The Women Who Showed Up

With conviction, vision, humor, and guts, these women (and a token man) have given us comfort during COVID.
By Jennifer Ferrise and Alison Syrett Cleary
Oct 12, 2020 @ 9:00 am
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Kamala Harris

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As Joe Biden's vice-presidential running mate, Harris became the first woman of color to be nominated for national office by a major political party. "That I am here tonight is a testament to the dedication of generations before me. Women and men who believed so fiercely in the promise of equality, liberty, and justice for all," she said during her acceptance speech in August. Whatever happens on November 3, #WeHaveHerBack.

Lady Gaga

With kindness as her platform, Gaga has emerged as one of 2020's most empathetic performers. In April she kicked off — and helped plan — the massive livestream concert "One World: Together at Home," which raised nearly $128 million to support the fight against COVID-19. In May she dropped her new album, Chromatica, which gave us all something new to dance to in our living rooms. And in August she took home five trophies at the MTV VMAs while donning a series of eclectic masks — including an out-of-this world face shield paired with a voluminous Area dress worthy of its own moon landing — and preaching the importance of social distancing. All hail the Lady.

Maya Rudolph

Kamala Harris's momentous run for vice president comes with the bonus of watching her comedic doppelgänger, Maya Rudolph, reprise her Emmy-winning performance of the candidate on the newest season of SNL. For Rudolph, who is a Biden-Harris supporter, humor can be a powerful tool when put to good use: Earlier this fall she teamed with up fellow funny lady Amy Poehler to crack jokes with Hillary Clinton and Senator Harris via Zoom, raising more than $6 million in the process.

Naomi Osaka

While crushing the competition at the U.S. Open, Osaka used every single second of court time to bring attention to recent victims of racial injustice and police brutality. For each of her seven matches, she arrived wearing a mask that displayed one of their names: Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile, and Tamir Rice. And after she claimed victory? She took to Twitter to shut down the haters. "All the people that were telling me to 'keep politics out of sports' really inspired me to win," she said. "You better believe I'm gonna try to be on your TV for as long as possible." Game, set, match.

Zendaya

Courtesy Instagram

The 24-year-old star made history this year at the Emmys, becoming the youngest woman to win the coveted best lead actress in a drama award for her captivating performance as Rue on HBO's Euphoria. "There is hope in the young people," said Zendaya in her exuberant acceptance speech, but she also acknowledged that it felt like a "really weird time" to be celebrating. "I just want to say to all of my peers out there doing the work in the streets, I see you, I admire you, and I thank you."

Jodie Turner-Smith

With her bold maternity style and her intimate portraits in quarantine, Turner-Smith turned her joyful, showy, sexy pregnancy into a literal bright spot this year, made even brighter thanks to this goddess Gucci gown she wore at the BAFTAs. "I've never felt more beautiful," she said on Instagram. "And I look forward to showing this to my baby angel years from now."

Rihanna

Between donating $5 million to COVID-19 relief organizations and launching skin care for her beauty line, Fenty, Rihanna has had a very busy eight months in quarantine. But that hasn't stopped the singer and designer from taking the time to share important civil-rights resources (and the occasional lingerie selfie) with her millions of social-media fans.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

The Fleabag creator presented another side of her darkly comedic drama in a filmed version of the show's source material, a one-woman play, made available via streaming in April to raise money for struggling artists and frontline workers. Equally admirable? Co-writing the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die — making her only the second woman to be credited as a writer in the franchise's 25-movie run.

Oprah Winfrey

The media mogul has always graced the front of her namesake magazine. But for the first time in the title's 20-year history, she ceded the all-important September issue cover to pay tribute to Breonna Taylor, the 26-yearold EMT who was tragically shot to death by police in her Louisville, Ky., home in March. "It honors her life and the life of every other Black woman whose life has been taken too soon," said Winfrey of the cover image, which was created by 24-year-old digital artist Alexis Franklin.

Fiona Apple

Her first new album in eight years, Apple's Fetch the Bolt Cutters was all but guaranteed to thrill her hard-core fans when it was released in mid-April. Its raw and deeply personal lyrics, however, couldn't be better suited to the mood of this tumultuous year. Indeed, please do fetch the bolt cutters: We have been in here too long.

