Q&A with Kristi Yamaguchi, Olympic figure skating champion


Melissa Seymour: Hi, Kristi! Thanks for speaking with us today. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Kristi Yamaguchi: I’m an Olympic Gold medalist in figure skating and mom of two daughters, ages eight and ten. I’m also the founder of the Always Dream Foundation, and Tsu.ya by Kristi Yamaguchi active wear. I am also the author of two children’s books called Dream Big Little Pig! and It’s a Big World Little Pig!

MS: Could you tell us about the 1992 Olympics? What was it like discovering that you won? Can you remember the moment or how you were feeling throughout your routine?

KY: It was an incredible honor to represent our country at the Olympics. My coach Christy Ness and I were backstage when we heard the news and we pretty much just screamed with elation. Every emotion imaginable went through my mind.

MS: Why did you decide to create the Always Dream Foundation?

KY: I worked closely with the Make A Wish Foundation after the Olympics. I love working with the kids and their families and realized that I could make a difference. That inspired me to start Always Dream. To make a positive impact in the lives of children.

MS: You’re an Olympic Champion, author, artist, mom, philanthropist, and now you have your own clothing collection! Do you have any advice for those trying to juggle many passions?

KY: It’s tough to juggle. My advice is to figure out what your priorities are and go from there. I keep my family in #1 and let everything filter down from there. And make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. I do that sometimes and that’s when it gets stressful.

MS: We would love to hear about your 2014 Fall/Winter TsuYa Collection. What was your inspiration behind this collection?

KY: Soft, warm, and comfortable were inspirations. Our colors are a teal, a deep pink (sterling), heather grey, black and white. Along with some intricate functional active pieces we have some cute cozy layering pieces. We are proud that Tsu.ya is a product with purpose with a portion of proceeds going to support the work of the Always Dream Foundation. http://Www.tsuyabrand.com and http://www.always dream.org.

MS: What’s your favorite piece in this year’s collection? Why?

KY: It’s hard to pick just one. I’d probably go with our Mica jacket in French terry. It’s moto inspired and adds some edge to the collection.

MS: Who is your hero?

KY: My mom is my hero. She’s selfless and giving and always thinking of others. An amazing mom for me to aim to be like.

Thank you so much, Kristi!


For more information, check out Kristi’s website here: http://kristiyamaguchi.com/

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Q&A with Kathrine Switzer, first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon


Melissa Seymour: Hi Kathrine! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Kathrine Switzer: While I was never a ‘professional’ athlete, it is running that shaped my life and is still a kind of hub of my life.  From that has come a profound determination and activism to empower women everywhere and help them achieve equal status in society. Running helps do that, or at least realize many inequities. I mostly earn my living as a speaker and also a TV commentator, but I am asked every day for my opinions; this questionnaire is another example. I am a journalist by training and by passion; next to running (and my husband!) I love to write and find that the most fulfilling thing for me. I have authored 4 books –‘Running and Walking for Women Over 40’ (2 editions, first in 1998; 2nd a re-vamped and updated E-book version launched last week), my memoir ‘Marathon Woman’ and co-authored with my husband Roger Robinson, ’26.2 Marathon Stories’.

MS: What was it like running the 1967 Boston Marathon? 

KS: I discovered early that running always made me feel powerful, free and fearless. The longer I ran, the stronger I felt so the 26.2-mile distance intrigued me. The Boston Marathon, which was founded in 1897, was the most famous race in the world to me next to the Olympics. Yet unlike the Olympics, it was supposedly open to anyone who wanted to try to run. So, of course, it was a frightening experience when the race director attacked me in the race and tried to rip off my bib numbers.  He was furious that I was a woman who had entered what he claimed was a men’s only race. The above photos of him assaulting me are in Time-Life’s book, “100 Photos That Changed the World.”

MS: How did that moment change your life?

KS: In short, it changed my life completely—and it therefore changed millions of women’s lives around the world.  It gave me a sense of vision, even radicalized me, and gave me a life plan.  Running a marathon always changes your life, but this was a particularly massive change.

