When dark pop singer/songwriter and Strange Main flagship artist Mackenzie Nicole unveiled her full-length debut album The Edge in the Spring of 2018, its songs tallied over 1 million Spotify streams, and her videos totaled 8 million plus views as she played to sold-out crowds coast-to-coast. Recently, Mackenzie released “Complications,” a standalone single song and video that highlights her new direction as an artist. Mackenzie’s sophomore album Mystic will be released this summer.
Now, in honor of International Women’s Day, Mackenzie shares with us the Top Ten Women That Have Inspired Her and why.
Born in 1985 of Greek and Welsh descent, Marina (formerly Marina and the Diamonds) is a singer-songwriter and record producer that has stormed the pop music scene since she first independently released her experimental self-produced bedroom EP Mermaid vs. Sailor via Myspace in 2007. Obsessed with becoming a singer since the age of 18 “almost as if it was a disease,” Marina made several varied attempts to broach the music industry, moving to London to attend dance school, then attempting a music composition course at Middlesex University, quitting both endeavors two months in. Marina also auditioned unsuccessfully for a number of productions from The Stage to Lion King the Musical before finally deciding to abandon auditioning altogether in favor of producing her own music, hence the birth of the aforementioned extended play Mermaid vs. Sailor. After the release of Mermaid vs. Sailor, Marina held discussions with 14 labels, finally narrowing the pool to the one where she felt she could most dictate her image. Throughout her career, Marina has found astonishing success with her three studio albums The Family Jewels (debuting at #138 on the Billboard Top 200), Electra Heart (debuting at #31 on the Billboard Top 200), and Froot (debuting at #8 on the Billboard Top 200), making a name for herself through her eccentric songwriting and sense of style, both of which run unparalleled to this day. Aside from being simply sonically interesting, Marina’s songwriting touches on everything from archetypes and expectations of women through media and society, familial home struggles, depression and suicidal ideation, struggle with disordered eating, romantic strife, sexuality, self-perception and identity, and general feelings of being an “Outsider,” a far cry from the of bubblegum subject matter eternally dominating pop music.
Marina is an aspirational figure both as an artist and a person. In a society in which one is not just encouraged but expected to pick a path and stick to it with liminal variation, Marina is a prime example that there is more than one way to scale the mountain of self-actualization. In the words of Marina, “There’s no one particular road that will lead you to success…everybody will find it differently.” Finding, staying true to, and expressing oneself is a constant battle fought especially by young women, and Marina’s raw honesty and integrity stand to inspire the masses struggling to stand up for who they are and what they want. Best put by Marina herself, “You have to be your biggest believer.”
Born Norma Jeane Mortenson in 1926 Los Angeles, the American actress, model, and singer known as Marilyn Monroe requires no introduction. The iconic blonde bombshell remains one of the most recognizable sex symbols in history. It was 1944 when Marilyn was introduced to a photographer from the First Motion Picture Unit and left her job working in a radio plane factory as part of the war effort to begin a successful pin-up modeling career. Marilyn moved on to become a popular actress in several minor and major roles in comedies and dramas ranging from How to Marry a Millionaire to Don’t Bother to Knock. Also a Playboy centerfold, Marilyn may have been pegged a “dumb blonde,” but she was actually incredibly well-read and managed to navigate the 1950s Hollywood studio system well enough to found her own production company in late 1954 by the name of Marilyn Monroe Productions (MMP). She was one of the first women to own her own production company, despite having no formal education (a fact Marilyn was extremely sensitive about).
Moreover, Marilyn’s acting capability far exceeded a mere sexy comic relief. Her craft was important to Marilyn, who took method acting classes at the Actors Studio and can be quoted as saying, “I want to be an artist, not…a celluloid aphrodisiac.” This is not the only way in which Marilyn was ahead of her time; she also had a major hand in jumpstarting the career of Ella Fitzgerald, whose livelihood had been barred by racism. Behind the deceptively smart and inarguably gorgeous pop culture icon, however, was a life ridden with hardship. Marilyn herself once said, “Sometimes I feel my whole life has been one big rejection.” She spent most of her childhood in foster homes and an orphanage after her mother was institutionalized. She was one of many victimized by the sexism and oppression of Hollywood. She desperately wanted to be a mother but suffered both an ectopic pregnancy and a miscarriage. She struggled with substance abuse, depression, and anxiety. She ultimately passed at the green age of 36 from an overdose in her own home. “Sometimes I think it would be easier to avoid old age, to die young,” Marilyn said before her death, “But then you’d never complete your life, would you? You’d never wholly know you.”