Eva Longoria

Courtesy Instagram

Two weeks after Longoria hosted the first night of the Democratic National Convention, the actress and director, along with pal America Ferrera, co-launched She Se Puede, a digital lifestyle community that aims to engage Latinas both leading up to and after the election. "We want to inspire and inform Latinas to let them know not only are you powerful, but think about how you want to use and believe in that power," says Longoria.

Lana Condor

After the president repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the Chinese virus, the 23-year-old actress swiftly took to Twitter calling for Trump to "be better." "It's my duty as an Asian American to speak out about the treatment of members of our community," says Condor, referring to the frightening rise in racist attacks against them. "Donald Trump's insensitive and xenophobic language was used to target us. And I will always stand up for my friends and family against this hate.

Beyonce

Disney

From haunting vocals to feats of athletic dancing, there’s a lot to admire about Beyoncé’s performance in the visual album Black Is King. But nothing stuck in our minds quite like the film’s brilliant display of high fashion. With help from her longtime stylist and creative collaborator Zerina Akers, Beyoncé pulled off more than 100 sumptuous outfits culled from a mix of mega–designer houses (like Balmain and Valentino), costume designers (including original pieces created by Akers), and up-and-coming Black-owned labels (such as Levenity and Loza Maléombho).

Caitlin Reilly

While stuck in quarantine, the comedian needed a new creative outlet. So she took to the Internet to workshop the more outlandish characters rolling around in her brain. "I'm drawn to anything problematic," says Reilly, whose TikTok videos parody some of the most annoying people in your life. "My 'WASP Mom' videos have received the most attention, but the overall response has been shocking. Molly Shannon recently followed me on Instagram, and I damn near burst into tears." Paging Lorne Michaels!

Aurora James, Elaine Welteroth & Selby Drummond

When major brands posted messages of solidarity in the wake of George Floyd's death, something about the sentiments rang hollow to Brother Vellies designer Aurora James. "There seemed to be a lack of accountability for the systemic issues at play," she says. "This is how I came up with the 15 Percent Pledge: a call for retailers to allocate 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses, which will put billions of dollars back into their communities." Together with fellow fashion insiders Elaine Welteroth (an author and former magazine editor in chief) and Selby Drummond (the head of fashion and beauty at Snapchat), she's secured commitments from big box stores like Sephora and West Elm. And the team has no plans to stop anytime soon. "This kind of change doesn't happen overnight — this is a long road, and it will take time to do it right," says Welteroth. "But we are all about celebrating the incremental victories along the way

Raquel Willis

A longtime activist for transgender rights, Willis has always been driven to vocally support the causes she believes in. But she is especially encouraged by all the company she has right now. "Having conversations with other Black trans people who are doing powerful work keeps me motivated," she says. "It makes me hopeful to see more people joining the fight for social justice and liberation every day."

Nia DaCosta, Janicza Bravo & Radha Blank

Get to know the names of these three female directors because you're about to see them flash across the big screen soon. DaCosta will be at the helm of the highly anticipated Captain Marvel 2. Bravo wrote and directed the buzzy Sundance hit Zola, which is based on a viral Twitter thread about a stripper who is led on an ill-fated road trip. And Blank just made her feature film début with The 40-Year-Old Version (out now on Netflix), which she wrote, directed, produced, and starred in, about a struggling playwright who reinvents herself as a rapper.

London Breed, Muriel Bowser, Lori Lightfoot & Keisha Lance Bottoms

In a time of widespread civil unrest and uncertainty, these four mayors — London Breed of San Francisco, Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C., Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, and Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta — showed what it takes to lead with courage and compassion. During CNN's "Mayors Who Matter" town hall, Breed summed it up best. "This is a time for extraordinary leadership in the absence of federal leadership," she said. "Mayors in particular, especially African American mayors, are being called [on] like never before because of what's happening around race in this country."

Katie Holmes

Sebastian Faena/Lens IMG

While we loved how this, ahem, passionate photo from the actress's InStyle cover shoot looked in our April issue, Holmes put it to much better use: as a witty presidential endorsement with the caption "#BidenHarris2020." Fingers crossed, we'll get to see how she reacts to a Biden victory.

