To Celebrate International Women’s Day, We Salute Celebrities Who Are Beautiful Inside & Out
Who do you think of when you think “Wonder Woman”? Could be Lynda Carter’s ’70s-TV superhero, a role which transformed the 1972 Miss World USA into Amazonian princess turned navy officer Diana Prince who battled crime in a bustier, hot pants and the perfect accessory — a gold belt that vanquished bullets. But maybe it’s a real-life wonder woman who used her celebrity and its trappings to do good in the world, forging a bold new path for females, supporting those less fortunate, or changing our perception of lifestyles, unlike our own and cultures and diseases we didn’t understand. Here we spotlight 10 inspiring ladies whose lives and legacies have positively, genuinely impacted the world. Though pop culture made them famous, life, luck — both good and hard — and an inherent need to do right by themselves and others made them wondrous. “I don’t go by the rule book, I lead from the heart, not the head,” our cover girl, Diana, Princess of Wales once said. “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.”
Diana, Princess of Wales
Shy, sporty, and empathetic from childhood, Diana wasn’t just “the people’s princess” — she was every person’s princess, including the AIDS and leprosy patients whose hands she shook, the land-mine victims in whose steps she fearlessly walked and the homeless Londoners she championed and chatted up like chums. For young Diana Spencer, becoming a royal didn’t mean donning a crown and settling into a life of high-profile privilege. Instead, the soft-spoken beauty filled her days with charitable causes around the globe — not because it was expected of her, but because it fulfilled her. Supporting more than 100 charities before her tragic death (and after, via the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund), Diana passed on her fervor for doing good to sons Harry and William, who carry on her legacy via the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Perhaps her most enduring legacy is demonstrating to a generation of little girls that acting like a princess could be so much more than gowns, crowns, and waiting for a prince. “I think the biggest disease the world suffers from in this day and age is the disease of people feeling unloved,” said Diana. “I know that I can give love — for a minute, for half an hour, for a day, for a month. But I can give. I am very happy to do that. I want to do that.”
Hollywood royalty from the moment she hit the screen in National Velvet, Taylor was the violet-eyed beauty who wowed filmgoers, then scandalized the public when already thrice married, she lured her best friend Debbie Reynolds’ husband away. But when she passed away in 2011, Taylor was equally remembered as a tireless AIDS activist, a cause to which she was devoted for more than 30 years, raising millions of dollars and bolstering international awareness of the dangers of denying the epidemic. Infuriated but inspired by the inaction in the political and medical realms as the disease exploded, Taylor lent her name, her time, and her knack for persuasion to AIDS research and its earliest victims, first raising funds for AIDS Project Los Angeles and then helping to launch amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. Though her films made millions for her studios and her marriages and scandals spelled big business for the tabs, Taylor understood what was truly valuable. “I have never felt more alive than when I watched my children delight in something, never more alive than when I have watched a great artist perform, and never richer than when I have scored a big check to fight AIDS,” she said. “The things that are important to me – being a mother, a businesswoman, an activist – are all things that were borne out of great passion.”
Another brainy beauty who nursed mixed feelings about her fame, the Breakfast at Tiffany’s actress and enduring style icon left show business in her 30s to devote herself first to her young family and then to the children’s charity UNICEF. But unlike the privileged Taylor, Hepburn’s philanthropy was born of her own childhood experiences, when her Holland-based family relied on UNICEF and other charities to survive during the Nazi invasions of World War II. Though her pixie-like beauty and charm are legendary, Hepburn displayed an uncommon might, traveling the globe to provide comfort and aid to starving children and raising awareness for the UNICEF mission. But the trappings of her fame continue her legacy, even after her 1993 death from cancer. In 2006, the iconic floor-length black silk dress she wore in Tiffany’s scored $807,000 for the City of Joy Aid, which supports impoverished children in India.
A cherubic-faced, helium-voiced ’70s sex symbol, Struthers landed the role of a lifetime as Gloria Stivic, the perky, patient, progressive daughter of Archie and Edith Bunker on the ’70s sitcom All in the Family. But Struthers was no shrinking violet. In 1976, she was approached for what would become a 17-year stint as the spokesperson for Christian Children’s Fund (later renamed ChildFund). Struthers walked the walk as well, making pilgrimages to Uganda, Kenya, Thailand, and other impoverished nations, and sponsoring her own CFF children. Though she would migrate to Save the Children in 1994, her motivation was always the kids.
