TIME Careers & Workplace

Why 2014 Was Actually a Great Year for Women in Tech

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Despite the reported incidents of sexism from hackathons to boardrooms, 2014 finally got women to talk and people to listen

This story was originally published at the Daily Dot.

Technology has a sexism problem.

In 2014, revealing investigations and heartfelt admissions ripped the wool off the eyes of the industry and exposed the extent of this very raw and very real truth.

The news about women in technology this year was so dispiriting that you might’ve thought twice before encouraging the women in your life to pursue careers in the field. Countless incidents of sexism from hackathons to boardrooms have demonstrated just how exhausting and insufferable the industry can be for women: harassment lawsuits against companies like Tinder and Zillow; advice to women from the CEO of Microsoft saying they shouldn’t ask for raises, and harassment at GitHub that led to the public departure of a popular female developer—to say nothing of Gamergate.

At first glance, it’s just another year full of a number of very high-profile events highlighting how toxic the tech industry can be towards women.

But look again: 2014 was actually a great year. Not because of the things that happened, but because women are finally talking about their experiences. Perhaps more importantly, people are listening…

Read the rest of the story at the Daily Dot.

TIME Politicians

Hillary Clinton Is Named America’s ‘Most Admired Woman’

The presidential contender beat out Oprah

Americans named Hillary Clinton the woman they admire most of anywhere in the world, a new poll found, for the 17th time in 18 years.

When Gallup asked a random sampling of Americans who is the living female they admire most, 12% named Clinton. The former Secretary of State was followed by Oprah Winfrey at 8% and Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafazi at 5%.

Gallup

Obama was named the most admired man, garnering 19% of votes.

The presidential contender held the top women’s spot every year between 1997 and 2014 except following the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, when the title was awarded to Laura Bush. Clinton also held the designation when she was First Lady in 1993 and 1994.

TIME Love & Relationships

What I Learned When I Called Off My Engagement

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Let's just say that if you have major doubts about being engaged, you probably shouldn't be

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My life with David* was a surprise. I had returned from a six-month stint in Osaka, Japan, to my small-town family home just out of Sydney, Australia. All my energy was focused on how I would get back to Japan — my life was there; all I had to do was graduate. When David offered to buy me a drink one night, I told him “My conversation is free — I’ll buy my own drinks.” He liked that. Independence had always been my jam, even in relationships.

We started dating and I went from playing it cool to love sick in four days flat. Wanting to hear from him all the time, to know he was interested, that I was valued. From someone who didn’t care about marriage to thinking constantly about my imaginary future children and what I would cook for my man that night.

I quietly shelved my dreams of returning to Osaka for the white picket fence. All this time I was waiting, hinting, wondering when he would pop the question.

We were in my late grandfathers’ home one night when David told me to close my eyes and he led me to the lounge. I could see the warmth of candles glowing behind my shut eyelids and all of a sudden, I was filled with a mix of “YES! It’s happening!” and a gut feeling that said “I don’t want this.”

READ MORE 5 Strange But Effective Ways to Get Over a Breakup

Opening my eyes to the man I loved on one knee, ring in hand, I knew that the only answer was “yes.” I couldn’t afford to lose my dream life with my dream man, but I was utterly bewildered by this nagging feeling and worse, it wouldn’t go away.

Let’s just say that if you have major doubts about being engaged, you probably shouldn’t be. I’m not talking about your standard nervousness; I mean debilitating, undermining doubt.

My ideas about marriage made me beyond uncomfortable. I was outright scared. From the price-per-head to musing over what makes a “good wife,” I was afraid. Without ever planning to, I set about sabotaging the whole thing, the very thing I had wanted…and one day, didn’t want any more.

I realized that my whole world was based on him. I had put aside my plans for myself to force myself into an identity I didn’t fit, all in the hope of impressing him enough to stay. Sure, he stayed, but I was directionless and depressed, jumping from one shaky job to another and running myself into the ground trying to make a meaningful life. He wanted a support person, I wanted to blaze trails. I didn’t know how to reconcile my values with who I had become. Slowly, I began to resent him for it.

One day, David told me “This should be enough for you.” It wasn’t, and I utterly despised the arrogance that dripped from that comment — that a good man should be enough for a woman.

The last straw came when I asked him to visit Osaka for a week with me. I was meeting up with my best girl. She lived halfway across the world from me, and she needed to get out of Missouri after a string of bad luck. My soul was exhausted, and this girl was my conduit to the me I had lost. At that moment, nothing was more important to me. He wouldn’t come, but he was vicious when I suggested I go alone. My blood boiled. I went anyway.

READ MORE The One Word That Sums Up Everything You Need to Do to Be Happier

I called off the engagement before the relationship ended. I took my fears to mean that it wasn’t the right time yet. He put on a brave face and said that was okay. But, dear reader, pro tip: If you end your engagement, you will hurt the other person. Even if you love them. Even if you still think you’ll marry them one day. While you’re saying “I’m not ready for this,” they may hear “I’m not ready for you,” and, wait for it, they may leave.

I spent a long time trying to reconcile my thirst for freedom and adventure with the image of domesticity that marriage presented me. I began to seriously wish I was “free.”

