love to see it more mirror the diverse women I see around me in NYC in terms of careers, ethnicities, socio-economic etc. You have a way of profiling the same woman (self employed/upper income) again and again.

    • Emily R says...

      Agreed. I’m single, I don’t have children, I have a regular job, and I’m not rich. There must be interesting people who are like me! And other interesting people who aren’t like me, but who aren’t white, self employed with wee ones and spouses.

    • I agree, Di! I LOVE Cup of Jo, but also wished it showed the diversity that is New York, or for that matter, the world.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Thank you so much for your notes! This is great to hear, and I really appreciate the feedback. We strive to feature women of all ethnicities on the site — for beauty uniforms, as models, etc. — and we will concentrate on that even more. And, you’re right, we definitely could feature more socioeconomic diversity and mothers with different types of jobs. Partly, since I’m self-employed, have young children and live in NYC, these are the types of friends I come across and make, but I will do better to feature women from all types of backgrounds/careers/situations/lifestyle choices/etc. You’re very right about that. I’ve been wanting to do another work/life balance series for a while now that focuses on different income levels, and this is a good push for that, too. Thank you so much for the feedback, we are on it!! Lots of love, as always, and thank you again, Joannaxoxo

    • Jenny says...

      So glad to see this thread. Agree ladies! Thanks Joanna! Always look forward to reading your posts!

  52. Twyla says...

    She’s young enough to be my daughter, but most recently Shailene Woodley has become a role model for me. I love the conversation she’s started about how women compare themselves to each other and how it inevitably leads to despair – something that’s seriously made me think about my own inner dialogue regarding my body, style, and my choices. I love that she’s leading by example and is teaching this generation of young women to be healthy, brave, smart and confident.

  53. maddy says...

    Katherine Graham! Personal History is one of the greatest books of all time, what a woman!

  54. May says...

    In many ways, you.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      this made my day :)

    • Martha says...

      This too, I totally picture myself channeling my inner ‘Jo’ when I’m facing something you’ve talked about.