Women We Love: 8 Women Doing Extraordinary Things
Meet 8 women who are doing extraordinary things with their lives and—whether shattering glass ceilings or inspiring others—they’re making the world a better place. Here we share the reasons we chose them as well as some other noteworthy and interesting tidbits.
Bethany Ashton Wolf
Dogged Dream Pursuer
*As a thriving film screenwriter and producer for 10 years, the soft-spoken, petite beauty longed to direct full-length feature films. But every time Bethany got up to bat, she was turned down. “I don’t fit the mold of what Hollywood expects from a director.” Many people told her to give up and just be thankful for her success on the indie circuit. “But I refused to pick up the ball and go home.” And it’s a good thing. In early 2018, Forever My Girl, which she wrote the screenplay for and directs, will be distributed by Roadside Attractions, which was also behind the Oscar-winning movie, Manchester by the Sea.
*She fell in love with her husband of 13 years, comedian Josh Wolf, on their first date—despite its rather unconventional nature. Josh was a single dad of three at the time. “He called me that day and said his sitter had cancelled. Would I want to just come over and hang out? He opened the door that night and we passed each sleeping child on the way to the den. We both fell in love with each other at that exact moment.”
*She is doing it her way. Advised it might help her career if she “acted more like a director,” she refused. “Look I’m not Penny Marshall. I’m not Nora Ephron. I think both made terrific movies and I admire both. But I do it differently.”
“There are two things in my life that make my heart beat. The first one is my children and husband, and the second thing is writing and directing. Truly, I know that both of those things in my life are what I was put on this earth to do.”
On Being at the Helm
“There is nothing more rewarding for me as a director than to help an actor through something personal by working through it artistically on set.” Integral to that process is exhibiting kindness and creating an environment which nurtures and supports actors. “That, in fact, is the secret.”
Iconic Brand Trailblazer
*It isn’t just that she was named the first woman publisher in Variety’s more than 100-year history. It is her viewpoint on it: “When my promotion was announced, it mentioned that I was the first woman in Variety’s history to hold the publisher title. The significance of that did not sink in immediately. As time passed, I had many women reach out to me, but I was surprised by the number of students preparing to start their careers who sought my advice. I then began to really take pride in the milestone it represented.”
*She’s been with the same company for 20 years and still has the same enthusiasm that she had as a junior sales executive. “I have great affinity for the talent in this business, but the best parts of my job are collaborating with an outstanding team and meeting with the brilliant marketers, managers and publicists. I loved my job when I started back in ’97 and I still love it. For me, it’s all been a dream job—regardless of title.”
*She is a team player and is quick to share credit. After an ownership change and a couple of reorganizations, the brand faltered for a period. But for the past five years, under Michelle’s guidance, Variety’s profits have grown. “I have a great boss and a terrific team. It is a collaborative effort.”
She has a demanding career (managing some 40 employees) and two kids (8 and 10 years old), and she seems to carry it off effortlessly. “It is tough to stay in front of all the challenges. The key for me is to be as organized as possible. My husband is really supportive and that helps. And every moment I’m not working, I’m with them.”
*Michelle has helped expand the brand with new revenue streams, including consumer events and leadership summits. “The business is constantly evolving. I am excited to continue growing Variety across products. There is room for acquisitions to help drive scale and push into new markets.”
Glass Ceiling Shatterer
*She has a producer credit on some of our favorite movies including Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated. They make us laugh; they make us cry; they make us want to redecorate our homes like the ones we see on the big screen.
*After working with her mentor, Nancy Meyers, for some 20 years (Suzanne started out as her assistant on The Parent Trap.), she formed her own production company in her 40s—a time when Hollywood is showing most women the door.
*While many female showbiz execs wear their tresses long and blown-out, she sports a chic, no-fuss-no-muss “boy cut.” And she has the smarts to know that it looks really, really good on her.
“I would say my kids—raising two great kids who are good people.” (Her daughter Kate, a “VB Top Teen” featured in the April issue, just headed to college. Son Jack is an elementary school student in Encino.)
With Resonate Entertainment (that she owns and operates with two partners), Suzanne aims to make movies for the female audience. “I want to make films that I want to see. Look at the movies this past summer—nearly all of them were made for a male audience. The studios have all but abandoned the ‘people movies’ in favor of big budget action and superhero films. Women are starved for the kinds of stories they want to see on the big screen. When you make an even moderately good movie for women or girls, they show up. The fact that Hollywood continues to ignore the huge financial opportunity in this underserved audience is baffling to me,” she explains. Resonate will begin filming the dramatic comedy Give or Take in 2018. Suzanne will direct for the first time. And we will be watching.
*Born in North Hollywood and raised in Westlake Village, the 23-year-old performs in indie-pop duo XYLØ, with her older brother, Chase. The duo burst on the music scene this year doing a nationwide tour with The Naked and Famous and producing the vocals for the Chainsmokers’ hit “Setting Fires.” The pair quickly became an internet sensation and snagged a record deal.
*Though she is a self-described nonconformist, Paige recognizes when it’s time to bend. “I’ve never really been into school to be honest. I’m the type that needs to just go and experience things in the real world. Growing up as a girl, I never really cared what people thought, and I sort of had a big mouth. I spoke my mind even when it wasn’t appropriate, but that’s changed as I’ve matured. Some things are better left unsaid!”
*She remembers her roots. She was raised in a musical family; her grandfather was a drummer and her two uncles were in the popular ‘80s rock band TOTO. “I grew up living next door to my grandparents, and when I was a senior in high school, I actually lived with them. So anytime I would practice piano, my grandpa would be standing over my shoulder making sure I was playing in time! I definitely wouldn’t be pursuing music if it wasn’t for my family’s influence.”
*She considers herself a feminist and participated in the women’s march in downtown LA. “I think feminism just means equality in my eyes, and that’s something we need to fight for every day, not only for ourselves but for people who may not have as many opportunities as we do.”
In XYLØ’s song “America,” Paige expresses frustration at laws that could keep her apart from her British boyfriend. “I don’t think you need to write about every aspect of your life, but it’s really therapeutic when you talk about real stuff. Lee and I were just falling in love when that song was written, so it was amazing how it turned out the way it did. It was really hard trying to figure out at 19 how your boyfriend was going to be able to stay with you when you’re from two different worlds.”
This fall XYLØ embarks on a tour through the U.S. and Canada. Signed by the Disruptor label on Sony, she and Chase are working on their first album, which is slated for release next year.
*She works with media makers, marketers and influencers to ensure their messages to girls and women are responsible. As a consultant to global brands like Dove and Mattel, she is helping to change the way we think about physical beauty.
*She is incredibly insightful on things we all strive for and sometimes get frustrated by, like confidence and self-esteem. She teaches us that having things not work out and having to switch gears is not about failure; it is simply part of life. As a noted speaker (Yes, she’s done a Ted talk.), best-selling author and podcast host (Talk to Jess), her wise voice takes authenticity to a new level.
*She totally owns herself—right down to her decision, with husband, Felipe , not to have children. “I love kids, but I figured I could be more powerful in this world helping other people with their children than having my own.”
Jess stresses that true confidence is not about perfection or beauty. “We need to change the way we talk about confidence. You get confidence through self-discovery. It’s a process and it takes time.”
“I’m most proud of creating two cultural change moments on a significant scale. In 2006, Dove launched a national and global conversation around beauty standards . And 10 years later, I helped change an iconic brand like Barbie and her aesthetic. We got to challenge the idea of beauty by offering four different body types, seven different skin tones and 24 types of hair. I look at those two things—Dove and Mattel—and it really makes me proud, because I know it’s had an impact for women and girls.
