This is possibly one of the most challenging blog posts I have written to date. It took me hours to shortlist who I consider the five most inspirational women. These five women, both historical and contemporary, have truly made a difference to popular culture, science, literature and to the sisterhood of women.
1. Oprah Winfrey
When a public sway of opinion is called ‘the Oprah effect’, you know the woman has high influential currency. What I love about Oprah is her open and giving spirit. Her respect from others has grown not from exertion of power, but from her integrity and vulnerability. I used to watch ‘Oprah’ while I was breastfeeding my babies over twenty years ago. Being a stay at home mum was a wonderful experience but after leaving a dynamic full-time career, it was a huge culture shock and challenged my perceived identity as a career woman. I remember Oprah’s inspirational gems reminding me each day of my influence and confidence as a woman and a mother. A quote from her has always stuck with me: “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”
2. Pamela Lyndon Travers
Pamela is most noted as the author of Mary Poppins (1933), taking the unisex pen name of ‘P. L’ Travers at the time as male authors were considered more successful in that era. Mary Poppins was one of the first musicals I remember as a child. I yearned for a magical nanny who could make medicine taste like cherries! Despite the battle she endured due to her gender, she was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1977 for her contribution to literature. After watching the story of Pamela's early life in the 2013 film Saving Mr. Banks, I was inspired by the country Queensland-born author. She was responsible for bringing the magical English nanny to life and capturing the imagination of children and adults alike. She really was the JK Rowling of her time.
3. Alison Bechdel
A few years ago I attended a book launch for Tara Moss. Tara herself is a proud feminist crusader and discussed what is referred to as the ‘Bechdel Test’. She truly left me feeling inspired about the role of women in literature and the film industry, and I was quickly googling Allison Bechdel and the test she had created. Developed in 1985, this test highlights gender inequality in fiction and acts as a gauge for the active presence of women in film and literature. It questions whether the piece features:
1. At least two women
2. The women talk to each other
3. They talk about something other than a man
Examples of cult films that fail this test are “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, The original “Star Wars” trilogy, “Avatar” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. I am proud to say that my son, an aspiring film director, ensures that all the movies he directs and writes pass the Bechdel Test.
4. Rosalind Franklin
I can’t write about my inspirational women without mentioning a fellow gal scientist, who’s contribution to biochemistry is even influencing my formulations today. Franklin is best known for capturing the first images of DNA using X-rays, an achievement that changed the course of biology forever. It led to the discovery of the DNA double helix, which she was in fact never celebrated for as she sadly passed away prior to the Nobel Prize being awarded. Most believe that this amazing woman was overlooked for her significant contribution to biological science. Because of her achievement, many of the ingredients I use today, such as retinol and many of my peptides are able to influence the DNA of our skin cells!
5. Helena Rubenstein
Helena Rubenstein truly was the pioneer of premium skincare. In the late 1800’s, she developed a lanolin and essential oil-based moisturiser that quickly developed a cult following by ladies in the harsh environment of Coleraine, Victoria. She then honed her moisturiser called Crème Valaze, and after securing investments from various members of Melbourne ‘society’ she opened her first beauty salon in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. There, she was one of the first women to perform skin consultations and prescribe her own specific product regimens.
Helena Rubenstein was truly a woman ahead of her time and has created a path for female skin care entrepreneurs like Anita Roddick and even me to follow. Her tenacity and self-belief continue to be an inspiration to me. There are so many inspirational women making a real difference every day. Many of these women are the silent achievers who go unnoticed and don’t seek notoriety or recognition. Our mums, our daughters, our colleagues - it is up to us to put our fellow women on a platform, so they too are recognised and their voice is heard.