Top 10 Badass Women in Pop Culture

In honour of International Womens Day, I will be celebrating 10 female characters that helped me become the most badass version of myself.

Whether they defied stereotypes and expectations, took a stand again the status quo or simply stuck to their guns and owned what made them them.

Here are to the top 10 women can teach us all a lesson or two in embracing ourselves.

1. Elle Woods

Elle Woods: Intelligent. Kind. Strong willed.

After my breakup with my first boyfriend, I cried — a lot. And between the many tears, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Leona Lewis’ “Better in Time”, I put on one film that I have learnt to appreciate in a whole other way.

Legally Blonde (2003) tells the story on Miss Elle Woods getting dumped by her long term boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis). In an attempt to get him back, Elle applies and successfully gets into Harvard Law School — the same University he studies at.

No, this isn’t a “getting the guy” romcom. It’s a film about a young women learning through heartbreak about her own perseverance. Elle Woods shows the audience what she is truely capable of, despite others stereotyping her as a vapid, dumb blonde.

Elle taught me that there’s more to life than one person and that in getting past your own self doubt and doubt from others, you can still stay true to yourself.

Words to live by: You must always have faith in people. And most importantly, you must always have faith in yourself.

2. Summer Roberts (aka Little Miss Vixen)

If Hello Sunshine doesn’t play in your head when this brunette angel comes on screen then you’re doing something wrong.

I rewatched The O.C (2003–2007) following my final year of high school and fuck, this show holds up. Before I ramble on about how this is one of the best series out there with great actors, writing and character development, I’ll give you a short summary.

Ryan Atwood, a bad boy with a heart of gold, moves in with his lawyer and his family (the Cohens) after being arrested for stealing a car. Long story short … there’s a nerdy best friend (Seth), a love interest (Marissa Cooper played by Mischa Barton) and the love interests best friend/the nerdy best friends love interest (Summer).

Left to Right: Summer, Seth, Marissa, Ryan

So, who exactly is Summer Roberts? It’s easy to downplay her as the best friend of Marissa Cooper or as Seth Cohen’s love interest and while she started off as a vapid and shallow Orange County girl, throughout the series layers of Summer began to show.

In the final season we see Summer’s life after losing her best friend and as a result of this she throws herself in the deep end of causes she is newly passionate about — charity work, animal rescues, protests, etc.

In her own words “I think throwing myself into all these new things is a way of avoiding what happened to my friend …

Self awareness is something I’ve always admired. So when Summer is able to see it for herself, she is truely able to move forward with her life.

Season 4, Episode 4: The Metamorphosis

She learns to embrace both parts of herself, the animal loving liberal and the tanning, shopping, and The Valley watching Orange County Princess, it is this that makes me truely appreciate her.

Summer is a perfect mix of two “stereotypes” to create on hell of a girl. She shows us that no one is one thing alone. People are mixes and matches of multiple genres and that’s what makes us so original.

Words to live by: If I say something that I don’t believe in, I could end up with the wrong life. How awful would that be?

3. Ariel

I grew up with The Little Mermaid (1989) and although it wasn’t at the forefront with other Disney films, such as The Lion King, or 101 Dalmatians, this one still managed to teach me a decent life lesson.

The Little Mermaid tells the story of a 16 year old mermaid who, more than anything, wants legs. She encounters a sea witch, Ursula, who is able to grant her wish on one condition — she must give up her voice and receive true loves kiss within three days in order to prevent her from one of Ursula’s Poor Unfortunate Souls. Well, that’s two conditions now that I think about it.

A common criticism of The Little Mermaid is that Ariel only traded in her tail to be with Prince Eric. But I don’t agree with that.

Despite being so young, she knew giving up her family and life underwater was a condition of choosing to start again on shore. That’s a big decision. Some can’t manage to move countries, cities, states or even houses. No shade to anyone because I know it’s not as simple as it sounds but I think we can take something away from this.

I know we all look back and shake our heads at the famous line “I’m 16 years old! I’m not a child anymore!” and despite her naivety, I find Ariel to be quite admirable. She knew what she wanted and went after it.

Words to live by: Ready to know what the people know

4. Samantha Jones

I don’t even know where to start with Samantha Jones because it’s been fifteen years since the last episode of Sex and the City aired and she is still one of the most iconic characters in television history.

There’s an array of reasons for this; whether it be the killer one liners, a strong work ethic, her self sufficient lifestyle or her progressive views on sexuality.

Sex and the City follows the lives of four women navigating through love, sex, and successful careers in NYC. Samatha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall, is one of three best friends to Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker). The girl gang also includes Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte York (Kristin Davis).

Left to Right: Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, Samantha.

Although Jones may not be front and centre of the show, she still manages to steal the spotlight whenever she comes on screen. Like I said, fifteen years later and she’s still the most spoken about character so there was no way she wasn’t making this list.

My early teenage years were spent wishing I was someone else, so much so that looking in the mirror only to find me staring back ripped me apart internally. I never knew how to be me, or how to be ok with being me.

One of the reasons I am so drawn and inspired by Samantha Jones is because she is unapologetically herself, her true self. If there was something I needed a hand with as a teen, this was certainly it.