Best Selling Author
*She kept a secret for 38 years and then dug deep and shared it in her compelling memoir, Look at You Now. The book tells the story of how, at 17, Liz got pregnant and was sent away to have the baby at a home for wayward girls. Her parents told friends and family that she was hospitalized for an illness. She gave the baby up for adoption.
*In her mid-40s, after being a stay-home mom, she got divorced and suddenly became the sole supporter of three kids. Liz tapped her talent for writing and got her first book published (What Did I Do Wrong?). Then from among 15,000 applicants, she snagged a “game-changing” gig as advice guru for Good Morning America.
*She is crazy comfortable in her own skin. Spend an hour with her, and she makes you wish you could own and like yourself half as much as she does.
“Nothing compares to the pride I feel in my three kids. My youngest just turned 18. They aren’t an accomplishment of course, but they are the purpose, inspiration and meaning behind everything I do. The feeling of knowing they are out in the world with a true sense of who they are and tackling life with strength and hope … it doesn’t get better than that.”
Liz recently finished writing the pilot for a limited TV series of Look at You Now (Random House). She has also signed on to executive produce and co-write. And there is another book in the works. But for Liz, the possibilities are endless. “Honestly every year for the past four, I have ended up doing something I had no idea was going to happen. So who knows? I try to remain open and hopeful.”
Bona Fide Badass
*At 30 years old, she is one of the boxing industry’s youngest female executives, repping 250 fighters, including legendary tough guy Floyd Mayweather.
*She is VP of Operations for her family’s boxing promotion company, TGB Promotions, based in Studio City. Her dad, Tom Brown, is CEO, “but he knows who the real boss is.”
*Nicknamed by her clients “The Tough B” (“B” apparently does not stand for Brittany), she can go from boardroom to the boxing ring in full, perfectly applied makeup, commanding equal respect at both locales.
She works with boxers, who can in her words, “be … generally speaking … a challenge.” Her secret? “I’m very direct and I don’t take any lies. Plus–from making sure checks are cut to handling press conferences to sitting ringside—I take care of everything that has to do with the business side. My fighters know that with me on board, they are being treated fairly.”
Both sides of Brittany’s family were in the boxing business. (Her mother’s side—the Goosens—ran a boxing training center in Van Nuys.) After graduating from CSUN, she worked for a cosmetics company until her mom started pushing for her to join her father in the family business. “At first I resisted; I was really into the cosmetics company. But my uncle, who worked with my dad, had died, and he really needed some help. It just seemed right, and now I couldn’t be happier with my choice.”
*As a dancer on Dancing with the Stars for 22 seasons, she was known as something of a drill sergeant, but in real life she is not so tough. “With the TV packages that got aired on the show, it was really hard for people to get a sense of who I am. I’m actually really sweet and I have a great sense of humor,” she shares at Karina Smirnoff Dance at The Village at Westfield Topanga. Her parents live a stone’s throw away and both help her run the studio, which offers classes for kids and adults.
*At the age of 14, she moved here from the Ukraine—not speaking a word of English—and despite some hardships, she flourished. “It was culture shock. We started from ground zero. My parents slept on the floor. But I had big dreams even then. America gives you the opportunity to succeed. And I’m so grateful.”
*The 39-year-old isn’t fazed by turning 40. “I feel better today than I felt 10 or even 20 years ago. Dancing is the fountain of youth. No sleep—that’s the fountain of aging.”
The Apple of Her Eye
Her immediate family includes two terriers. “Randy and Oscar are not dogs. They are humans!” she quips. Randy is named after Randy Couture and Oscar is named after Oscar De La Hoya—both of whom are former DWTS partners.
The dancer is busy promoting her new beauty line—The Karina Collection by LASplash Cosmetics—designed with enough staying power to last through any one of her rigorous performances. It includes a smudge-proof mascara, waterproof eyeliner pen and matte lipstick. She also continues traveling the world to compete professionally. What she truly hopes is next, though, is a family. “I really want to have kids. It is the only thing that is missing in my life.”
A creative lair, indeed.