Written by Ozlem M. Manness
Being a woman has never been easy; not throughout history and not even now in today’s world. As women, we have to try so hard to achieve many of our goals; we are constantly having to prove ourselves to the world, to state our capabilities, to show just how much we shine... it’s an endless battle, and the responsibility to do so is tough. Throughout the world, there are women who are not allowed to hold fundamental rights and freedoms, and sometimes I can’t wrap my head around this fact; it just hits close to home, and even though I possess so much privilege, as a woman in the western world I still face oppressive forces and patriarchal systems. Why? Because it’s the way it has always been? And yet, behind so much greatness there almost always stands a woman. You see, my hope as a woman is that trusting my instincts, pushing forward, and embracing women will help us to lead the way to change.
I truly feel as though I am one of the biggest believers in women; supporting them, uplifting their spirits, and helping them to realize their potential. All my life, there have been a myriad of women I have looked up to, women, when growing up, shaped my life and helped me to build my business. Women in my family, the women I am friends with, female politicians, female movie stars, singers, designers, and female writers; it would be impossible to name them all.. but I will write about a few, because if we don’t acknowledge each other and celebrate the women we admire, then who will? There is just so much room for love and we have to share it with one another.
So I want to share a bit about some of the women who have always inspired me, encouraged me, and reminded me that to be a woman in any shape or form is a gift. I mean, we know “who run the world.”
BEYONCÉ: I know I am not the only person who admires this woman; I grew up listening to her songs, like so many of you, but the fact that we’re almost the same age has always made me look up to her and follow her lead. To me, Beyoncé is a pioneer and a role model; not just in music, but in her private life and her business life as well. I admire her style, her grace, her determination, her fashion sense, and her perseverance. She is a powerhouse. A complete package. When I started my jewelry business, my biggest dream was for Beyoncé to wear my earrings, and I made it happen. I put it out into the universe and it became reality. When I met her, I noted just how poised and kind she was... The first thing I said was, “Beyoncé, you’re such an inspiration for all of us women.” And I meant it. She truly is.
MAYA ANGELOU: A political science graduate like me, of course I look up to someone as powerful, impactful, and thought provoking a woman as Maya Angelou. She is a legend, a poet, a civil rights leader, and an inspiration to so many people who dare to dream. Always encouraging women to tell their untold stories, their truths... Her famous quote, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel“ resonates with myself and so many others because it’s true. People always seem to remember how you made them feel. I know I never forget when someone makes me feel empowered, supported, loved... This powerful quote, both in its beauty and simplicity, has served as a major building block for my business and my relationship with clients, and serves as a reminder to always take the time to make others feel good. Kindness is eternal.
CHIARA FERRAGNI: Ferragni, an Italian style icon, self-made business woman, and mother, is someone I look up to in so many ways. She exemplifies all the qualities of the intelligent law student she once was, to the fun-loving Italian sensation from a small town near Milan that she is. I began following her journey over a decade ago. Her blog, The Blonde Salad, launched in 2009, and it served as a personal account of her life on the daily; it showcased her fashion sense, how she blowdried her hair, and all of the funny cross-eyed faces she loved to make. I felt connected to her charisma and charm. Although not super well known in North America, she is a European sensation with over 7.3 million followers on Instagram, 1.2 million likes on Facebook, and more than 14 million page views per month on her website. What I really love about her though is just how down to earth she seems despite all of this. She has been on the Forbes 30 under 30 list twice, the subject of a Harvard Business School study, and on 55 magazine covers, and yet she remains humble. I admire so many of her qualities... I even named my daughter after her. A name that exemplified so many amazing characteristics of womanhood.
RBG, RUTH BADER GINSBURG: This woman needs no introduction, I’m sure you would agree. When I think about women in high places, rare places even, making changes, shaking the system, I think of RBG. She has always inspired me to work harder, to push through limitations, and to consider how to make changes that both better myself and the lives of others. Her impact on gender equality and women’s rights has a profound legacy and will continue to pave the way for years to come. She truly was supreme in every sense of the word, and as a woman I will take her lessons with me as I walk. Won’t you join me?
