Aside from my mom and sisters (whom I naturally spent a lot of time with growing up, and learned a lot from), as well as my friends, there were a few women I have only met through the TV screen or in the pages of books who come to mind when I think of the women (and girls) who made a big impact on my childhood and the way I began to see the world.
I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that watching Tara Lipinski win the gold in 1998 was one of the most exciting moments of my childhood. She was fifteen! Her performance was not only flawless, but she skated with so much maturity and joy. I still watch her winning performance on youtube on a regular basis and get goosebumps every time.
Shannon Miller (and the entire 1996 US Gymnastics Olympic team)
My siblings and I were enamored by these girls. Shannon Miller is an Oklahoman, so that made cheering her on even more personal. We adored Dominque Moceanu, the adorable runt of the team. My youngest sister nicknamed her”Cutie Pie”. And Kerri Strug performing the vault with her injured ankle?! I will always remember it.
Our living room was turned into a gymnastic arena for weeks after the summer Olympics. The couch became the vault, a panel of the wooden floor became the balance beam, and the living room rug was reserved for our floor routines. While our desire to become Olympic gymnasts ebbed and flowed with the years leading to and from each Olympics, our appreciation and love for the sport cannot be shaken.
“By the Grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc.”, Elizabeth ruled from 1558-1603 and ascended to the throne at the ripe old age of 25. I have been fascinated by Elizabeth’s life since I first learned who she was: she had a father who neglected her, a mother who was beheaded by her father and a sister who wished her dead, and yet she was one of the greatest monarchs in English history. The thing about monarchs that sucks me in is that they did not choose their life. They have to do a good job or else their lives are summarized in a few unflattering paragraphs in our history books for the rest of time. Talk about learning to deal with pressure.
The youngest daughter of the last Czar of Russia. I have a very vivid picture of Anastasia’s life in my mind. I used to stare at pictures of her and her family for hours and imagine what it would be like to die with your family at the age of 17. The beginning of her life was a fairy tale, and ended so tragically. I was utterly captivated by this girl who seemed so relatable and funny and sweet, who died by such brutal hands. Subsequently, I became obsessed with Russia in general.
Sure, she is fictional, but she read all the time and lived in France. She was also possibly the only woman of the 90s telling us “that a thing must be loved before it is lovable” (G.K. Chesterton). Beauty and the Beast is also the first movie I remember seeing in theaters! Belle will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Corrie ten Boom
Reading The Hiding Place as a child opened my eyes to a world I could not fathom. Corrie’s faith and courage (and that of her entire family), in hiding Jews in their home during the Holocaust, and the story of her arrest and detention, and ability to forgive those who performed such cruelties against her and those she loved–gave me hope that if I were to ever be so tested, I could survive with courage as well.
Laura Ingalls Wilder (and sisters)
When you were younger, did you “claim” characters on TV for yourself? For the duration of the show or movie, everything your character experienced was your personal good fortune, and those around you were automatically obligated to acknowledge your vicarious accomplishments, and maybe even be a little bit jealous.
The Ingalls girls, of Little House on the Prairie, were easy because there were three of them, just like my sisters and me. So I was Mary, Julie was Laura, and Sally was Carrie, with no arguing or negotiating to get to that arrangement.
Unfortunately for me, I become blind. But at least I am the oldest.
As I mentioned recently, Shirley Temple played a huge role in shaping my early years: my sisters and I obsessively watched all of her movies over and over (our poor brother), and learned and performed all of her songs for our family. I can still hear my brother yelling “Heeeeeidi!! Heidi!” in a gruff old-man voice.
Of course Anne made the list. I won’t bore you with my repetitious words of love for my favorite literary character. Anne was smart, imaginative, brave and an aspiring writer. Everything I ever wanted to be.
So who is on your list? Any of these?