Shirley Temple Black
When you’re a world-famous movie star by age 5, a married mom at 20, and written off by the industry that loved you best as a ringleted, oh-so-marketable dancing cherub soon after, it’s hard to imagine what the next chapter might be. For Shirley Temple Black, the answer came via another global stage. Shunning show business after she married her second husband Charles Alden Black in 1950, Black ran for Congress in 1967. The bid failed, but she channeled her efforts into fundraising for the Republican party. By 1969, she was part of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations, and in 1974 she was appointed ambassador to Ghana, enraging seasoned diplomats. “I have no trouble being taken seriously as a woman and a diplomat here,” Black told reporters after arriving in Ghana. “My only problems have been with Americans who, in the beginning, refused to believe I had grown up since my movies.” Two years later, deeply respected by her peers, she became chief of protocol of the United States, a position that she would hold until 1977. She served her final ambassadorship in Czechoslovakia from 1989-92. Beyond her civil service, Black served as an early public face for breast cancer patients, discussing her own mastectomy and encouraging women not to “sit home and be afraid” to undergo mammograms.
Eunice Waymon dreamed of being the first black classical pianist and playing Bach at Carnegie Hall. But when she performed at the venue years later, she did so as Nina Simone, the genre-defying High Priestess of Soul who belted out the explosive “Mississippi Goddam” to white audiences. “I stopped singing love songs and started singing protest songs because protest songs were needed,” Simone explained. Unlike the uplifting anthems of the era, her music captured the racial anger that most popular artists were afraid to express. Simone received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award last year — 14 years after her death.
Her recent Golden Globes speech left little doubt that Oprah Winfrey could rule the world. In the meantime, though, Winfrey’s been busy saving it. The Tennessee-raised tough cookie parlayed a troubled, impoverished youth into an iron-clad empathy and drive to succeed, earning her own talk show in 1986 and quickly becoming America’s female Phil Donahue. Displaying Donahue’s devotion to the human condition, but outpacing him in warmth and Everyman curiosity, Winfrey soon overtook Donahue’s ratings and began building an empire. And as her bank account grew, so did her need to do good. Retiring from her talk show in 2011, Winfrey devoted herself to worthwhile projects and causes aiding the African-American community and beyond. By 2012, Winfrey had given $400 million to educational causes alone, including her most high-profile project, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, a leadership school for impoverished but promising girls — girls just like the adolescent Winfrey — that she founded after a chat with Nelson Mandela.
One of the bravest and earliest voices in entertainment’s feminist movement came from another penniless little girl, a coal miner’s daughter who married at 15 and was the mother of four by her 20th birthday. In 1953, Loretta Webb Lynn’s husband Oliver (better known as Dolittle) gave his bride a $17 guitar — and plenty to sing about. Loretta recorded her first single, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” in February 1960, warbling the lyrics, “I’m ashamed and I’m sorry for everything you see, but losing him has made a fool of me.” There ended the pity party. Crafting song after song from her own fitful marriage, Lynn became an outspoken champion of the wronged woman with “Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and “Fist City.” Songs about female sexuality, suppression, and liberation — “Wings Upon Your Horns,” “The Pill,” “One’s on the Way” and “Rated ‘X’” — were shunned by some radio stations but became hits anyway. Lynn addressed the Vietnam War with “Dear Uncle Sam,” a song she penned to give voice to widows of the unpopular war. In 2004, Lynn teamed up with alt-rocker Jack White on the critically acclaimed, deeply personal Van Lear Rose, which introduced her to both a new generation and a new genre of music fans, while still thrilling her longtime devotees. But through it all, Lynn declared herself an observer, a chronicler of the human condition rather than an outright activist, claiming, “I don’t like to talk about things where you’re going to get one side or the other unhappy. … My music has no politics.”
Born to a prominent doctor and a fervent feminist and suffragette, Hepburn was raised to be an unapologetic free thinker. Launching her acting career at Bryn Mawr College, the patrician beauty fearlessly managed her Hollywood career, buying out her RKO Radio Pictures contract after a series of failed films and signing on with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where she was partnered with Spencer Tracy to great on- and offscreen success. Refusing to play the ingénue worked in her favor, earning her 12 Oscar nominations. When she wasn’t working, Hepburn stayed steadfast to her independent nature, preferring casual menswear-inspired attire and maintaining a discreet, 26-year offscreen relationship with the unhappily married Tracy. And though she refused to conform to Hollywood norms rewarding youth, beauty, and a very public persona, Hepburn never lost the public’s support, giving Oscar-winning performances in her 60s and 70s. Following the passing of Tracy and his wife, Hepburn softened her aversion to publicity, giving public interviews and championing feminist causes. The icon died at age 96 in 2003, but her motto has inspired generations of women: “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.”
It’s awfully hard not to like Sally Field. The girl-next-door actress dated sex symbol Burt Reynolds earned an Oscar for her ferocious performance as union organizer Norma Rae, and landed Playboy’s cover without taking off a stitch of her clothes inside. And the diminutive actress is equally fierce offstage. Scoring the 2007 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress for her role in Brothers & Sisters, Field offered a fiery acceptance speech that opined, “If the mothers ruled the world, there would be no goddamn wars in the first place.” Though the press made sure her words reached the public, the statement was censored by FOX. Outside of the spotlight, Field champions women’s rights around the world, serving on the board of Vital Voices, a nonprofit supporting female leaders around the world, since 2002. Mother to openly gay son Sam, Field is also a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights.