Burn survivor Turia Pitt’s Australian Women’s Weekly cover was undoubtedly one of last week’s most exciting stories. In 2011, a brush fire sweeping through the 100k marathon course in which Pitt was running left her with burns over 60 percent of her body. After 100 surgeries, she has not only recovered, but become an inspiration: She’s a published author, she works with the reconstructive surgery organization ReSurge International, and she’s still running marathons. What made her Australian Women’s Weekly cover so momentous, though, is the fact that the magazine itself is a glossy — the kind of publication that almost exclusively features models, actresses, and other professional pretty people who fit societal beauty standards to a T. As Margaret Eby wrote on Hello Giggles:
"Let Pitt be an example to other publishers of women’s magazines: Beauty comes in many vessels. Women need to see less gloss, and more grit. Less mascara, and more accomplishment. More women of color, more women with diverse backgrounds, just more. What if magazines started using women who didn’t look perfect on their covers? What if they started using women with unique faces and incredible back stories? Could we handle it? Yes, yes we could."
Needless to say, the whole thing got us thinking about the kinds of women we’d love to see featured on magazine covers, but rarely do. Obviously there are way more extraordinary ladies out there than the nine we’ve rounded up here — but it’s a place to start. Some of these inspirational women have had covers in the past, but could definitely stand to have a few more; others are the sort that most glossies in a pre-Turia Pitt world probably wouldn’t even consider putting up front and center. But any glossies (or other mags, for that matter) that did give them covers? Let’s just say that we would buy out every copy we could find.
1. Brooke Birmingham
You’ll probably remember Brooke Birmingham from the controversy surrounding Self Magazine that made waves earlier this year: After hearing about the blogger and her amazing 172-pound weight loss, the magazine started planning a story for their website around her… only to cancel it when Birmingham sent in as her “after” photo an image of herself in a bikini, showing off the loose skin at her waist in addition to her figure. Shape backpedaled, eventually inviting Birmingham to participate in an upcoming feature about real women and the journey both during and after weight loss — but why not go a step further and put her on the cover? She’s an inspiration for so many reasons: Her successful efforts to get healthy, her refusal to back down and conform to societal beauty standards, and the graceful way with which she handled the whole thing.
2. Wendy Davis
Wendy Davis needs no introduction. We’ve just hit the one-year anniversary of her historic, 11-hour-long filibuster blocking Senate Bill 5. Although the bill eventually passed in a second round, Davis is still a champion for reproductive and women’s rights. It was both unsurprising and exciting when she announced in October of 2013 that she was planning on running for Governor of Texas in 2014; accordingly, in March this year, she won the Democratic nomination, and in November she’ll face off against Republican nominee Greg Abbott. Our fingers are crossed and our votes ready.
3. Rachelle Friedman Chapman
In 2010, a prank gone wrong at Rachelle Friedman’s bachelorette party changed her life forever: After a friend pushed her into a swimming pool, her head hit the bottom, breaking her neck and paralyzing her from the chest down. “The Paralyzed Bride,” as she became known, would never walk again — but she hasn’t let that stop her from living life to its fullest. She and her fiancé, Chris Chapman, still tied the knot, albeit a little later than they had initially intended; and in spite of the huge adjustments they both have made in the wake of her accident, they remain remarkably positive in their outlook. They’re even planning to start a family via surrogacy.
All of this would be extraordinary enough as it is — but Friedman Chapman has shown herself to be a far stronger and more compassionate person than most of us probably are: She has both stood by the friend who innocently pushed her towards the swimming pool and refused to give up her name. As she put it in the Huffington Post earlier this year, “I mean, you don't go around praising people for making the honorable decision not to rob a bank. It's clearly just something you shouldn't be doing. The decision to keep her name private was just as easy for me to make.”
4. Malala Yousafzai
You're probably already familiar with her, but Malala Yousafzai has done more in 16 years that most of us could do in several lifetimes. She began advocating for women’s rights in Pakistan, especially to education, at an early age; in 2009, she wrote a pseudonymous blog for the BBC describing her life under Taliban rule, and a documentary filmed about her life brought her to prominence in the global sphere. After being shot in the head for her views, she survived and came back stronger than ever, becoming the winner of Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize for her efforts. She was featured on TIME Magazine’s April 29, 2013 cover — and a well-deserved cover it was.
5. Adrianne Haslet-Davis
A victim of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, Adrianne Haslet-Davis lost her left foot — and with it, her life as a ballroom dancer. Or so she thought — because although it looked as though she would never dance again, she has proven that what seems impossible doesn't have to be. It’s been a long and difficult journey, but Haslet-Davis has returned to dancing, determined to bring herself back to the level where she was before the bombing. She has also become an advocate for other amputees. “I know that I’m not inspired by the amputee that’s standing on top of the mountain or the amputee that crossed the finish line,” she told CNN this past April. “I’m inspired by the struggle and the journey it took to get there.”
6. Gabby Douglas
Who doesn’t know Gabby Douglas? She shot to fame during the 2012 Summer Olympics, becoming an inspiration as much for her astonishing skill and talent as for how she handled racist, bullying remarks during the Games (her hair? Really, Internet?) and while training. She shone on the cover of Essence in December of 2012, but I definitely think we could stand to see more of her around. Someone get her another cover, stat!
7. Deborah Cohan
On her CaringBridge page on November 1, 2013, breast cancer patient Deborah Cohan sent out a call for a virtual “Get Me Bodied Flash Mob.” Before she went in for her double mastectomy on November 5, she wrote, she would be boogying down in her hospital gown in the Mt. Zion operating room — and she wanted as many people as possible to join her, wherever they happened to be at any given time. She asked that if participants were able to, they send her a photo or a video; “I have visions of a healing video montage,” she wrote. “Nothing brings me greater joy than catalyzing others to dance, move, be in their bodies. Are you with me people?” Her own video is nothing short of amazing, a beacon of light and positivity during even the most trying of times. It’s catching on, too!
8. Diana Nyad
Diana Nyad is proof that age only limits you as much as you let it. A record-breaking long distance swimmer in her younger years, she thought she had made her last competitive swim in 1979 — only to find herself becoming the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective cave on September 2, 2013 at the age of 64. It was her fifth try, but as she put it to CNN afterwards, “You have a dream 35 years ago — doesn’t come to fruition, but you move on with life. But it’s somewhere back there. Then you turn 60, and your mom just dies, and you’re looking for something. And the dream comes waking out of your imagination.” She’s been on numerous Swimming World covers, but the glossies could stand to recognize her and what she represents, too. Those dreams? Go get ‘em.
9. Katiti Kironde II
Here’s one from the vaults: Yes, Katiti Kironde II is a model, but you know what makes this 1968 issue of Glamour important? It’s the first time an African-American woman was featured on the cover of a national women’s monthly magazine. Kironde later went on to graduate from Harvard and, according to a 2011 interview with the Huffington Post, became a designer in her own right. Awesome? Awesome.