MS: What was it like being featured in the documentary The Makers

KS: Overwhelming. First to be in such legendary company.  And also because I had no idea that they would use so much of my interview and that I would open the whole show.  But what happened to me in the Boston Marathon was a dramatic example of an ‘awakening’, and the first part of that Makers documentary was about how we see things often for the first time, when a moment of total clarity flashes on like a light.  Makers was important to me; it took my story to many thousands of people.

MS: What’s a motto you live by?

KS: Be Fearless. Be Free. Be grateful.

MS: Could you tell us a little bit about your new book? Why did you decide to write it?

KS: It’s an updated version of my first book, ‘Running and Walking for Women Over 40,’ which sold well  and continues to sell, but now is 17 years old.  So an updated version was important and it was also important to do this as an E-book, with so many millions of women entering running at 40, 50, 60 and even 75 years of age, they are needing current advice.  We’re into whole new generations. It is phenomenal seeing these women run and walk—some for the first time, some who are just getting older.  They are changing their lives and living so well and happily.   They inspire me!  Older women love E-books as they can enlarge the type. I loved this edition as I put in a lot of photos of women who just did the impossible after age 40, and it is cool to see their photos, as well.

MS: What advice do you have for other women going into careers/sports made up primarily of men?  

KS: That if you are personally fit and prepared yourself, you will have a sense of empowerment that nobody can take away from you.  And when you feel this way, you can meet men on equal and friendly terms and work well as a team, and not be intimidated.  Most people, men too, are perfectly companionable when you are not defensive and know your stuff.

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

KS: All those women out there who finally give themselves permission to take time for themselves to do what they really want, and that includes getting fit, losing weight, getting an education, going for it in the job market and overcoming their own self-doubts and fears. As I say in my book:   “Sometimes our greatest acts of courage are when we take the first steps for ourselves.”

Check out Kathrine’s new book Running and Walking for Women Over 40 here: http://diversionbooks.com/ebooks/running-and-walking-women-over-40

Q&A with Dr. Meenakshi Gigi Durham: Author of the Lolita Effect


Melissa Seymour: Hello, Dr. Meenakshi Gigi Durham! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Dr. Meenakshi Gigi Durham: I’m a professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Iowa; my research specialization is feminist media studies, and I study and write about representations of gender and sexuality in the media.

MS: Why did you write the Lolita Effect? When did you become aware of these problems? Was there a specific moment?

MGD: I wrote the book for a few reasons: to draw attention to the issue of the sexualization of young girls in the media and the social repercussions of that phenomenon; to make a distinction between “sexualization” and more progressive, open, healthy conceptions of girls’ sexuality; and to translate my research and that of other feminist scholars into a form that was accessible and available to general audiences. I’m not sure I can identify a key moment when I became aware of the issue – it developed gradually, especially during the mid-1990s, when a number of studies were recognizing some of the complications and problems associated with girls’ adolescence in American culture. I began to wonder how the media were implicated in these problems.

MS: What’s the most important thing a parent can explain to their children about the media?

MGD: First of all, that the media, especially the entertainment media, are filled with myths — media images and messages are not “reality” but constructions that seem real, so they should be recognized as something close to fiction; and second, that these constructions of reality are tied to profit motives, so the representations are designed to maximize advertising revenues for the media industries and are not at all in the best interests of the audience members.

MS: Do you think that the media is changing? For better or for worse?

MGD: I can’t say I see any great changes, as the underlying structures — the dependence on advertising, the commercial motivations, the circulation of myths of femininity and sexuality — have stayed the same for decades now. But if anything, it’s getting worse: the media industries are targeting younger and younger children with sexualized and retrograde messages, and the constructions of “ideal” femininity have become even more unattainable and narrowly defined.

MS: Should we try to censor children from the media? Is this possible?

MGD: I’m absolutely not an advocate of censorship. I am much more in favor of open public discussions of important issues that could lead to pro-social change. But some form of regulation might be helpful; this is the case in Scandinavian countries, which are havens for free speech but which also recognize the developmental differences between children and adults.

MS: What are you planning to work on in the future?

