Actors Beanie Feldstein, Britney Young, and MJ Rodriguez rocked the big and small screens this year in awe-inspiring ways. You probably recognize Feldstein best from the summer movie Booksmart. Meanwhile, Rodriguez brought tears to your eyes as Blanca on FX's Pose. And Young has been killing it on GLOW for three seasons now.
These performances couldn't be more different, but they've all had similar effects on viewers: We were captivated and transformed by them. Credit for that goes to Feldstein, Rodriguez, and Young, who have changed the landscape for women in Hollywood just by being themselves. They've each pushed the needle forward for representation in various ways—be it race, gender, sexual orientation, size. At the Glamour Women of the Year Summit, these three women got together and talked about how they're disrupting the system.
Growing up, Rodriguez, Feldstein, and Young didn't really see themselves reflected on screen. "There wasn't a lot of representation for young African American trans women," Rodriguez told Vogue senior culture editor Estelle Tang, who was moderating their panel at the summit. "But I found comfort in watching shows like Will & Grace and Noah's Arc. It made me feel included at a young age."
Young, meanwhile, didn't see good representation for either plus-size women or biracial people. "There were larger people on film and TV, but they were never shown in a positive light," she said. "They were always the bully, the prison guard. I never saw a nice plus-size girl who wasn't being mean to people. [Biracial representation] was never shown in a positive light, as well."
Feldstein had a similar experience growing up. People constantly told her she'd grow up to play Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, but that role never interested in her. She wanted to be seen for all her complexities and nuances. "[Tracy] is not who I am. I'm so many other things—let me show you all the other roles I can play," she said. "Thank God things changed as I got older, and we have so much room for growth."
We do have room for growth, but these three women are playing a huge part in moving things along. They're using their positions of fame and power to impact the sets and projects they work on. Feldstein says she learned a lot from her Lady Bird costar Saoirse Ronan on how to set the tone of a set. "Stepping into slightly bigger roles [like Monica Lewinsky in American Crime Story, her next project] at the center of a story, I think, What would Saoirse do? To be the center of a story and hold that space is intimidating, but watching her do it was [inspirational]."
Young finds that everything comes together for her as long as she's staying true to herself. "The best thing to be is authentic. I have to be true to myself. But being on GLOW, I'm surrounded by 14 other amazing, individual women. I look to them so much as inspiration," she said. "What are they doing, and how can I make that work for myself? That's truthfully what it is."
Truth and authenticity were at the core of these actors' breakthrough, "go big" moments. Rodriguez's aha moment is particularly poignant. "When I got Rent off-Broadway in 2011, I just got to be myself and actually go on my journey through my art," she said. "I could live out my truest dreams, which is completely being me in front of everyone and not being afraid. I'm stepping into who I am as a strong, black trans woman and I'm not going back."
As for the future of the industry, Feldstein, Rodriguez, and Young are hopeful, and they have a key piece of advice for creators: Stories about particular experiences should be told by people who lived through them. "When there are shows that are educational and entertaining, you should cast people who have been through those experiences so they can tell the story right," Rodriguez said.
And those stories should be varied. Young wants to see more plus-size narratives that have nothing to do with losing weight. "It's not necessarily that I want to tell new stories. I want the opportunity to tell any story," Young says. "A girl who's struggling to lose weight and find love—that's not the experience all the time. Sometimes you just want to tell the story about someone who lost their purse on the subway."
Feldstein feels similarly and is ready for female-focused entertainment to not be considered niche. When asked about people calling her movie Booksmart the female Superbad (her brother is Jonah Hill), she said, "Why do we have to be a girl version of a boy movie? Why does Bridesmaids have to be the girl Hangover? Why is it movies and then girl movies? Books and chick-lit. It's so old, and I'm over it. That narrative was belittling."
It definitely is. But with creatives like Beanie Feldstein, Mj Rodriguez, and Britney Young in the world, that narrative won't be around for long.
Find out more about Glamour's 2019 Women of the Year here.
Originally Appeared on Glamour