Then it ended, he moved out, and I was. I didn’t know what to do with all that space. I was lonely and doubly afraid. That’s what happens when you wrap your self-worth up in someone else and then they’re not there. I knew I had to set about recovering, so here’s what I did.

  1. I cried. I cried at home. I cried at work. I cried on the treadmill. I had so many feelings.
  2. I banned love songs and negative self-talk. I was so frequently bubbling with rejection and rage and unspoken hurt, I didn’t need to wield those two oh-so popular weapons.
  3. I lived day to day. I couldn’t cope with this “no plans” business without someone to fill the space (he was my plan), so I just disengaged and took each day as it came. Until I saw cheap flights and then I made plans…
  4. …and caught planes. Lots of them. It was lonely and beautiful and I could then cry in planes, too.
  5. I rebounded. The first post-breakup kiss made my stomach flip. I thought I was going to be sick. Next tip: If your body says it’s wrong, listen up!
  6. I travelled more. I walked more. I cried less.
  7. I made new friendships and re-learned that I wasn’t totally wretched and unlovable. I was just hurt.

There were setbacks — phone calls that I sincerely regret making — made in part to get him back, in part to punish him for leaving me. If he was going to break my heart I wasn’t going to make it comfortable for him. Still, I wouldn’t hear other people speak badly of him and publicly I kept a straight face, the whole while trying to grasp onto some idea of what on earth I had done. Last tip: Don’t make that call, you’ll regret it. Even if you think they deserve it, it’s self-deprecating and will do nothing good for your morale.

My recovery meant a million references to the “stages of grieving” and I realized that they really don’t work in a linear way. You’ll think you’re all healed up and then you’re a total mess again. Grief and rejection are vicious jerks and they will wear you out. And occasionally they are more powerful than memory, fact and rationality.

“One day it will be okay” was my mantra. And one day it was okay.

READ MORE 10 Things That Will Change the Way You Think About Love

The biggest thing I learned in this roller coaster is the value of listening to myself, knowing what is right for me and the importance of having the courage to act on that intuition. To grow my personal capital before I bank on someone else. And to honour that voice that says “Something’s wrong.” It’s better to listen up than to find yourself Googling “trapped and unhappy” in ten years.

It was close… and weddings still make me that little bit uncomfortable.

____

*Not actually called David, obviously.

Ruth Harrison is a writer. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com

Read next: The Science of Dealing With People You Hate

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Research

10 Surprising Health Benefits of Being a Woman

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Being a woman carries a host of health and body payoffs

Members of the so-called weaker sex, listen up. Thanks in part to the protective benefits of female hormones, as well as the lifestyle choices women tend to make, you’re afforded a host of body payoffs guys don’t get. “Men notoriously pay less attention to their health and prefer to take a macho approach rather than go to the doctor to get things checked out,” says J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. The following 10 ways women come out on top health-wise will make you glad you were born with two X chromosomes.

Women blow out more birthday candles

When it comes to longevity, chicks rule. A girl born in 2012 (the most recent year statistics are available) can expect to live until age 81.2; a boy is likely to hit 76.4, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Researchers aren’t entirely sure what accounts for those extra four years. “It might have to do with the fact that women have lower rates of heart disease compared to men, though women are catching up,” explains Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the women’s heart program at the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. “But it may be a result of women maintaining stronger social ties to friends and family, because social ties are linked to longevity.

Women have a higher pain tolerance

The notion that men face pain with unflinching stoicism while women are more sensitive to every ache is not exactly reflected in research. Though the jury is still officially out, numerous studies back up the fact that women appear to have a higher pain threshold than men, says Dr. Goldberg, with pain threshold defined as the amount of pain it takes to register in the body. Of course, it makes sense that females need to be able to withstand pain, considering how much of it is typically experienced during childbirth. “Women have to be able to sustain the agony during labor and delivery,” says Dr. Goldberg.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Things That Mess With Your Period

Head and neck cancers strike more men than women

The statistics tell the story: the National Cancer Society estimates that this year, about 30,000 men will be diagnosed with oral cavity or pharynx cancer, while just 12,000 women will. And when it comes to esophageal cancer, 14,000 men can expect to develop it this year, compared to only 3,000 women. Why do head and neck cancers discriminate so openly based on sex? Cancers that occur in these body areas are strongly linked to tobacco and alcohol use. “Though women are catching up, men still indulge is smoking and drinking in higher numbers, so they develop these cancers in higher numbers too,” says Dr. Lichtenfeld.

Melanoma rates are lower in older women

Before age 45, rates of melanoma—the least common yet deadliest form of skin cancer—are higher in women, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. It’s a trend researchers attribute to the popularity of tanning indoors and out. But after that point, it’s men who bear the brunt of the disease in more significant numbers. “It’s unusual for melanoma to strike at a young age, and by the time they reach their 50s and 60s, we start to see high numbers of white men with it, probably due to accumulated skin damage over time after decades of working outside, or playing outdoor sports, without the benefit of sunscreen,” says Dr. Lichtenfeld.

HEALTH.COM: 20 Weird Facts About Sex and Love

Women have a keener sense of smell

No wonder candles, soaps, detergents, and perfumes cater to female noses. Compared to men, women appear to have a sharper odor detection, with women having up to 50% more cells in their olfactory bulb (the first region of the brain to receive signals about odors), according to a recent study in the journal PLOS ONE. The study lends weight to the idea that women are superior sniffers, but it doesn’t explain why. One theory: a keener sense of smell helps women detect the pheromones that help her pick the right mate; another postulates that being able to detect rancid odors helps a woman protect her offspring from infection and disease.

