Shonda Rhimes Has a Message for the Next Generation of Girls

Photo: Getty/ Presley Ann
Last weekend, Shonda Rhimes teamed up with Dove to reveal their first ever Girl Collective—powered by the Dove Self-Esteem project—in Los Angeles, California (it's also. Rhimes, who served as the keynote speaker for the inaugural event appeared alongside panelists including SZA, Jazz Jennings, Debbie Allen, Lauren Chan, and more, moderated by Jess Weiner. The task? To help young women challenge beauty stereotypes, embrace body positivity, and create a community IRL and online to support each other and take action.

“We all have something about ourselves to brag about, something that is amazing or special or interesting. Something that we are proud of, something brag-worthy,” Rhimes shared with the audience of 300 young girls from the surrounding LA area during her opening speech. “So, how come we don’t brag on ourselves? I mean, Beyoncé deserves it but so do you. So you should go brag on yourself, brag on your friends. I say we need to start a bragging revolution. I’ll go first: I’m a talented writer, with a very good booty, and a good sense of humor.”

If you aren’t familiar with Rhimes, she in fact does have plenty to brag about, including owning ABC’s highly coveted Thursday night time slot with not one but three shows: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. “My job is [to be] a storyteller, I feel like my job is find really great people and put them in roles,” she shares. “And to make sure I’m looking at as wide of a variety as possible [to fill them]. So I don’t feel a pressure, but I do want to make sure I see everybody because everybody deserves to be seen.”

Well + Good had the chance to exclusively speak to Rhimes about how she plans reshape the media lens in which women and girls judge themselves—and how she began building her confidence inside-out. Here's what she had to say.

Girl Collective
Photo: Getty/Emma McIntyre

How do you cast a show?

I write a story and then I have them cast it. That's really where you’re fighting to say: "When I said I wanted to see everybody, that meant everybody." A leading lady doesn’t necessarily look a certain way, so why am I not seeing a range of actresses who look every kind of way? Sometimes, with shows like Scandal when I said we are going to have the first women of color be the lead of a television show (which hasn’t happened in the past 37 years), it was deliberate.

It happens both ways, though, you find somebody who you think is really special and cast them…but I try to really to make sure it’s not written [into the script] that it's this tall, thin [person], who looks exactly this way…I’m just searching for a person. None of them are how I pictured them, none of them—and that’s fantastic.

How do we create a more inclusive landscape?

There’s a huge amount of work to be done [when it comes to portraying women in the media] it’s definitely getting better, but until more women are storytellers or behind the camera or producing movies, [it's hard for that to change]. Even the images we try to make feel empowering are still not the greatest ones: We ask our women or girls to be many things—but all through the view of a male gaze.

The idea that we are all supposed to be pretty, sexy, or any of those things as a way of being successful or being strong or being simply something worth looking at—that’s the problem right there, as opposed to allowing women however they want to be.

Have you ever worked with an all-female crew?

I’ve never worked with an all-female crew, except once on a Dove project. That would be pretty badass. The makeup of our writers’ rooms have always been interesting—it’s really about choosing the best writers and the ones we like the most. One time, we had a writer's room that was mostly women, maybe one or two men, and with the crews, we just try to have a nice variety.

I really try to get more women on crews and more people of color on crews, because they just don’t get as many opportunities right now. I don’t know what it would do, but I do feel like there’s an equalizing factor of making sure that…there’s a world in which we talk about all of these ‘rises’ with more diversity, and there are actual studies that show that. The more women or people of color you bring on crews, the higher quality of the output is.

What's advice you'd have given your younger self?

You are perfect just as you are—and enjoy it while it’s happening. We’re so busy looking forward and wishing we were something else and thinking the grass is greener, but what’s going on right there is fantastic just as it is. There’s the idea that all of the stuff that I thought was so important—the need to fit—and none of that matters as much as you think it does. It seems so important at that age, everything is so earth shattering and it doesn't matter. Other people’s opinions matter very little as you grow up. But at the time, it really does seem like everything.

How did you develop personal confidence?

I can’t imagine there could be a switch or a moment [when it comes to fully developing self-confidence] it’s a lifetime of growing up and maturing and having experiences. Facing obstacles and overcoming and realizing that you can overcome them. You know, that things matter less than you thought the did. Or discovering talents you didn’t know you had and just life.

Inspired? Same. To keep the good the good vibes going, here are the most inspiring people on Instagram and here's some all-inspiring advice straight from our Well+Good Council.

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