: A local fashion entrepreneur, I look up to this woman in so many ways. She is the owner of Love Ritual, a chic boutique, and has been in the retail industry for the past 18 years; for the past 7, a true entrepreneur in every sense of the word, and a business woman to the core. Darah has believed in me and my business from the beginning (more than I do at times), and I always trust her advice. She motivates me, pushes me, and always has time to listen to me. Last February, right before Covid, we were in NYC together and we had dinner after a long day at work. I told her about my plans for Moda 2.0 and I can tell you that it was her belief in me that kept me going, even through the most difficult months during the pandemic. Her views inspire me... a quote in particular always comes to mind: “Fashion isn’t just about clothes to me, it’s about how it makes you feel as a woman. I strive to make women feel beautiful and confident inside and out!“ This, on its own, even if you don’t know Darah, is enough to know she is someone to be admired. Recently, she visited me and delivered a package to my home. I showed her my new closet/office, or “cloffice“ as we call it, and I said to her, feeling a bit bashful and self-conscious, “I know it’s too much, isn’t it?” Her response said it all: “Ozlem, no!! You are a TRUE FASHIONISTA!” As I smiled and shook my head, knowing my truth and loving that she knew it too, I said, “you know what Darah? Yes I am.” I will remind myself of this conversation whenever I am filled with doubt.
MY GRANDMOTHER: What can I even say about this woman? She taught me absolutely everything, instilling teachings, values, and above all honesty from a young age. You see I grew up with my grandmother, she was my other mother, my second mom, as my mom was a busy working mother; and how lucky was I to have her, to have them both (but we will get to my mama in a minute). My grandma taught me how to think, how to respond, how to reason, and how to stay calm in certain situations. But she let me be me, and never pressured me to be anything else; she was always proud of me, and she always let me know it. Ever since I was a little girl, she treated me as an adult, an equal, and this was life changing for me, as our conversations were endless (she practically taught me how to converse), and I was always included - learning, sharing, having a voice. She has always been one of my biggest supporters and is the reason behind so many of my achievements. When I think of my love for cinema, theater, and fashion, it has all been inspired by her. Growing up, my grandmother was my idol - an independent, fierce and strong woman, and I looked up to her; in many ways I wanted to be her. I haven’t seen her for 17 months now due to Covid and I miss her dearly. She is my forever sunshine, something that I have always called her 😭 What I wouldn’t do to see her. I don’t know when I will... I am always connected to her though, this much I know.
: My biggest inspiration of all. She has not only been my idol all my life, but my friends have always told me how much they idolize her as well. For my entire life, there was nothing this woman couldn’t do. As a civil engineer, who ran international companies, involved in major projects between continents, she was the definition of a BOSS WOMAN. A realist, level-headed, and focused, she was, and is, truly the smartest woman I know. She was also a great mother, balancing her business life and her family life perfectly. She made it all look so easy too. She encouraged me when I told her where I wanted to go to University, she encouraged me and supported me when I told her about my business idea. And that’s what made her this unique, hard to come-by type of woman. I don’t know where I would be without my mom and her unwavering support and her ability to always show me how she believed in me. Selfless. Loving. Kind. Her ultimate goal, always, has been for me to be happy. And here I am mama; inspired, determined, happy. You helped me to follow my dreams, and I will always be grateful, more than I can say... oh, and I can’t help but think of this quote my mom always had hanging in her office: “are you here with a solution or are you the part of the problem?” Still to this day, I use it and I apply it constantly in my life. Forever inspired. I love you so much mama.
As I write, I am struck by just how much more I want to say, how many more women I want to talk about. I wish I had more time to share, to discuss who inspires me on a daily basis, but it’s hard to name them all... I hope you know who you are and what you mean to me though. If you are reading this, I encourage you to tell the women in your life what they mean to you, how they’ve impacted you; we need to keep leading the way with our words, our actions, and our love for one another. We are all wonderful, and capable of amazing things. Never forget it. Happy International Women’s Day to all.