HDL cholesterol levels are higher in women

HDL cholesterol, the good kind, is associated with strong heart health. It’s credited with preventing plaque buildup in the arteries of premenopausal women and protecting them from the early heart disease that may already be developing in men in the same age group. “Estrogen raises good cholesterol throughout a woman’s childbearing years, when estrogen production peaks,” says Goldberg. Estrogen output drops off following menopause, and HDL cholesterol goes with it. But if you continue to eat nutritiously, stay at a healthy weight, and have your cholesterol tested regularly, your HDL cholesterol numbers can continue to stay in a healthy range so you can maintain that estrogen-fueled head start against heart disease.

HEALTH.COM: 25 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

The female brain has better recall

Several scientific studies suggest what a lot of women already know anecdotally: women are simply better at remembering things. A 2014 Norwegian study of about 37,000 people from the journal BMC Psychology bears this out: though older people in general had more memory issues, men of all ages, young and old, were more forgetful than their female counterparts. Why that is isn’t exactly clear, but previous research has suggested that it may be due to brain degeneration caused by cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure, both of which strike more men than women.

Women are less likely to become alcoholics

“Men are up to twice as likely to develop alcoholism as women are,” explains Holly Phillips, MD, New York City women’s health specialist and medical contributor for WCBS News. One reason for a guy’s increased risk of addiction to booze has to do with the brain chemical dopamine, says Dr. Phillips. A recent study of male and female social drinkers found that men had a greater dopamine release than women in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum, which is strongly associated with pleasure, reinforcement, and addiction formation. There may be a psychological component as well. “While women are more likely to become depressed than men in response to common environmental triggers such as illness or grieving a death—a process some psychologists see as turning pain inward—men may be more likely to numb the pain with substances,” adds Dr. Phillips.

HEALTH.COM: 18 Habits of the Happiest Families

Women tend to accumulate less belly fat

Instead of bemoaning the fact that you tend to pack extra pounds on your butt, hips, and thighs, be happy about it—it means your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other chronic diseases is lower than if fat tended to develop across your midsection, as it generally does in men. “Apple-shaped bodies, which more men have, hold more fat around the heart and upper abdomen, increasing heart disease risk,” says Dr. Phillips. “Pear shaped bodies keep fat away from the heart, which is a good thing.” Fat around the middle can also increase the risk of certain cancers, says Dr. Lichtenfeld. Researchers are learning that belly fat is metabolically active, producing hormones that cause a chain reaction in the body, resulting in higher levels of inflammation and insulin resistance, which leads to disease.

Women have a delayed heart attack risk

While a man’s odds of developing heart disease and having a major coronary begin in his 40s or even earlier, says Dr. Phillips, a woman’s risk doesn’t really begin until after she hits 50 and goes through menopause—giving women some extra time before being susceptible to the number one killer of both men and women. “Women have their first heart attack a full 10 years after men do,” says Dr. Goldberg. A younger woman’s better cholesterol profile plays a role, but estrogen or lifestyle choices, such as eating healthier, seems to have additional protective benefits, such as keeping blood pressure down (high blood pressure is a heart attack risk factor). However, things change after menopause. “After 50, a woman’s vulnerability to heart disease begins to resemble that of males,” says Dr. Phillips.

HEALTH.COM: 13 Everyday Habits That Are Aging You

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME feminism

This May Have Been the Best Year for Women Since the Dawn of Time

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Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic Beyoncé performs onstage at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., on Aug. 24, 2014

But there's a long way to go

It’s the end of the year, which means ’tis the season for grandiose hyperbole. So let’s go there: since the dinosaurs roamed, since the pyramids were built, since the locomotive was invented, there has never been a better year for women than 2014.

That doesn’t mean things were great for all American women in 2014. Actually, a lot of things really sucked. But “not great, and never been better” is the rallying cry of a movement in progress, and that’s where women have been this year.

Think about it. Frozen, a sister-love story, became the highest-grossing animated film of all time. While performing songs from her 2013 surprise album, Beyoncé quoted Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s thoughts on feminism in front of a live audience at this year’s VMAs. For the first time ever, a woman (Maryam Mirzakhani, a Stanford professor) won the prestigious Fields Medal for Mathematics, widely considered the “Nobel Prize” of math. Janet Yellen became the first female chair of the Federal Reserve; GM and American Apparel both got female CEOS; and Apple and Facebook offered to cover elective egg freezing for their employees. A 17-year-old girl became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

But those are just the victories, and 2014 wasn’t necessarily so important because of all the “firsts” or “bests.” Instead, 2014 was characterized by loud, frustrating, and often unresolved discussions about justice for women that reached an unprecedented volume. We didn’t necessarily “win” any of these battles — and when it comes to debates over sexual assaults, domestic violence and contraceptive coverage, it’s hard to know what “winning” looks like — but we fought them harder and louder than ever before.