Paloma Elsesser

Since her breakout moment as the face of Pat McGrath makeup in 2016, Elsesser has been an advocate for body diversity in the modeling industry. But over the summer her message took on new meaning: "The mechanism to hate your body is a by-product of white supremacy," Elsesser wrote in an Instagram post. "Fatphobia is anti-Black and as we continue to investigate our tastes and ideals, we must always remember that."

Megan Thee Stallion

Whether you love or hate the rapper's racy song "WAP" with Cardi B, her striking new Revlon campaigns and bold candor (with which she addresses everything from police violence to her traumatizing shooting last July) are things to be admired.

Ina Garten

Just when we all needed a stiff drink, the Barefoot Contessa redefined quarantine cocktails on Instagram with her recipe for what might be the world's biggest Cosmo. "It's always cocktail hour in a crisis," says Garten, whose latest cookbook, Modern Comfort Food, was released in October. "And while I know nothing is normal, when we share a drink and some laughs for an hour or two each evening, we can forget how really hard all of this is."

Chelsea Peretti

Peretti's subversive beauty tutorials in quarantine were, well, pieces of art. "I noticed people doing full hair and makeup and model-like poses on Instagram, and it seemed like lunacy to me," says the comic, who also dropped a comedy album, Foam & Flotsam, in April. "I think it's less crazy to smear makeup all over your face than to try to look cute right now."

Tracee Ellis Ross

Ellis Ross may describe her quarantine style as a relatable mix of "lipstick, machine-washable ensembles, bare feet, sweatsuits, and Bantu knots." But all through lockdown, she was dreaming of the day when she could wear zippers, hold clutches, and teeter in heels again. Thankfully, in September, she finally broke free from her sweats for the Emmys (she was nominated for best lead actress in a comedy for Black-ish), staging her own backyard red carpet and slipping into a gilded Alexandre Vauthier gown that was definitely worth the wait.

Sandrine Charles & Lindsay Peoples Wagner

While the publicist and the editor in chief occupy very different sectors of the fashion-sphere, they found commonality as Black women in an industry that has often failed to represent them — and their desire to facilitate change. Enter the Black in Fashion Council, an organization the pair founded last June to help companies move toward greater diversity through data-driven analysis. "The plan is to create a new industry standard," says Charles. "We won't be slowing down anytime soon."

Lizzo

The way we see it, there are two ways to approach this mask-wearing business: as a sweaty, uncomfortable obligation or another opportunity to accessorize. And if ebullient singer Lizzo and her matching "maskini" set are any indication, the latter option is going to make your life far more fun.

Thandie Newton

The Westworld star reflected on her 30-plus-year career in a frank interview with Vulture, where she discussed the sexual abuse she faced on the set of Flirting, the sexism and racism she encountered while auditioning for Charlie's Angels, and the difficulties she had working with powerful men like Tom Cruise on the set of Mission: Impossible 2. Her honesty, she said, was the result of finally recognizing that "knowing the truth and speaking the truth has benefited me a hell of a lot more than being silenced.

Margaret Qualley & Kaitlyn Dever

With a perfectly in-sync Zoom routine to a catchy Del Water Gap song, these actresses and BFFs showed us how a socially distanced dance party is done. "Margaret taught me the choreography over FaceTime, and we shot it separately at home to edit together," says Dever. Other ways the pair are staying connected in quarantine? "Margaret showed up at my house with novelties and alcohol; she had 'In Your Eyes,' by Peter Gabriel, blasting from her car while we waved at each other from a distance."

Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza & Opal Tometi

Ben Baker/Redux

"Our little trio may have started Black Lives Matter, but, clearly, we were not the only ones to believe in it," says Tometi, who along with Cullors and Garza launched the movement in 2013 in response to the death of Trayvon Martin. Over the past year the hashtag has evolved into a worldwide rallying cry seen on homemade signs at marches and protests and even at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., where 35-foot-tall letters spell out "Black Lives Matter" on a section of 16th Street, not far from the White House. The cofounders, meanwhile, were celebrated on the cover of Time's 100 Most Influential People issue for their tireless work. Adds Tometi, "The movement is a testament to the fact that courage is contagious."

