While 2016 was marked by outspoken activists and powerful moments of protest and progress in a wide array of arenas, many women used their passion, talent and determination to make their voice heard above the din. Here's a look at 16 women who stirred inspiration and changed the tone of public discourse (in no particular order).
1. Selena Gomez
In an era when stars do everything they can to keep their personal struggles hidden, the "Hands to Myself" singer decided to be open about her anxiety and depression stemming from her battle with lupus, and even took time off from her career to focus on her mental health. Her deeply emotional and impressively honest speech as the American Music Awards in November was the pinnacle of her candidness.
2. Taylor Swift
Between two high-profile break-ups and her feud with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West getting more intense than ever, the "Bad Blood" singer had a difficult year. Nonetheless, she didn't let any setbacks keep her from proving herself to be one of the most successful artists in the world. Swift was named this year's "Highest-Earning Celebrity Under 30" by Forbes magazine with a staggering $170 million, and she made sure her hard work and massive sales spoke louder than any drama.
3. Chrissy Teigen
The Lip Sync Battle host took on all the haters and mommy shamers by doing exactly what she wanted with her daughter Luna, no matter how much B.S. she got from randos on Twitter. From bringing her little girl to a basketball game to listen to husband John Legend's performance to constantly sharing adorable family pics on social media, Teigen lived without fear of shame.
4. Lady Gaga
With her powerful, Oscar-nominated song, "Til It Happens to You," Lady Gaga brought renewed focus to the discussion of sexual assault and consent. In March, Gaga continued to bring attention to the issue when she got matching tattoos with victims of sexual assault, and she later spoke out against people trying to "publicly shame" Kesha during the "We R Who We R" singer's legal battle with Dr. Luke.
5. Ariel Winter
Couldn't be more grateful to @shanelle_gray & @davidbarrygray for throwing me the most amazing graduation party ever last night...the amount of love and support they've shown me for the past four years has been life changing. My sister is my absolute best friend and my everything...❤️ Thank you so much. I couldn't be luckier or more grateful. I was in awe last night and I still am that you guys love me that much to do all of that for me...I never would be where I am today without you two...you guys saved me and taught me to be the person I am today. Dad...I love you!!! Thank you for always being there to support and love me as well and always put a smile on my face no matter what :). I'm so grateful for the bond we now share. Alenah the song you put together with Shanelle and recorded for me was one of the most special gifts I've ever received. I'm still tearing up thinking about it. Thank you for that and for your beautiful, special performance. Also a big thank you so much to Geraldine for putting it all together and to @contemporarycatering @robpauerful for the most amazing food! A special thank you as well to Sharon who is probably the biggest reason I was able to get through high school and accepted into college...you pushed me to always do my best and encouraged me...not to mention you were always there for my 1am freak outs about late projects :) Anddddd thank you SO MUCH to all of my amazing family members and friends that flew in to celebrate with us- you guys are the absolute best. Thank you also to the ones who didn't have to fly in...so much love was felt all around last night. Thank you thank you thank you!!!!!! Class of 2016...❤️ #uclabound
The Modern Family star isn't afraid of showing off her figure and has spoken out candidly about her body-positive philosophy, especially when facing body shamers and haters online. Winter also stood up for herself against critics who slammed her for not hiding her breast reduction scars on the Screen Actors Guild Awards red carpet early this year.
Lemonade. Do we really need to say more?
7. Renee Zellweger
After being the subject of mockery, derision and speculation in recent years regarding her appearance, the Bridget Jones' Baby star opened up about ageism in Hollywood during an interview where she said "the conversation perpetuates the problem." "Why are we talking about how women look? Why do we value beauty over contribution?" she said. "We don't seem to value beauty over contribution for men. It's simply not a conversation."
8. Leslie Jones
The Saturday Night Live player was the victim of malicious hackers who attacked Jones' Twitter account and website, posting hateful, racist comments and leaking nude photos of the comedian. Instead of shying away, Jones tackled the incident head on, addressing it openly and even finding humor in the attack through several sketches on SNL.
9. Michelle Obama
The first lady has been an inspiration for the last eight years, but in her final year in the White House, she's been a source of hope that the country has needed and a paragon of class and decency. As FLOTUS said during the Democratic National Convention in July, "When they go low, we go high."
10. Viola Davis
In December, the How to Get Away With Murder star took home the #SeeHer Award at the Critics' Choice Awards, where Davis boldly and proudly declared that she's reached the point in her career and her life where she gets to be herself. "I truly believe that the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are, and I just recently embraced that at 51," she shared. "I think my strongest power is that at 10 o'clock every Thursday night, I want you to come into my world. I am not going to come into yours. You come into my world and you sit with me, my size, my hue, my age, and you sit and you experience."
11. Laverne Cox
From her groundbreaking role on the legal drama Doubt to her commanding performance in Fox's remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Cox continued to blaze a path for transgender actors in Hollywood.
12. Katie Ledecky
The tone of the coverage at this year's Olympic games in Rio was heavily criticized for some overtly sexist and misogynistic commentary, but the swimming phenom let her unparalleled success speak for itself.
13. Hillary Clinton
The former secretary of state took on her political opponents with a message of solidarity and hope for the future. She stuck to her message of progress and took the high road, even in the face of an unprecedented campaign full of confrontational rhetoric that could have dragged her down into the mud, but she resisted with impressive resolve.
14. Shannen Doherty
This night meant so much to so many people including myself. I'm forever humbled by the stories I heard tonight and the people I met. Thank you to all the amazing volunteers and crew that made this event happen. Thank you to everybody at @su2c who are so dedicated in trying to find a cure and give people with cancer better alternatives. I feel blessed to be a part of the cancer family tonight and to of witnessed such love. #su2c
The Beverly Hills, 90210 alum has been battling breast cancer, but she put her privacy aside to document her struggle and share her hardships in order to spread solidarity with others who are facing their own life-threatening ailments.
15. Shailene Woodley
While many celebs spoke out against the Dakota Access Pipeline, there weren't too many willing to get arrested for trespassing while protesting. The Divergent star took one for the cause and documented her arrest and subsequent legal proceedings on social media to help spread awareness for the cause.
16. Amber Heard
The Rum Diary star was embroiled in a tumultuous divorce battle with her ex-husband, Johnny Depp, during most of 2016, but that didn't stop her from sharing her own experiences with domestic abuse and victimization in a video created for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Towards Women back in November. "As a women having gone through this in the public stage, in the public arena that I did it in, I have a unique opportunity to remind other women that this doesn’t have to be the way it is," Heard shared. "You don't have to do it alone. You're not alone, and we can change this."
- Ariel Winter
- Amber Heard
- Viola Davis
- Taylor Swift
- Shannen Doherty
- Selena Gomez
- Renee Zellweger
- Michelle Obama
- Hillary Clinton
- Chrissy Teigen
- Lady Gaga