What we do know of her is that Marilyn is undeniably one of the most dynamic characters the public eye has ever beheld. The ignorant can write her off as the comic “dumb blonde” she so often portrayed, but the educated cannot ignore the boundary-stretching force Marilyn remains. “If I’d observed all the rules,” Marilyn mused, “I’d never have got anywhere.” In a time of female suppression, Marilyn was unabashedly woman. “One of the best things that ever happened to me is that I’m a woman,” Marilyn once said, “That is the way all females should feel.” One could argue that the trend of shamelessly embracing feminine sexuality started with Marilyn herself; “Sex is a part of nature,” she said, “I go along with nature.” She was anti-sexism, anti-racism, and in many ways anti-fame. Marilyn was one of the common person’s first glances into the unpretty side of fame, and her honesty on the subject is to be respected and admired. From her talents in front of the camera to the woman behind the facade, Marilyn continues to inspire women both professionally and personally to perform at their peak, question the status quo, and redefine what it is to be a woman.
Born in Warsaw in 1867, Marie Curie (also known as Madame Curie) was a Polish-French physicist and chemist whose life was a prolonged series of firsts. She was the first person and only woman to win two Nobel Prizes, the only woman to win in two fields, and the only person to win in multiple sciences. She was the first female professor at the University of Paris. She was the first woman to be enshrined in France’s national mausoleum, the Paris Pantheon, all based on her own merits. Marie’s lifetime achievements include the development of the theory of radioactivity (a term she coined) and the discovery of two elements, polonium, and radium. Throughout her life, she actively promoted the use of radium to alleviate suffering (radium rays act on body tissues, destroying unhealthy cells), and during World War I, she personally devoted herself to this remedial work in addition to developing mobile radiography units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals. Marie founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw, which remain major hubs of medical research today. Over the course of her life, Marie gained international recognition for her work but was adamant about giving back to her community, refusing awards, and giving prize money to scientific research institutions. Eventually, it was her passion that brought Marie Curie to her end, as she died from exposure to radiation in the course of her scientific research and her radiological work at field hospitals during the War. To this day, a number of landmarks, banknotes, works of art, biographies, locations in the world, and more bear the Curie name in her honor.
Marie Curie’s achievements are monumental not only for women but for all of mankind. “We must have perseverance and, above all, confidence in ourselves,” Marie once said. Fitting, as she was a picture of perseverance, even when she was rejected from Krakow University simply for being a woman or had to perform her early researches with poor laboratory arrangements (she worked out of an old shed), struggling to make a livelihood teaching. Forever challenging the barriers of gender conformity, Marie showed the world at large that there is a place for a woman not only in the sciences but in all fields of higher education. At a time when women were expected to tend to the home and children, Marie chose to tend to the greater good of humanity.
Emily Brontë, born in 1818, was an English novelist and poet who innovated literature with her only novel, Wuthering Heights. She and her fellow author sisters published under male pseudonyms (Emily’s being Ellis Bell), as they “had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.” While biographical information on Emily is sparse due to her solitary and reclusive nature, the head of a girls’ academy she once attended said of Emily, “She should have been a man — a great navigator. Her powerful reason would have deduced new spheres of discovery from the knowledge of the old, and her strong, imperious will would never have been daunted by opposition or difficulty, never have given way but with life. She had a head for logic, and a capability of argument unusual in a man and rarer indeed in a woman…impairing this gift was her stubborn tenacity of will, which rendered her obtuse to all reasoning where her own wishes, or her own sense of right, was concerned.” All that is known of Emily herself is that she was extremely insular and intellectual if a bit headstrong as the former quote implies, but where her biographical history fails, her poetry and lone novel speak for themselves. Wuthering Heights, in particular, puzzled critics on several fronts upon its release. Firstly, the novel’s innovative structure in which the main plot is told out of chronological order was not only confusing to readers of the time but regarded as improper and poorly written. Furthermore, the violent, passionate content of the novel was unbecoming of the times, particularly for a woman, as Emily’s true identity was posthumously revealed. British historian Juliet Gardiner puts it best when she states that “the vivid sexual passion and power of its language and imagery impressed, bewildered, and appalled reviewers.” Moreover, the revelation of Emily’s true female identity startled those who expected a gentle Bildungsroman but instead got what literary critic Thomas Joudrey called “a tale of unchecked primal passions, replete with savage cruelty and outright barbarism.” However, despite its mixed reviews and common condemnation, Wuthering Heights became an English literary classic.