MGD: I’m currently writing a couple of academic articles about sexual violence against women and girls. After that, I’m hoping to begin work on a book of essays about media and contemporary girlhood.

MS: How can people take action and try to change the media or advertisements?

MGD: Expressing your views directly to media corporations can be effective. Monitoring your media environment, as well as your child’s, to try to avoid misogynist and harmful media content is another step you can take. Boycotting products that use sexist advertising, and publicizing the boycott, is a good way to challenge sexism in popular culture. I’m also an advocate of media literacy programs that help people develop analytical skills so that they can be active media consumers rather than passive audiences.  I think media literacy should be part of every K-12 curriculum: in today’s media-saturated environment, it’s as important as reading, writing and arithmetic.

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

MGD: That’s a really hard one! There are so many amazing women — and men — whose activism and brilliant social critiques have changed the world. If I started listing them, it would take all day! But my work is indebted to the work of all the feminists who have gone before me.

MS: Do you have any advice for young women that are hoping to become writers, directors, producers or activists?

MGD: I’d say, let your passion guide and inspire you, and find ways to combine your energy and emotion with articulate analysis. Forge strong bonds with others who are working to change the world — coalitions and networks are important, not only in terms of making a difference, but in terms of emotional and moral support. Read the work of feminist activists whose insights offer depths of understanding as we try to tackle the world’s problems; the brilliance of our feminist foremothers will enrich your own work.  Get involved with grassroots groups in your communities, and start creating the work through which you want to share your vision: short films, essays, plays, dance performances, whatever. These days you can post your videos to Youtube or blog or submit your writing to local literary journals; eventually, you will gain a wider audience. Above all, keep striving for change — there’s so much to be done!

photo credit: Overlook Press

Q&A with Jennifer Siebel Newsom: Director of Miss Representation


Melissa Seymour: Hi, Jennifer! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom: I’m the writer, director and producer of Miss Representation, a 2011 documentary that challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman or girl to feel powerful herself. In conjunction with the release of Miss Representation the film, I launched MissRepresentation.org, an organization being renamed this fall to The Representation Project. I continue to write, direct and produce documentaries while also running The Representation Project.

MS: What is the long-term goal for Miss Representation?

JSN: Our mission is to transform culture so that everyone, regardless of gender, race, class, age or circumstance can fulfill his or her potential.

MS: Do you think it’s important for women to reach out to one another and mentor each other?  Did you ever have a mentor in your field?

JSN: Miss Representation actually wouldn’t have been possible without the help of many female friends mentors and a few good men. The eventual film was the result of a lot of hard work, passion, and collaboration. I hope that it stands as a testament to what a small group of committed individuals can accomplish together – a testament to the power of the collective.

Early on I approached my friend Regina Kulik Scully with the concept for the film and she really encouraged me to move forward with production. She came on as an early executive producer and trusted me completely. I am so grateful for her friendship as I am to my film team’s hard work, support, and belief in me. The film is filled with the stories of inspiring females who prove, over and over again, that our potential is really unlimited – especially when we support each other and work together. Many of our interviews from Miss Representation remain friends, supporters, and role models to me and the org.

MS: How does having experience as an actress affect how you view the media?

JSN: As an actress I witnessed the injustice towards women in the media first-hand. It’s not just in front of the camera that we see these demeaning images and stereotypes, but the treatment of women behind the scene is just as limiting.

There are so few opportunities for women to excel as writers, directors, and producers in Hollywood – the influencers of which stories get made. Wanting to change this culture was a big motivation for Miss Representation and remains a goal of the organization.

MS: You’ve mentioned that when you were acting, people treated you differently due to your degrees from Stanford University and Stanford Business School. Could you expand on this?

JSN: My first agent didn’t take me seriously and went so far as to request that I take my Stanford MBA of my resume – he didn’t want me to seem too threatening. Ironic that he had no problems diminishing me however.

MS: What are you planning to work on in the future?