Take, for example, the ever thorny issue of sexual assault on college campuses. These assaults have been happening for years, rarely acknowledged and barely addressed. But this year, we’ve gone from whispering about sexual assault to shouting about it. In January, President Obama established a White House task force to protect students from sexual assault, and the spearheaded campaigns like 1 Is 2 Many and Not Alone to raise awareness about campus assault. In May, the Department of Education released a list of universities under investigation for mishandling sexual-assault cases. And in late July, Senators Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) led a bipartisan coalition to introduce the Campus Safety and Accountability Act to reform the way colleges investigate and punish sexual assaults.

And that’s just the government activity. On the ground, students have been staging protests to demand justice (like Emma Sulkowicz at Columbia, who is carrying her mattress around with her until her alleged rapist is expelled). Twitter has become an open platform for survivors to speak out about their experiences using hashtags like #YesAllWomen and #RapeCultureIsWhen. The media missteps this year, from Rolling Stone’s UVA debacle to the Washington Post column in which George Will called rape survival a “coveted status,” have been troubling. But they’ve also sparked larger, louder, online conversations about how we treat sexual-assault survivors than we’ve ever had before.

Have we fixed the problem of sexual assault on campus? Definitely not. Are we making progress? More than ever.

Or look at domestic violence in the NFL. In 2013, there were seven NFL players arrested for domestic violence, down from nine in 2008, according to USA Today’s Player Arrests database (these are the years with the highest concentration of recorded domestic-violence arrests in the NFL, and this is just the women who call the police). Only four NFL players were arrested in 2014 for beating up their wives or girlfriends, but Ray Rice was one of them.

When a video emerged in September that showed Rice punching his then girlfriend Janay Rice in the face, it sparked a massive dialogue about domestic violence and NFL codes of conduct. Ray Rice was suspended indefinitely by the NFL (a suspension that has since been vacated after a successful appeal), and the organization was under so much scrutiny that some were calling for commissioner Roger Goodell to resign. Under increased pressure from feminists and survivors (including some using the hashtag #WhyIStayed), the NFL was forced to finally grapple with a problem it had long tolerated with an uneasy silence. Goodell hired three female advisers — Lisa Friel (a former sex-crimes prosecutor), Jane Randel (co-founder of No More) and Rita Smith (a former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence) — to help reshape the league’s domestic-violence policy.

Since October, the NFL has announced multiple initiatives, including educating players and their families and updating its personal-conduct policy, in order to address domestic violence in the league. And the social-media response has made it clear that the public is not happy with NFL players beating up women and continuing to play. Even players like Eli Manning and Cris Carter have participated in PSAs to get the public talking about sexual assault.

Has the NFL effectively addressed their problem with domestic violence? Hell no. Has there been progress? More than ever.

Consider Bill Cosby. People had been whispering about the (formerly) beloved comedian’s habit of drugging and raping women for years — there was even a joke on 30 Rock about it five years ago. In 2005, more than 10 anonymous “Jane Doe” victims agreed to testify against Cosby in a lawsuit that was ultimately settled out of court, and even after it was reported in the press, there was little public outrage. But when comedian Hannibal Buress mentioned the rape allegations in a stand-up routine this year, the public finally took the allegations seriously. More than 16 women have come forward to share remarkably similar stories, and many of them say they were drugged before Cosby assaulted them. Despite the years of whispered rumors, it was only in 2014 that Cosby’s reputation as “America’s Dad” started to tarnish.

Do we always take rape victims seriously when they accuse powerful men of assaulting them? Not really. Are we making progress? More than ever.

Yes, a lot of things still sucked for women in 2014. The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling was a blow to reproductive rights, we still don’t have a comprehensive family-leave policy, and women are still paid less than men for doing the same work.

So 2014 has been a year of setbacks, indignities and outrage. It’s not been great. But it’s better than ever.

TIME women

Why Model Robyn Lawley Is a Role Model for Considering Abortion

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Celebrity pregnancy announcements normally reinforce the idea that motherhood is a woman’s true calling

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We all want to make choices for ourselves. Most women, however, are not afforded that luxury, as every choice, from wardrobe to reproduction, becomes a topic of public discussion.

The scrutiny is multiplied beyond my mathematical comprehension when the woman in question is a celebrity. Looks and decisions are meticulously dissected every time she “steps out” or “flaunts” or “shows off” before image-hungry cameras. One of the tabloid’s favorite pastimes is “womb watch,” guessing which celebrity is pregnant, or has perhaps eaten a large lunch, before wondering when certain celebrities like Jennifer Aniston or Cameron Diaz are planning on children as they’re deemed to be running out of time.

Every celebrity pregnancy announcement is filled with positivity.

We’re told of the immense joy and blessing that pregnancy is, reinforcing the idea that motherhood is a woman’s true calling. Reality often doesn’t look like that, as not every pregnancy is planned and wanted and some women may feel worried or ambivalent about the prospect of children overall.

That’s why Australian model Robyn Lawley’s decision to share her thoughts about an accidental pregnancy is so important to the overall narrative surrounding pregnancy.

Lawley is a 25-year-old pro-choice feminist and successful “plus-size” model who has worked for many mainstream brands like Ralph Lauren so it’s safe to assume that she has financial security; she’s also engaged and has previously discussed having children with her partner. In many ways she is in the best position to have a baby. Nevertheless, Lawley, like many women the world over, had many things to consider before continuing with her pregnancy.