Paula Sutton

In an era when our homes have to double as an office, a gym, and a hangout spot, this writer, stylist, and former model agent's palatial estate in the English countryside (which she beautifully documents on her lifestyle site, The Hill House Diaries) is the ultimate source of inspiration. Come for the vintage-filled rooms and lush gardens; stay for the homemade cakes and cute dog.

Dr. Bernice King

Dr. King, a minister and the youngest daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., continues to carry out her father's legacy and peaceful activism through the King Center. "We can't keep doing things like we've been doing it in this nation," she said recently, addressing protesters in Atlanta, her father's hometown. "We've got to deal with systemic racism and white supremacy once and for all. But the only pathway I know to do this is through nonviolent means."

Oumi Janta

With celeb fans like Alicia Keys and Viola Davis singing her praises, Janta brought jam skating, a combination of dance, gymnastics, and roller skating, into the mainstream this year with her mesmerizing Instagram videos. "Even in lockdown, I was able to skate outside alone, and that kept me so motivated because I could still share the culture and the joy of it with people around the world," says the Senegal-born, German-bred skater. "It makes me happy that my videos make people happy."

Julia Louis-Dreyfus

While hosting the final evening of this year's Democratic National Convention, the iconic actress delighted us with whip-smart zingers directed toward the current administration. But we might love her most for the conviction, humor, and pure joy she brings to Instagram, where her posts touch on voting rights, environmental protections, and fresh produce from her garden.

Michelle Obama

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Her new podcast made us smile. Her candid revelation that she's dealing with "low-grade depression" during the quarantine made us feel seen. And her rousing 18-minute keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention (not to mention her now viral "Vote" necklace) made us wish she were still living on Pennsylvania Avenue. "If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don't make a change in this election," she said. "If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it."

Martha Stewart

Turns out Stewart's glam pool selfie that practically broke the Internet this summer (and inspired us all to take a socially distanced dip) was a happy accident. "I was taking a picture of a hydrangea as I came out of the pool, and the camera was on selfie mode," she says. "I looked good, so I snapped a picture — and the rest is history!"

Pramila Jayapal & Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Getty, Shutterstock

During a congressional hearing in July, Rep. Jayapal sent social media into a frenzy when she delivered a fiery dressing-down of Attorney General William Barr over his aggressive treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez also drew praise for her candid rebuke of sexism on the House floor and for her passionate Instagram Live tribute to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the evening of her passing. "This moment is not the time for despair. It is not the time for cynicism. It is not the time to give up," said Ocasio-Cortez in a hopeful call to action that has since been viewed almost five million times.

Julianne Moore

With an Insta-following of nearly two million, the actress (and leading lady in the new Gloria Steinem biopic, The Glorias) understands the power of her platform to educate others on the issues she cares about most: gun control, equal rights, and the importance of hitting the polls this fall. And if she wants to sprinkle in videos of her adorable pup, Milly, along the way, we're not going to not watch.

Elizabeth von der Goltz

This higher-up from Net-a-Porter has joined forces with some of the most powerful executives in fashion to found RAISE Fashion, a network of professionals offering tactical advice to Black creatives and entrepreneurs — all completely pro bono.

Michaela Coel

Equal parts hilarious and heart-wrenching, the actress's HBO hit, I May Destroy You — which she wrote, co-directed, produced, and stars in — has established her as a quadruple threat. But Coel's most admirable achievement might be her candid exploration of consent in the series, which draws directly from her own experience with sexual assault.

Zoe Kravitz

The actress has kept us well distracted in 2020 with her critically lauded performance as the heartbroken record-store owner Rob in Hulu's remake of High Fidelity and with her impossibly cool new way to wear tennis skirts. The secret? Pair them with slouchy graphic T-shirts and mary-jane flats.

Sarah Cooper

Jeff Palm

"Trump gives me so much material that it's hard to keep up," says Cooper, whose parodies of the president have racked up millions of views on Twitter, TikTok, and beyond. Since her first video went viral in April, she's gained scores of A-list followers (including Cher, who called her "amazingly talented"); guest-hosted Jimmy Kimmel Live!; and landed a Netflix comedy special, Sarah Cooper: Everything's Fine, directed by Natasha Lyonne and produced by Maya Rudolph (who knows a thing or two about impersonating a political figure).

