In a time of such uncertainty, there is one thing we can all agree on: 2017 is the year of the woman. Between feminist merch going mainstream and hundreds of thousands of work wives hitting the streets in protest for women’s rights, not to mention the outpouring of passion and support on our social feeds, girl power is very real right now. The notion of women claiming their power has come light-years beyond the commercialized slogan coined by a certain '90s British pop group. Today, girl power is about action and, most importantly, women banding together.
Enter: the rising number of girl groups on the scene — and no, we’re not talking about BFFs who brunch. In just a few years, we’ve seen women-only social clubs and female-led businesses set up shop faster than trendy matcha bars, running the gamut from professional coworking spaces to body-positive movements (shoutout to our very own The 67% Project). And in most cases, they share a common goal: to shift the conversation, challenge gender stereotypes, and promote inclusivity and diversity.
So in celebration of Lane Bryant’s #ThisBody campaign — an ode to women inspiring women — we tapped 10 badass girl gangs that are actively fighting for change and redefining feminism while they're at it. From a dance company created exclusively for plus-size women to an indie mag dedicated to celebrating female drummers, get to know the women involved, the change they’re effecting, and their POVs on why women supporting women is more important now than ever. And if you feel so inspired, we dropped a line on how to get involved with each crew, too.
How did growing up in the dance industry, with a body that didn't conform to society's idea of what a dancer should look like, affect your self-esteem?
"I never fit in, and the self-doubt for me was a lot, especially in my adolescent years. I would receive report cards from school saying I needed to lose 10 or 15 pounds. Even when I would work really hard and lose weight, it was never good enough. As I got older, I had a really bad attitude — it was a defense mechanism. I felt like I had to protect myself and guard my emotions."
What sparked the idea for Pretty BIG Movement?
"I had landed a spot as a dancer in two major music videos but was still being judged. I got so frustrated hearing that I wasn't good enough and that there wasn’t a place for plus-size girls in the mainstream media. So I came back to New York, sat down, and decided right there that I was going to create my own opportunities. I knew there were other women out there who were professional dancers just like me that weren’t given the opportunity to shine because of their weight — and I wanted to change that."
What would you say is your long-term goal for Pretty BIG?
"A lot of mothers reach out to me to say that their daughters are so inspired by me and that their confidence is exuding just from watching my videos and hearing my story. So I definitely want to work with the youth. I hope to have a Pretty BIG dance camp, which is something I wish I would've had to keep me grounded, teach me confidence, and keep my spirits high."
Laura Robert Rivera
Member, Girl Scouts Of America: The 105-year-old organization helps girls become courageous, confident leaders — and reach their full potential — through a variety of enriching experiences, such as community-service projects.
Girl Scouts was founded in 1912. Why do you think the organization is just as popular today?
"Women and girls join Girl Scouts because of the tools it provides the future leaders of the world. You not only learn how to camp and sell cookies, you gain a sisterhood, memories, and values about teamwork and leadership that will help in your everyday life. My values and my leadership journey have, in a big part, been influenced by my community-service involvement and my mentoring through the organization."
There's a stereotype that Girl Scouts is just for young girls. Why did you stick it out into adulthood?
"Cadets is really the time everyone starts to question whether they stay or go. That's the time you begin to really grow in other areas, like community service, which I hadn't had the opportunity to do within the younger levels. For me, that was what kept me within the organization. That and my family. We've all been involved in scouting for so long."
What's your hope for future Girl Scouts?
"One of the biggest things that Girl Scouts taught me is that I can make a change. I've learned that I have the power to make a difference, that my voice matters, and that my actions can make an impact. So I hope that girls continue to realize their worth and the power that they hold."
Elisa Goodkind, Lily Mandelbaum & Tank Ball
Founders and Featured Talent, Style Like U: Through intimate video interviews, the style website — started by the mother-daughter duo — celebrates natural beauty and empowers women to be comfortable in their own skin.
You created Style Like U after 25 years as a fashion stylist for magazines. What had changed?
Elisa Goodkind: "I began to feel very disillusioned — like I couldn't express myself artistically. More editorial pages were becoming solely about advertisers and selling things, not about what I really loved — clothing and fashion. It became more cookie-cutter and less and less about individuality."
How do you think your mom's role in the fashion industry affected your self-image?
Lily Mandelbaum: "In my teenage years, I struggled a lot with body image and wanting to be like all the skinny models in magazines. I felt that the way I was was wrong and that I had to change myself, physically, in order to be part of this world."
When did you realize there was more to beauty than what you had seen in print?
LM: "There were a handful of people in my life, like [my mom's] friends and these cool people who were behind the scenes of the shoots, that had such unique personal styles — so different than what I was seeing in magazines. They really marched to the beat of their own drum, and their style reflected something about who they were. I started to realize that there was a difference between what we were seeing in magazines and what real style was."
When did you decide to put your energy towards something that would promote diversity and body positivity?