In a recent interview, she revealed: “As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I had to take all options into account, because with a baby, I’ll have to majorly slow down — and I’m very career-driven. That scared me. The reality is many women face a plethora of factors when considering whether to have an abortion. My case is no different.”

It’s very reassuring to hear such a rational and calm consideration of abortion without the hyperbolic discussion of personal tragedy and torment that seem to make up the permissible “good abortion” accounts. That’s not to say that sometimes one account is wrong or better than another but only one is allowed to exist without pro-lifers (anti-choicers, really) reaching for their pitchforks.

Lawley openly acknowledged that one of her biggest worries about pregnancy stemmed from the effects it has on the body saying “one of the biggest [fears] for me was related to my career, which necessarily and perhaps unfortunately relates, at least in part, to my body image.”

Unsurprisingly, the comments on the Daily Mail article, now no longer to be found, called her selfish for worrying about her body and denouncing women in general for not valuing human life. What those commenters fail to consider, besides basic human compassion, is the possible difficulty of returning to work after having a child or affording childcare. Once again, the child’s life is only considered while in utero and the woman is a mere vessel, not a person with life goals beyond children.

What’s most interesting to me about this story is Lawley’s ultimate decision to keep the baby.

No, it’s not in itself shocking, but had she not chosen to disclose the deliberation regarding an abortion, we would never have known. It makes me wonder how many celebrities — and even acquaintances — go through a similar process, later to either announce the joyful pregnancy news or simply keep silent about their decisions.

When Lawley was considering termination she said: “I thought it’d be so easy! I’d just walk in there, and it’d be done so quickly, but then I called them and heard the process and thought this is a serious, full-on thing. I decided then that I wanted to keep the baby.”

I begin to wonder who exactly the “them” in this instance represents because it seems like she wasn’t given the correct information unless her pregnancy was already well under way. Of course, abortion is a medical procedure with associated risks, though it has been found by researchers at University of California, San Francisco in a recent study to be as safe as a colonoscopy with nearly all of the procedures being performed at a doctor’s office or an outpatient clinic — not a hospital. This research would suggest that abortion is actually not a “full-on thing” but a minor and extremely safe procedure.

All this aside, Lawley has made the right choice because it’s the choice that she and she alone is making.

I, personally, am thankful to her for revealing her decision-making process, adding another rational voice to a discussion that often gets seized by individuals with ill intentions and misinformation. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, women will be able to speak openly about such decisions in public without inspiring murderous rage from people who want to police women’s private lives and bodies.

Zhenya Tsenzharyk is a writer and student in London. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Business

How America’s First Self-Made Female Millionaire Built Her Fortune

Madam C.J. Walker Portrait
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images Madam C.J. Walker (Sarah Breedlove), circa 1914

Dec. 23, 1867: Sarah Breedlove Walker, the first black female millionaire in U.S. history, is born

America’s first black female millionaire — and the first woman of any race to become a self-made millionaire — built an empire from nearly nothing in one of the most spectacular rags-to-riches stories in U.S. history.

When Sarah Breedlove was born on this day, Dec. 23, in 1867, to former slaves on a Louisiana cotton plantation, she had already achieved a milestone as the first of her parents’ five children born into freedom. Still, the odds were heavily stacked against her. Orphaned at 7, married at 14, and widowed at 20, she became a single mother earning $1.50 a day as a washerwoman.

And while her 1919 obituary in the New York Times portrays her meteoric rise to business success as something she simply decided to do one day — “One morning while bending over her wash she suddenly realized that there was no prospect on her meager wage of laying away anything for old age,” the obit casually explains — nothing in her life came easily.

Even the idea that launched her career as an entrepreneur arose out of hardship, although it was likely the least of her worries: In the 1890s, she began losing her hair. After developing a tonic she claimed made her hair grow back “faster than it had even fallen out,” she enlisted the help of her third husband, Charles Joseph Walker, a newspaper sales agent, in harnessing the advertising power of black newspapers to promote her “wonderful hair grower” and a line of products that would give kinky hair a “beautiful silky sheen.”

Doing business as Madam C.J. Walker, she displayed an innate acumen few MBAs could rival. Her talent for advertising was matched by her shrewd sales strategy, which employed a fleet of agents in a Mary Kay-style system that quickly built her fortune — and proved highly lucrative to the sales team as well.

“At a time when unskilled white workers earned about $11 a week, Walker’s agents were making $5 to $15 a day, pioneering a system of multilevel marketing that Walker and her associates perfected for the black market,” wrote Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in a 1998 story for TIME. “More than any other single businessperson, Walker unveiled the vast economic potential of an African-American economy, even one stifled and suffocating under Jim Crow segregation.”

On her way to the top, Walker burst through several glass ceilings, fighting racism and sexism with competence and confidence.

“I know how to grow hair as well as I know how to grow cotton. I have built my own factory on my own ground,” she once told members of the male-dominated National Negro Business League, who tended to be dismissive of hairdressers, according to Gates.

By the time she died, at 51, it was impossible to dismiss Walker. A generous philanthropist, she donated to scholarship funds, the NAACP, and campaigns to stop lynching. She helped to build a black YMCA in Indianapolis and restore Frederick Douglass’s home in Washington.