Kerry Washington

In the midst of a continuously vicious news cycle, the actress's mood-lifting posts to the grid (serene yoga poses and endearingly dorky "dad jokes") have proved to be the palate cleansers we never knew we needed.

The Shenanigan Twins

TikTok stars Brittni Taylor and Yadinma Nwaiwu have just the prescription for your chronic bad mood: Phucumol (say it out loud: fuh-come-all), or at least the hysterical parody video they created to explain the fake drug's anxiety-lifting benefits. "Looking at what's going on in our world, we realized that everyone needs to try Phucumol," they say. "We are now distributing a regular dose on our different social-media platforms.

Daisy Edgar-Jones & Shira Haas

Becoming famous is a strange experience under any circumstance, but it's been uniquely weird for these breakout stars, whose respective hit shows, Normal People and Unorthodox, débuted right after the COVID-related closures began. "I remember walking out on my balcony just a few days after Unorthodox came out and seeing my face pop up on screens in the buildings around me," remembers Haas, whose DMs were soon flooded by fans watching in lockdown. "Maybe people felt safer speaking with me virtually than face-to-face, but they were so open about how the show and my role affected them." It's been an equally surreal experience for Edgar-Jones, particularly as the restrictions loosened and she returned to public life. "The few times I've been out, I've had lovely interactions with people who've watched the show," she says. "But the idea that strangers know my face and name is still something I'm getting used to."

Keke Palmer

Getty

With her boundless energy and optimistic spirit, Palmer made hosting the live MTV VMAs in the middle of a pandemic look like a breeze (though we're certain her five-plus outfit changes weren't so simple). She stole the show not only with a performance of her latest single, "Snack," but also with her ability to connect in the tough moments too, like honoring late actor Chadwick Boseman and paying homage to the thousands of brave health-care workers still fighting on the front lines.

Megan Rapinoe & Sue Bird

When the summer Olympics were postponed because of COVID-19, soccer pro Megan Rapinoe and her partner, WNBA superstar Sue Bird, didn't sit home and sulk. Instead, they took the time they would've spent training and created a wildly entertaining Instagram Live show and podcast, "A Touch More," from the comfort of their own couch, giving all the proceeds to the organization Hunger: Not Impossible. With wide-ranging interviews that included everyone from Joe Biden to celebrity hairstylist Riawna Capri to Miami Heat baller Jimmy Butler, Rapinoe and Bird proved (once again) that they are forces to be reckoned with.

Joan Smalls

The supermodel emotionally took to social media last spring to share her experience with race-related discrimination on the job and to implore fashion labels and media to join her in making impactful change. And she's taking the first step: She has promised to donate 50 percent of her earnings to Black Lives Matter organizations through the remainder of the calendar year.

Karla Welch

"Activism is a party that everyone is invited to," says the Hollywood stylist and designer, who has consistently used her social-media accounts to speak out on everything from corrupt politics to the importance of masks. But for Welch, the need for more sustainable industry practices in fashion is a cause that's particularly close to her heart. "Big conglomerates need to commit to less production, living wages, and regenerative farming," she insists. "We need a course correction that sets an example."

Cynthia Erivo

When she wasn't giving us a peek at her impressive sneaker collection on Instagram, Erivo was lifting all our spirits with her soaring covers of soulful songs like "Someday We'll All Be Free," "Imagine," and "Somewhere over the Rainbow." "After George [Floyd], after Breonna [Taylor], I was, like, deeply sad. I couldn't really shift the feeling," she says. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice if I could use this platform to spark joy?' If anything, that's my job."

Jordan Firstman

"Comedy is both a reflection of the times and of the self," says the comedian, who made a name for himself in quarantine by posting impressions inspired by various aspects of life during the plague. "And right now we've been forced to look at culture and ourselves in a bigger way than ever before." On the upside, this means Firstman has no shortage of content. "I often get ideas in therapy," he admits. "Then I make my therapist stop talking so I can write them down.

For more stories like this, pick up the September issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Oct. 23.