EG: "One day, we just took a video camera and started interviewing people we knew who had an incredible sense of spirit about why they dressed the way they did and what it said about who they are inside. From the very beginning, I just knew that there was something very golden about this honesty."
What have you learned about personal style in this process?
LM: "We've learned that the reason we’re drawn to people is because of their comfort in their own skin, which is a result of their willingness to be true to themselves and to not follow the crowd or change themselves to fit into a norm. That's become the message of what we do and our What’s Underneath Project, which is now what we're more known for. In this video series, people undress to their underwear and show that it's not about what they're wearing. It's about the person, what's inside."
Can you tell us what it was like to be a part of this series?
Tank Ball: "It was an emotional experience from the moment I sat in the chair. I knew that I'd be vulnerable, but I didn't think I would cry. The What’s Underneath Project is so important because it shows that women of so many different shapes and sizes always have something in common. I see a piece of myself in each and every story."
Mindy Seegal Abovitz
Founder/Editor-In-Chief, Tom Tom Magazine: The quarterly print magazine celebrates the amazing work of female drummers, while also inspiring young girls to take up drums.
How did you first get your start in the music industry?
"My oldest brother gave me a bass guitar when I was 15, which was right around the time that I was discovering Riot Grrrl, the underground feminist punk movement. So I've been playing music since I was a teenager, but I've been playing the drums and taking myself somewhat seriously since I was an early twentysomething."
Starting a magazine is a huge undertaking. What fueled this idea?
"I was working as a sound engineer at East Village Radio in 2009, and to say it was a chauvinistic space would be an understatement. I was in my late 20s in New York, and I realized that nothing had changed in years, so I was like, Well, I'm old enough now to be part of the solution. I decided right then that I was going to do something for the next generation of girls coming up."
What was the narrative you aimed to rewrite?
"Real representation of female drummers was nonexistent in 2009. All drum magazines that were in print (and that are still out today) did a really poor job of including women. Their excuse was that, you know, there aren't very many of us or we're just not that good. So within Tom Tom, we explore the idea of what 'great' means or what's worthy of notoriety. We also only put female drummers in the magazine. It makes you think, Why couldn't they find those women?"
How do you hope the mag will inspire women and girls to feel empowered?
"I hope we're empowering every girl and woman to feel like they can be and do exactly what they want in life. No one can tell them what that is. We try to create good media, which I think involves representation of all people of different colors, races, styles, classes, sexualities, body sizes. I really want the message of the magazine to be: You, the reader, are accepted — you're excellent — simply just by being who you are."
Why do women join Women's World Of Boxing?
"All kinds of reasons. Some women want to get stronger, some want to learn a new skill, some want to challenge themselves. Some want to be somewhere they can feel safe and really bloom. I think it's undeniable that there's a special magic in the air at Women's World Of Boxing. We're all there because we are women in this world and we know how hard it can be. We all want to be better, stronger, smarter, and faster."
What kind of woman should become a member?
"The woman who wants to be strong and focused and a total badass. You could be a badass at work or with your friends, but nothing compares to throwing your punches, moving your weight, and learning how your body moves — how to defend yourself and how to take your space and own it. It's the time to fight, and Women's World Of Boxing is where you learn how to do that."
Why do you think it's particularly important for women to band together now?
"The world seems to be putting women to the test right now. It feels like we're right at the tipping point — where real change can happen. We're not going to give up what we've earned, and we're going to go forth no matter who tries to stop us. We can't give up now."
Tell us how you got involved with Girl Riders.
"I started skating when I was 16. Every time I was at a skate park, it was always me and a bunch of middle-aged men. Which was fine, but it was very clear that I was the only girl. I heard that GRO had an all-girls skate session at the House of Vans in Brooklyn, so I went. I was immediately hooked and knew I wanted to get more involved."
Why should women join?
"Aside from the really fun skate sessions, GRO allows you to meet inspiring women that you would otherwise never meet. In skateboarding and other action sports, respect is earned not by learning all of the tricks but by getting up from a hard slam and trying again. GRO connects you to women and girls who understand this idea and are the embodiment of strong, powerful females."
What the most significant thing Girl Riders has taught you?
"That there’s no limit. Girls come in and they think, Oh, I’m never going to be able to ride a skateboard. But they do it. Then they think, I’m never going to be able to go down a ramp. And then they do it. As you keep crushing all those barriers, eventually you get to a point where it’s like, I can do it all."
How did you come to be so passionate about sexual wellness?
"When I was 20 years old, I got diagnosed with colorectal cancer and went through radiation treatment, which then catapulted me through menopause at a really young age. No doctor ever really said, 'You're going to go through menopause.' It was just, 'You'll never have children.' And as I got older, I realized just how underserved female sexuality is in today's marketplace. I had a good friend who, when I went through all that, suggested I buy a vibrator and lubricant. But the experience left me feeling so mortified and overwhelmed."