Mysterious to the end, Emily Brontë will forever be known as the author that left the literary world wanting more. During a period of propriety and female suppression, she authored one of the most classic, widely-read novels in present history and innovated creative writing in her adventurous writing style and structure as well as her daring subject matter. Emily’s work is proof that going against the grain can sometimes cement one’s name in history.
Cleopatra was the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, or put more simply, the last Pharaoh of Egypt, reigning from 69-30 BC. She was the only woman to rule in her own right (i.e., not subordinate to a male ruler), in addition to being a diplomat, naval commander, linguist, and medical author. As a child, Cleopatra is said to have been highly educated and to have spoken at least six languages (some scholars claim nine) and was allowed to sit in on meetings with her father, Ptolemy XII, to learn the ropes of politics. At only 14 years of age, Cleopatra became the joint regent and deputy of her father. Just four years later, she inherited the Egyptian throne. During her reign, she battled valiantly to defend Egypt from the expanding Roman Empire, and amidst said defense she took up “romantic alliances” with Rome’s most powerful leaders, Julius Caesar and, later, Marc Anthony, securing her position and her kingdom’s independence. Do not mistake her political posturing as her merely playing seductress, however, as it is said that it was not Cleopatra’s sexuality that captivated many, but her intelligence, wit, and charisma. As the ruler, her chief concerns were not limited to the welfare of the masses, including equal distribution of resources amongst both the poor and rich and Egyptian patriotism. However, after the deaths of both Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony, Cleopatra was imprisoned. She later died as she lived — on her own terms. Legend has it that she had an asp smuggled into her chambers, whereupon it bit her, and she died. To this day, at least 2000 years after her death, there are hundreds of films and thousands of books dedicated to telling the story of the captivating Egyptian queen.
While beauty may just be skin deep, intelligence knows no bounds, and such is proved by Cleopatra, whose wisdom and leadership sustained Egypt throughout her reign. She remains proof that sexuality and intellect can dovetail stunningly and reap spectacular results. She stopped at nothing to protect her reign and her kingdom, and such steadfastness is to be admired by anyone that’s ever cared about anything.
Born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel in 1883, Coco Chanel is the French fashion designer and businesswoman behind the universally recognizable double-C logo that continues to grace couture clothing, jewelry, handbags, and fragrances the world over. Coco was raised in an orphanage, where she was taught to sew, and later opened her first clothing shop in 1910. Her work liberated women of fashion from the complicated, uncomfortable corseted and petticoated 19th-century styles of dress and gave life to such iconic innovations as the Chanel suit and the “little black dress” (not to mention Marilyn Monroe’s famed Chanel No. 5). Through designs that stressed chic simplicity and comfort, Coco revolutionized the fashion world, and by the late 1920s, the Chanel industries were reportedly worth millions, employing more than 2,000 people. Conscious of a woman’s fashion needs, Coco insured that the name Chanel would forever be equated with effortless class.
With enterprising entrepreneurship and a keen understanding of how to translate function beautifully, Coco made fashion serve women instead of making women serve fashion. “Women have always been the strong ones of the world,” Coco said on many occasions, supplementing her opinion with styles women could actually perform their lives in with elegance and ease.