And she made a place for herself — literally — among America’s elite entrepreneurs. Her mansion in the tony Westchester village of Irvington was, according to the Times, “one of the show places in the vicinity,” which was saying a lot: The neighborhood was also home to tycoons Jay Gould and John D. Rockefeller.

Read Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Sarah Breedlove Walker: Madam C.J. Walker: Her Crusade

TIME women

I’ve Won a Tony, But I Still Get Announced as Simply the ‘Plus-Size Dancer’

Actress Marissa Jaret Winokur at Brass Ring Awards Dinner 2014 in Beverly Hills, Ca. on Jun. 3, 2014.
Valerie Macon—Getty Images Actress Marissa Jaret Winokur at Brass Ring Awards Dinner 2014 in Beverly Hills, Ca. on Jun. 3, 2014.

"What is it like to be a 'plus-size role model'?"

xojane

I never considered myself “plus-size.” Never. Oh sure, a size 14 was snug, and I was always able to find XL clothes with spandex that worked just fine. Or sometimes, I found those amazing stores that carry XXL or XXXL but sold them in the same section as the “normal clothes,” rather than in the back of the store where the plus-size clothes always live. You know, the place that never gets vacuumed and looks like an explosion of colorful beach cover-ups?

Here’s a quick question: Why do plus-size clothes always have crazy insane colorful large prints? It’s like the designers somehow think, “Oh, that big girl is so gonna want to walk in the room and make sure everyone sees her.” Listen up, plus-size designers, I am here to tell you, “They see us.”

I never really saw myself as plus-size until “Hairspray” opened on Broadway. Playing Tracy Turnblad was the role of a lifetime! It was all my dreams wrapped up in one. I will never forget one of my first interviews about the show. It was on CBS news, and I was sitting across from a very established middle-aged male host. I was so excited I was going to be on TV! I sat during the commercial break putting on new lip gloss and felt so giddy wondering if everyone that I went to high school with was watching.

Then, the interview began.

“Marissa, I have to ask you. What is it like to be a ‘plus-size role model’?” he asked me.

I remember my face getting warm as I blushed and inside I just wanted to scream, “Did you just call me fat?” I don’t remember how I answered that question that day. All I remember is thinking, “Did Jason, a high school boyfriend of mine, just hear that a man called me fat ON TELEVISION? Did everyone hear that?”

Honestly, I wanted to crawl under the chair. I thought to myself, “Tracy Turnblad was a plus-size role model! I’m just the actress playing her! And P.S.: Why did he just call me fat?”

Then every night, outside the stage door of “Hairspray,” young girls of all shapes and sizes would wait for photos or autographs. I would listen to what they were saying and what they weren’t saying. They weren’t saying, “I love your voice you sing so good.” They weren’t saying, “You are the best actress in the world.”

They were saying: “You make me feel so good. You give me hope that I can be an actress when I grow up. We look like sisters. I can’t stop smiling. I cried throughout the whole show. You are my hero.”

What these girls were saying was “You make me feel OK to be me.”

The character I played made them feel like they could get the guy, they could be the leading lady, they were OK! So after the first few months of the show, and thousands of women telling me they felt empowered because of “Hairspray,” a plus-size role model was born.

I didn’t care about the weird passive-aggressive innuendo from that TV reporter. I just thought about those girls and how much they meant to me.

I loved having a platform that sent a healthy message. But I still had this insane inner struggle where secretly I would dream of losing 20 pounds. Not even 5, but 20!

Here’s a secret. In my dressing room, there was a fat suit.

Yes, you read that correctly, a fat suit — for my skinnier understudy. They kept a fat suit in my dressing room so she could be fat like me!

Production didn’t hide it or place it in a trunk under lock and key (where it belonged) — it was proudly displayed in my dressing room. I remember once Liza Minnelli — yes the real Liza Minnelli — came backstage to meet me. She took one look at the fat suit hanging in the room and said, “Oh, I knew you were wearing a fat suit, I didn’t think you were that fat!”

I obviously let her believe I wore the fat suit.

A tightrope walk for me was to want to lose weight while inspiring people to just embrace who they are. I would be doing an interview for a fancy magazine and the reporter would ask me, “How are you so confident?” At the same exact time I would still be hearing that little voice in my head screaming, “Did you just call me fat?”

It wasn’t even the words or the label. It was the assignation of judgment and the undercurrent of superiority that got to me.

I was beginning to wonder, would this same reporter ask Reese Witherspoon why she was so confident? No, of course not. I knew what the question meant. My little voice would ask, “Why is this an OK question?” I would answer in a sweet way but basically I was saying, “Why shouldn’t I be confident? I have a great career, a wonderful boyfriend and a beautiful home.”

And yet still, I wanted to lose 20 pounds.

As life went on, I was so excited to be cast in “Dancing with the Stars” for their sixth season. Once again it was yet another dream role for me. I got to dance with a hot guy, wear sexy dresses, and have amazing hair and make-up! It was, in a word, awesome.

The first announcement of the show went something like this: “The Olympic Gold Medalist, The Football Star, The Oscar Winner and the Plus-Size Dancer.”

That was me. Not the Tony Award-winning actress! The plus-size dancer, I was the plus-size dancer.

I also must note that at this point I had lost the 20 pounds I had wanted to lose for 5 years.