So you wanted to change that experience?
"Yes. Because I think women are embarrassed to sometimes acknowledge that they want to understand their sexuality more, we wanted Unbound to be a place where there was content that was informative but not hyper-medical and not cheesy. I saw Unbound as a place where women could read about their sexuality, shop, and walk away feeling empowered as opposed to ashamed or embarrassed."
What advice do you have for women that are struggling to feel confident with their sexuality?
"Being able to own your sexuality and understand it and explore it and enjoy it is so imperative. I think women who routinely have orgasms are just happier, more empowered people. It's something that makes you feel good, and it's nothing to be embarrassed about."
Grace Lee (Photographed with Chef Camille Becerra)
De Maria recently opened in New York City. Can you tell us what the process of opening a restaurant was like?
"Camille and I spent some months drafting ideas and concepts of what the restaurant could become. As with every creation, we needed a name. We went on a field inspiration trip upstate to Dia:Beacon. After the brink of the entrance, we we're startled by Walter De Maria's name — it just gave us a spark. It was the art, the energy, and the idea that our restaurant would become a culmination of Camille's world, in being a pioneer in the culinary industry, and mine, coming from the creative/music industry."
What challenges have you had to face in the industry because you are a woman?
"There's definitely a lack of seriousness or respect. Women are always going to be pinned down because of our gender, size, and stability. But those are the obstacles that make us stronger, bolder, and braver. Women are equal to men; though we may not all be as physically capable in certain areas, in the soul, we're all human. I've experienced a huge level of discouragement, misogyny, and doubts being a woman in the music/creative industry, and I know that applies to all industries. But challenges are a source of power — every challenge is just another step forward to break and conquer, to win."
What do you think it will take for things to change?
"Respect, 100% support, and having the courtesy to value each other with zero stigmas. Male or female, it's time for our generation and culture to treat one another with love and consideration. Even professionally speaking, it's all about harboring peace and compassion for the people you work with."
Jheyda McGarrell & Rebecca Arthur
Artists/Curators, Art Hoe Collective: Art Hoe Collective aims to give queer artists of color a voice — via artistic Instagram submissions — while challenging the heteronormative narrative that underpins the art world.
Why was Art Hoe Collective created?
Jheyda McGarrell: "It was formed because the founders, Mars and Sage, wanted to start a platform for queer people of color that would encourage them to express themselves through art and allow them to gain recognition in the art world — kind of like an online safe space. Right now, we’re working on mostly pop-up art and music shows."
In what ways has Art Hoe been a positive influence on your life?
Rebecca Arthur: "This collective represents minds like mine, who desire justice and stand up for our rights as human beings. The strength of these women artists keeps me from giving up and pushes me further into my work and practice. As my personal work focuses on what being a woman means, Art Hoe allows my work and others to stand just as strong as we do."
How do you think women's groups have evolved in recent years?
RA: "Women's groups have become much stronger in light of recent events. It is empowering and inspirational to be a part of a group that holds immense power in speech, art, and knowledge. Women are important for other women to appreciate, and Art Hoe has created a space where people can do that without questions or doubt."
Where did the idea for Girl Mob come from?
"I’ve always felt like when I'm around women in a professional space, especially higher executives, instead of it feeling like they're bigger sisters or trying to teach me, it's very catty. So I thought, Okay, well, I need to create a space that showcases the sisterhood that we can have with each other."
Were there any other voids you wanted the Girl Mob to fill?
"Women of color aren’t portrayed properly in the media. Growing up, I read Latina Magazine and Essence, and I never felt like I fit into either of those spaces, so I wanted to create a space for women of color — not just Black women or Latina women. I wanted a space that was basically the bridge that allowed us to talk to each other, because although our stories might differ, the themes tend to be the same, and they're very relatable."
What are those stories you share?
"The content that we have, it feels very much like an open journal of different women — it ranges from spirituality, to dealing with going to college or dropping out of college, to how to take care of your skin if you're a woman of color. We do touch on beauty, health care, and stuff like that, but we also talk about religion. We talk about politics. We talk about the intersectionality of sisterhood between Black women, Latina women, and Muslim women."
Why do you think readers have connected so well with your site?
"We really want every woman to feel like someone on the site is telling a part of her story — almost like giving a voice to the voiceless. We were at a big festival, and we had over 500 women come through our booth. It was really beautiful to see, because my team members all look different — from the lightest to the darkest, from bald headed to long hair. I saw that the girls were able to identify with someone on my team, like, 'You're like my sister,' or, 'You remind me of my cousin.' So everyone felt like they were able to relate to the brand, because we're a direct reflection of them."
Photographed by Nadya Wasylko; Styled by Solange Franklin; Set Design by Kate Stein at Magnet; Makeup by Grace Ahn; Hair by Sirsa; Nails by Yukie Miyakawa at Kate Ryan.