JSN: I’m currently writing, directing, and producing The Mask You Live In (MASK) and The Great American Lie, documentaries that explore American masculinity and the social, political, and economic consequences of a society that values dominance, power, control, and aggression over empathy, care and collaboration. MASK itself explores “the boy crisis” in America that results from extremes of masculinity imposed on our boys and men.  Both films examine the intersection of gender, race, class, and circumstance, and how kids are further influenced by our education system, sports culture, and mass media– especially violent video games and pornography.

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

JSN: Martin Luther King Jr., Hillary Clinton, and my husband, Gavin Newsom.

MS: Do you have any advice for young women that are hoping to become actresses, directors, producers, or writers?

JSN: The most important thing is to be passionate about whatever you do and be true to your authentic self.  Find that thing that you love that you also happen to be good at and don’t look for outside affirmation. Most importantly, don’t leave your values and morals at the door.

Q&A with Brenda Chapman: Director of the Pixar film Brave


Melissa Seymour: Hi, Brenda! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Brenda Chapman: I’m a mother, writer, director, artist and storyteller.

MS: What was it like co-directing the Pixar film Brave?

BC: Well, first, I didn’t co-direct. I was sole director of the film until I was replaced in the 11th hour. Sorry, it’s a bit of a sticking point for me. 🙂

MS: What challenges did you face?

BC: Well the big one is my answer above. I faced the challenges that most directors face – creating a compelling story, creating good characters – it just doesn’t come that easily. Also when you have many notes coming from many different people above you, it’s hard to hang on to your vision as the director.

MS: What made this project so rewarding?

BC: That despite it all, in the end, it was still the story I’d been struggling to tell. That I could still see my daughter in Merida – she inspired the character – and that the mother/daughter story seemed to resonate with so many people, not just women. I’ve had many letters and emails from mothers and daughters who relate so much with the characters, and I also have received quite a few from men who love that they can see their mothers, wives, sisters or daughters in Merida and Elinor… or themselves in Fergus. 🙂

MS: Tell us a bit about the A Mighty Girl’s “Keep Merida Brave” campaign. Why is it so important to 
keep Merida her child-like, stubborn, strong-willed self?

BC: Because she’s a different kind of princess – one girls can relate more to than the pretty, helpless heroines of the past. She goes out and gets what she wants. She makes big mistakes and has to try to put them right, and learns something about herself … and her mother… along the way. To change her to look like the other princesses of Disney past is to say she isn’t good enough as she is. That’s a horrible message to send to children.

And I hope no one tries to make another Merida. There are so many different types of characters that girls can be – let’s discover them! Let’s inspire girls with all the different possibilities – lets explore different stories in which girl protagonists can struggle and shine through.

MS: Why are campaigns like #BraveGirlsWant important?

BC: Young girls have so long been fed these stereotypically passive characters, sexualized characters, marginalized characters – it’s time to say “Hey! That’s enough!” We need to stand up for ourselves and not let society and the media try to make us less than who we are.

MS: How can we increase the number of women directors?

BC: Getting the men who run the studios to crack open their minds and give more women the opportunity. Or getting more women to run the studios. I know there are plenty of talented women out there who would be ready and willing to take on either job!

MS: Do you think it’s important for women to mentor other women in their field?

BC: Of course! And I think the majority of women do. I know it’s said that women tend to scorn other women in the workplace, but I have  yet to see that. Maybe it still happens, but I think the more we bring this issue forward, the less that will happen.

It’s important to mentor, but also important to set an example. Our failures are just as important as our successes. We have to show how we handle adversity, so when the younger women and girls come up against it, then they can look to us and say, “If you can do it, we can do that, too!”

MS: What are you currently working on?

BC: I’m developing a couple of projects for DreamWorks Animation… can’t tell you anything about them, unfortunately.

MS: What do you hope to work on in the future?

BC: Stories with female protagonists. In the past, I never thought about it that much, but after everything surrounding BRAVE, I realize that it’s sorely needed. I may make films, I may write books. I’m looking forward to it all.

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

BC: My mom.

MS: Do you have any advice for young women striving to become directors, producers, or writers?

BC: Don’t give up. When you get knocked down, get back up. Watch movies, read books, love your art.

photo credit: http://www.hdwallpapers.in/walls/disney_pixar_brave-wide.jpg