“I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is the story of many girls,” is a Malala Yousafzai quote that should be a sobering reality check for anyone familiar with Malala’s story. Malala was born in Pakistan in 1997, far from the idyllic time and place to welcome a baby girl into the world. But still, Malala’s father Ziauddin was “determined to give [her] every opportunity a boy would have.” Ziauddin was a teacher running a girls’ school in he and Malala’s village in 2008 when the Taliban took control of their town, banning many things including but not limited to owning a television, playing music, and female education. In 2012, at just 15, Malala spoke out publicly on behalf of girls and the right to education. In October of that same year, a masked gunman boarded Malala’s school bus and asked, “Who is Malala?” before shooting her in the left side of her head. Malala awoke ten days later in a hospital in England, where she spent months undergoing surgeries and rehabilitation before reuniting with her family in their new home in the UK. Malala returned home with a passionate determination to “fight until every girl could go to school.” With her father, she established the Malala Fund, a charity “dedicated to giving every girl an opportunity to achieve a future she chooses.” This led to Malala receiving a Nobel Peace Prize in December of 2014, just two years after her attack, and becoming the youngest Nobel laureate in history at just 17 years old. Present day, Malala is studying philosophy, politics, and economics at the University of Oxford, all while continuing her “fight to ensure all girls receive 12 years of free, safe, quality education.” In doing so, Malala travels internationally to meet girls combating poverty, war, child marriage, and gender discrimination at large.
A beacon of bravery and resilience, Malala continues to provide a voice for the marginalized over 130 million women barricaded from education today. Equal education creates equal opportunity, and if we are only educating under half our society, then we are losing over half our resources as a human race. This is the problem Malala seeks to end.
Lifestyle brand ban.do may be known for millennial pink and “getting serious about fun,” but the company’s feel-good mission statement extends far past simply encouraging mantras printed on the covers of their planners and t-shirts. Founder and chief creative officer Jen Gotch makes sure of that.
Jen struggled with mental illness from a young age, was misdiagnosed with depression in her twenties, and was finally correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her early thirties. Now in her forties, her life’s work has become a dynamic practice in self-expression of the highs, lows, and growing pains of life. Described by interviewer Kit Warchol as “unapologetically human,” Jen has used every outlet from Forbes to Bulletproof Blog and most famously her own Instagram to discuss matters of mental health. Two years ago, Jen started posting paragraphs of honest discourse about her own life on the social media platform, a practice that garnered her over 231K followers to date and crowned her an endearingly frank mental health advocate. ban.do even has a special section of their site dedicated to mental health, nestled right in with their rainbow heart sunglasses and Paraiba blue nail polish. This corner of the site includes ban.do’s mission statement (“to create products with an optimistic and emotionally-resonant tone that make our customers feel good”), an FAQ with factoids on mental health and illness, open letters to Jen from customers, a list of organizations offering support, and the famous emotional “rating system” Jen publicizes on her Instagram and in near every interview she does. This rating system is a simple one through ten scale from depressed to manic that Jen has used to communicate her wellbeing to herself and others, and she encourages anyone who needs assistance understanding and articulating their feelings to use it as well. ban.do also recently partnered with fine jewelry brand Iconery to create a line of necklaces reading “Anxiety,” “Depression,” and “Bipolar,” all designed to serve as icebreakers to start an open dialogue about mental health.
And, start an open dialogue she did. Finally, society has become a remotely safer place to discuss mental health, wellness, and unwellness, and Jen Gotch is one of the main champions of this cause. Mental health should be as much a chief concern to every person as physical health is, and Jen has made strides in empowering every person to treat their own mental health with the importance and significance it deserves.