I was actually 30 pounds down from my “Hairspray” days, but “Plus-Size Dancer” was my title and it stuck.

That year, my son was born via surrogate. I am a cancer survivor and could not give birth to my son, but that’s for another story on another day. I remember holding my newborn baby and I was excited when people told me how skinny I looked after just having a child. Just like with Liza Minnelli, I let them believe I gave birth. I am not going to lie, it felt good being praised for looking skinny.

Soon after, I went on a crazy diet. Not the one with magic pills and where you eat only grapefruit (trust me, doesn’t work). It was the crazy diet where you work out 6 hours a day and eat under 1,200 calories every day: no cheat day, no break, no joke!

Now some people will say working out every day and eating 1,200 calories every day is not crazy. It’s healthy and very doable. But for this all-or-nothing girl, it’s CRAZY.

I did it, I was committed! I had just finished shooting the hilariously funny body image rom-com “Muffin Top: A Love Story.” The day we wrapped the film, we shot a scene where I ate a huge piece of chocolate cake, french fries and well, since we were there, a shake as well.

The next morning, after we wrapped “Muffin Top,” I went to the doctor and got some blood work done. My cholesterol was so high that my doctor wanted to start me on medication. I asked him to give me six months to see if through diet and exercise, I could lower my numbers.

Let the diet commence! I don’t even remember the exact year — I want to say it was 2012 — because all I did was work out. Like all the time. I was so in it, and the more I lost the more I wanted to lose. When I started the diet, I was back at my “Hairspray” weight and once I lost the same 30 pounds, the 30 pounds I gained back after “DWTS,” I thought I would be happy!

I wasn’t.

I wanted to lose more and was on such a roll. Then I lost 40 pounds! Then 50 pounds, then — OMG — I lost 60! I lost 60 pounds!

You know when people say they wish they were their wedding weight? Well, I was my junior high weight! I was so skinny and happy! Wait, did I say HAPPY? I wasn’t happy. I felt the same. I always thought Skinny = Happy. Except it doesn’t.

Happy = Happy.

OK, so there I was, a supposedly plus-size role model who lost 60 pounds. There are tons of articles all over the media, quoting me saying, “If I can do it, so can you!” I meant it. I couldn’t believe I lost 60 pounds! But listen, I am sorry to tell you: There was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I would be on talk shows and they would show before and after photos of me. Every time, I thought I looked great in the before shot! I mean, I like the “after” shot too, but why pick on the before shot? The before shot was strong and confident, and I looked great! The after shot just looked skinny and well…skinny. I really did lose the weight for health reasons, but it was making me mentally crazy and I lost my breast size in this crazy act of getting skinny and I loved my breasts!

Because skinny does not equal happy, I slowly gained back 20 pounds. I was really down on myself and felt like I was out of control. I went to Fitness Ridge in Utah to try to get skinny again. I thought THIS time if I lost the weight, I’ll be happy. I just hadn’t known how to deal with it before.

While I was there I met amazing women and this may sound full of myself to say — but I only share it because of what it meant to me — these ladies would go on to tell me stories of how I changed their lives at one point or another.

It was these women who finally got through to me.

They would tell me how seeing me on TV inspired them. Watching me dance made them start Zumba classes. I went to all the lectures and really listened. At the age of 41, I heard what I was being told. It’s not just working out and eating right, it’s that, plus the emotional stuff. I never tapped in to the emotional management. I mean, who would? That is the hardest part.

You think not eating cake is hard? Try asking yourself why you are eating the cake?

AHHHHHHH NOW I WANT CAKE!

I left Fitness Ridge and for the first time in my life practiced saying, “I am enough.” It’s about being healthy, not skinny and whatever HEALTHY means to you!

Now, the movie “Muffin Top: A Love Story” I filmed when I was at my peak weight (and I love how I look) is in select theaters and on Video On Demand. It’s all about self-image and female empowerment. Most importantly, it’s funny. I have been to many screenings of the movie and the feedback I always hear is how nice it is to see a woman in a movie who act and look like real women.

I finally understand that no one is calling me fat. They are truly saying, “Thank you for being you.” “Thank you for loving yourself now, not five pounds from now.”

Ten years ago when that reporter first said, “How does it feel to be a plus-size role model?” He wasn’t calling me fat. He was saying, “You are inspirational,” “You are empowering women everywhere.”

I am proud to be a plus-size role model. I am also glad I didn’t listen to my skinny friends when they told me to throw away my fat jeans.

God, they fit good!

Marissa Jaret Winokur is an actress and dancer. Winokur is best known for the role of Tracy Turnblad in the hit Broadway musical Hairspray, a performance for which she won a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Actress. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME women

I’m a Body-Positive Feminist and I Had Weight Loss Surgery

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The same philosophy that allowed me to find peace with my fat body also allowed me to make the decision to have weight loss surgery

xojane

OK, so this wasn’t really something that “happened” to me. I made an educated decision about my body and my future.

I have always been fat, and for a long time, I really hated it. I spent more than two decades of my life wishing I would magically wake up “normal.” Until I was in my mid-20s, I didn’t know what it felt like to not wear a heavy cloak of shame and insecurity.

