Whether they like it or not, women in the public eye have tremendous influences on our culture. From divulging their distress after giving birth to coming clean about childhood sexual abuse, these six women got America talking about sensitive matters once swept under the carpet (red or not!).
1. Betty Ford
More than 34 years ago, Betty Ford left the White House, checked into rehab and later announced to the world she was struggling with alcohol dependence. An outspoken advocate for women’s health, in 1982 Ford founded a non-profit addiction treatment clinic in California that now bears her name. The center’s goal: treatment without shame. Since then the clinic has treated more than 90,000 patients, including celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, Billy Joel, Elizabeth Taylor and Kelsey Grammer.
2. Brooke Shields
Soon after her daughter’s birth, Brooke Shields confessed that she felt a complete lack of connection with her first baby, Rowan Frances, because of postpartum depression. Eventually she sought treatment to overcome her depression. To bring attention to the condition and help make women feel less isolated, she wrote a book about her experience, Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, and participated in a media blitz of interviews.
3. Elizabeth Taylor
This Hollywood legend turned AIDS activist was the first celebrity to speak out about the mysterious and socially divisive disease in the 1980s. In 1985, when AIDS education was non-existent and nurses were afraid to deliver food trays to AIDS patients in hospitals, Taylor, along with a group of physicians, helped establish the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), calling for research, compassionate care and an end to discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS. In 1991, the actress founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, which has given more than $12 million to organizations across the country that provide direct care and services to people living with the disease.
4. Betty DeGeneres
Mother of actress, comedian, and Emmy Award-winning talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, Betty Degeneres was thrust into the spotlight when her daughter publicly came out in 1997. DeGeneres quickly became one of the most visible advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender civil rights. Incidentally, she is also the Human Rights Campaign’s first heterosexual spokesperson for its Coming Out Project and the author of two books: Love, Ellen: A Mother/Daughter Journey and Just a Mom.
5. Kelly Osbourne
Made famous by her rocker father, Ozzy, Kelly Osbourne de-stigmatized sexually transmitted disease testing in 2008 when she candidly confessed to getting regularly screenings for STDs. She has also admitted that she saw a condom for the first time at age 7 when they were distributed for free at her father’s concerts. When she asked what they were, her mom explained without hesitation. A good reminder that it’s never too early to have age-appropriate conversations about sex.
6. Ashley Judd
In a recent memoir, All That is Bitter and Sweet, this sexy Hollywood starlet revealed that she was a victim of sexual abuse throughout her childhood and in the earlier stages of her career. Even before her book was released, Judd had been an advocate for fighting sexual abuse among women. Maybe her willingness to come clean about her own experiences will help others come forward with their own so that their abusers won’t get away with such horrific crimes.
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