A singer-songwriter and actress turned diplomat and businesswoman, Robyn Rihanna Fenty was born in 1988 Barbados. Upon her discovery by American record producer Evan Rogers in 2003, Rihanna recorded a series of demo tapes and eventually signed with Def Jam Recordings after auditioning for then-president Jay-Z in 2004. Following the release of her debut studio album Music of the Sun (2005) and its follow-up A Girl Like Me (2006), both of which peaked within the top ten of the Billboard Top 200, Rihanna showed immediate promise as a recording artist. By the release of her third studio album, Good Girl Gone Bad (2007), Rihanna became an undeniable sex symbol and witnessed her first real breakthrough in her career, earning her first Grammy in 2008. In 2009, she garnered a fair share of media attention after suffering an assault by then-boyfriend Chris Brown, after which Rihanna spoke out publicly to raise awareness for victims of domestic violence. Since, Rihanna has released four more studio albums — Loud (2010), Talk The Talk (2011), Unapologetic (2012), and most recently Anti (2016) — garnering multiple number one albums and singles. Throughout her career, Rihanna has cemented herself as a pop icon, attaining numerous awards and accolades including but certainly not limited to nine Grammys, thirteen American Music Awards, twelve Billboard Music Awards, and six Guinness World Records. Her reach far exceeds music, however. Rihanna has released a line of fragrances; established her Believe Foundation to aid terminally ill children and founded the Clara Lionel Foundation (current programs including the Clara Braithwaite Center for Oncology and Nuclear Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Barbados, as well as a number of educational programs), in addition to other philanthropic gestures; co-owned music streaming service Tidal among a number of other big music names like Kanye West and Madonna; launched a beauty and stylist agency name Fr8me to assist artists in booking commercials, editorial shoots, ad campaigns, and red-carpet appearances; become the creative director of the fashion sportswear Puma; introduced her critically-acclaimed cosmetics company Fenty Beauty, praised for its inclusivity in skin colors; and created her lingerie brand “Savage X Fenty,” lauded for its extensive size range and affordability. In 2012, Forbes ranked her the fourth most powerful celebrity. In 2014, she received the Fashion Icon lifetime achievement award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. In 2012 and 2018, Time included her on the annual list of the most influential people in the world. In 2017, she was named Harvard University’s “Humanitarian of the Year” and Time magazine named Fenty Beauty as one of “The 25 Best Inventions of 2017.” In 2018, she was appointed as an “Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary” on behalf of the government of Barbados, her duties involving the promotion of “education, tourism, and investment.”
Rihanna has used her leverage as a celebrity not only for the creation of great art but for the expansion of inclusivity in fashion and cosmetics and for the betterment of humanity through her international charitable efforts. An advocate for women and minorities, Rihanna has used her platform to improve the state of art and general living for the masses. As a female minority entrepreneur, Rihanna has become what NPR calls “the 21st Century’s most influential musician,” and one would be hard-pressed to argue in opposition.
Note that this entry takes a different form than the former in this piece. I will not go to some great lengths to approximate some biography of my mother’s few decades on this earth, as she is fairly private and I refuse to expose her life’s course against her will. Instead, I will detail what I’ve learned in my relationship with my mom after a brief but ample description of the latter.
The “relationship” aforementioned in my thesis is only the best word to approximate my connection with my mom. I’m in the unique maybe 1% that can honestly live up to the cliche “my mom is my best friend.” I know for a fact that most are less fortunate in their relations with their mother, and often I’ve noted that even the best of mother-daughter pairs lack a certain something we have (please, take that not as condescension, but a sympathetic observation). After much consideration, I have coined that aforestated “something” as an honesty policy. My mother and I do not lie to one another. “Sure,” you may think, eyes rolling, “a 19-year-old that hasn’t lied to her mom. Got it.” Take my word for it on this one. More impressively than my not deceiving her, my mother has never deceived me — not even that well-intentioned, parental deception intended to lighten the blow of those weightier facets of life. For better or for worse, my mother and I have always been upfront with one another, and this has established a rapport of trustworthy communication that we’ve both come to rely on. In other words, no bullshit, and we take each other seriously. Also, quite simply, we are similar and enjoy each other’s company. These factors have harmonized into a friendship.
Like any friendship, particularly those founded on blood relation, we are not without flaw. I take after my father’s headstrongness, which disagrees with my mother’s far more agreeable and understanding nature. In that and many other arenas, my mother is a portrait of what I wish I could better be — she is flexible in understanding and compassionate by nature. She never goes to sleep mad, she always apologizes first, and rarely holds a grudge. She has faith where I have none, creativity where I lack it, and intuition where I am blind. I unsuccessfully pattern myself after her and have begun to accept that I will always fall gracelessly just short of fully taking on these honorable attributes of hers.
I will not further belabor the subject of my own mother and her magnificence, but urge you to take this International Women’s Day to honor those mothers in your life — if not blood, then honorary (those maternal figures that have so shaped you, your principles, and your life at large). Thank them, for you owe them quite a lot.