Like so many other fat girls with Internet access, I discovered that body positivity was a thing, and that I could feel good about myself and I didn’t really have to give a fuck about what other people thought. I decided to be happy, regardless of my size. I began identifying as a fat feminist. I actually started feeling okay about my body. I was doing okay and there were people who liked me, even loved me, despite my fatness. At some point, I even started kind of liking myself, and then my fatness became somewhat of a non-issue. Eventually I came to be at peace with my body. It was mine and mine alone, and it was beautiful.

As I moved into my 30s, life happened. I was thriving in a supportive community of folks who embraced me as I was. I got a good job; I found my soul mate; I got engaged. My size was a non-issue, and I was happy.

But I wasn’t healthy. I was on medication to prevent my high blood sugar from turning into diabetes. I slept with a machine attached to my face to keep me breathing at night. I didn’t have the stamina I needed to be able to do my work every day. Polycystic ovary syndrome, which is closely tied to what doctors liked to refer to as my “morbid obesity,” meant I might not be able to have babies, and I was more likely to get diabetes or certain kinds of cancer. Physically, I didn’t feel good. Emotionally, I was at a crossroads.

In short: I could continue not caring about my weight and go about business as usual. Or, I could lose weight. I’d struggled with depression and, yes, even suicidal thoughts in the past, but when I started having health problems, I was at a happy place in my life — and I wanted it to stay that way. I wanted to be my best self, and for me, that didn’t just mean being happy with my physical body, it meant having my physical body be healthy.

My decision to have weight loss surgery was not made lightly. I spent a lot of time trying to reconcile my body-positive politics with my desire to live longer and have babies and be able to walk up the flight of stairs to my office without getting winded. I also spent a lot of time trying to lose weight through more conventional methods, like diet and exercise. My medical conditions made that nearly impossible, and no matter what I did, my health kept declining.

Ultimately, the same philosophy that allowed me to find peace with my fat body also allowed me to make the decision to have weight loss surgery.

I made an educated decision about my body. It was mine, and mine alone.

Yes, weight loss surgery can kill you. And yes, I’m an advocate for health at any size. But, real talk: Being fat was actually, actively killing me. For me, the benefits of weight loss surgery outweighed the risks. Having your guts rearranged is not fun, but overall, my improved quality of life has made this process, albeit difficult, worthwhile.

The experience of losing more than 140 pounds in a very short period of time has been socially and emotionally difficult, too. When you lose weight, everyone starts to pay very close attention to your body. People I barely know now find it appropriate to tell me how happy or impressed they are by my change in appearance, while I often feel judged by the fat-positive community in which I once found comfort and acceptance.

My body was nobody’s business before I had surgery, and it’s nobody’s business now.

For me, weight loss surgery was not an “easy way out.” It was a tool that was available to me, and I made the informed decision to use it to take control of my health. I can’t think of much that’s more empowering — or body positive — than that.

Trisha Harms is a writer, social media strategist, and social justice advocate. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME White House

Barack Obama Holds First Ever All-Women Press Conference

President Barack Obama speaks during his speech to members of the media during his last news conference of the year in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Dec. 19, 2014 in Washington.
Alex Wong—Getty Images President Barack Obama speaks during his speech to members of the media during his last news conference of the year in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Dec. 19, 2014 in Washington.

The President made a statement without his actions

President Barack Obama’s traditional end-of-year press conference Friday was historic for reasons that had nothing to do with the substance of the president’s comments. All eight of the reporters who questioned Obama were women—and nearly all were print reporters—an apparent first for a formal White House news conference, a venue traditionally dominated by male television correspondents.

“The fact is, there are many women from a variety of news organizations who day-in and day-out do the hard work of covering the President of the United States,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, after the event. “As the questioner list started to come together, we realized that we had a unique opportunity to highlight that fact at the President’s closely watched, end of the year news conference.”

The departure was noticed throughout the room, as Obama passed over male reporters in the front row and called on their female colleagues. “This seems unprecedented for a solo White House press conference,” said Towson University Presidency Scholar Martha Joynt Kumar, who tracks interactions between the president and the press corps, noting she does not recall a similar occasion in any previous administration. “It certainly is for Obama.”

The list of those called on:

  • Carrie Budoff Brown, Politico
  • Cheryl Bolen, Bloomberg BNA
  • Julie Pace, Associated Press
  • Lesley Clark, McClatchy
  • Roberta Rampton, Reuters
  • Colleen M. Nelson, Wall Street Journal
  • Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post
  • April Ryan, American Urban Radio

Before the George H.W. Bush White House, it would have been hard to find eight women to ask questions of the president, as there weren’t that many on the beat. Kumar noted that 10 women out of 21 reporters in the first three rows of the briefing room were women, the latest indication that the White House press corps is growing more diverse.

The White House informed the television networks they were unlikely to get questions at the new conference because each had asked the president questions at least twice since the midterm elections.

“It’s amazing for that to happen as that room is filled with a majority men,” said Ryan, who shouted out a question to the president and was acknowledged over questions shouted by male reporters. “I’ve been in one other historic press conference and got a question in the East Room and he called on a number of black reporters and it was amazing to be there. it was saying that maybe this room and this building is trying to reflect society and reflect America.”

In that press conference, on Sept 10, 2010, Obama called on four black reporters out of 12 questioners.

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