Words to live by: I love you but I love me more.

5. Lisa Simpson

Funnily enough, I dedicated a Facebook post to Lisa Simpson on International Women’s Day, 2015. Here I am four years later still inspired by this eight year old.

Lisa centric episodes can be a great influence for young girls, as they both empower and educate. From episodes like Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy (season 5), Lisa the Vegetarian (season 7) and Lisa the Tree Hugger (season 12), focusing on issues such as consumerism, animal welfare and environmental destruction. To episodes like Lisa’s Pony (season 3) and Summer of 4 ft. 2 (season 7) which show Lisa as she really is, a child. Because despite her intelligence and wisdom beyond her eight years, she is still a little girl that loves ponies and, more than anything, just wants to fit in.

There’s something about Lisa that brings out a part of me that cares about bigger social issues whilst at the same time it makes me want to rebel against the system — I don’t know what “system” exactly … but it’s definitely one that needs rebelling again.

Lisa Simpson has taught me lessons in having compassion for living beings, to accepting yourself, as weird as you may be, and seeing past the flaws of those you love.

I hope other young girls and women are able to look up (or down) to such a large hearted little lady.

Words to live by: Why is it when a woman is confident and powerful, they call her a witch?

6. Effy Stonem

Effy Stonem played by Kaya Scodelario

I thought about leaving this character off of this list and obviously, I decided against that. Because this wouldn’t really be “top 10 badass women in pop culture” without Effy Stonem and it felt wrong skipping past this part of my life.

The structure of Skins (2007–2013) was quite different to any other show I had seen at the time. Seasons 1 & 2 centre around one group of friends (Generation 1), seasons 3 & 4 follow another (Generation 2), and 5 & 6 — another (Generation 3). Each generation followed a group of British teenagers going through life finding love, sex, drugs, etc. I wont go too much into each season, I’ll just say that Effy was featured in the first four seasons.

When I started watching Skins, I was fourteen and like many fans, I was obsessed with Effy. How couldn’t you be? From her jaw dropping beauty and unique style to rebellious attitude and subtle party girl personal.

This show came at a time when I was began experimenting alcohol and cigarettes, so seeing a group of young teenagers doing the same made it all the more relatable. It also came to me when I needed some sort of escape because what I didn’t realise at the time was that my mental health was (for lack of a better word) fucked. And at fourteen, I didn’t know what exactly was wrong with me … I just knew something wasn’t right.

In later seasons, specifically four, the show goes more into Effy’s mental health and as mine was deteriorating, it was a relief seeing someone go through something similar. When you grow with a character it almost feels like you know them and that’s what this was. It was not feeling alone in my darkest time.

Words to live by: Thanks for loving me.

7. Rebecca Bloomwood

I first saw Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009) in year nine, after our high school gave us laptops for “educational purposes”. I’m sure you can imagine that didn’t go to plan and our entire grade had a series of bootleg films and television shows to last for days.

If you were the kid with a hard drive, you were practically a gold mine for films and the godfather taking requests. It was usually someone with a cool older brother who knew how to successfully download from LimeWire.

Of the many films I had, my go-to was always Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Based on the 2001 novel, by Sophie Kinsell, this film adaption follows a young fashion writer with a spending problem. She is newly out of a job and in a great amount of debt due to her expensive taste for designer.

Rebecca Bloomwood was a breath of Marc Jacobs, cashmere and Burberry fresh air. Her colourful overcoats and fabulous scarf, most notably the green one, were eye catching and head turning and describing her as “extra” would be a strong understatement.

Something that has followed me into my adult life as a result of this film the ability to express myself through my wardrobe and at the same time, you can’t find long lasting happiness in external things.

Words to live by: Rule of life. If you bother to ask someone’s advice, then bother to listen to it.

8. Kim Possible

When I was little I wanted to be a spy. I would always get the “boy” toy with my Happy Meal because Ben 10’s watch appealed more to me than a barbie lipgloss. No shade to Barbie, she made waves for little girls everywhere showing them that they could be whatever they wanted to be. From jobs in the arts and education to science, politics and medical careers — this woman needs a list of her own.

But I didn’t grow up with Barbie, I grew up with Kim.

The show, Kim Possible (2002–2007), followed a world saving teenage cheerleader and her best friend/sidekick, Ron Stoppable. The tag line being “she can do anything” and she did. She saved the world multiple times, travelled to exotic locations to do so and all the while she played big sister to two little annoying dweebs.

Aside from the fact that she was the original “best of both worlds” queen, she was also my idol and role model. Kim Possible taught me that, just because I was a girl, I could still be a badass, world saving hero. Clearly, I decided to go with a different career but I knew I could if I wanted to. And just because I was girl it didn’t make me any less capable in successfully following my dreams.

Words to live by: I can do anything.

9. Shego

Ok, I know this is a stark contrast to number 8 but read on …

If you want to talk about someone who did not take crap from anyone, well … let me introduce you to Shego.

Shego was the right hand (wo)man to Kim Possible’s nemesis, Dr. Drakken, but Shego was anything but a sidekick. For anyone who watched the show, it’s an easy recollection that she was the brain and the sass behind everything. Whether it be an “I told you so” or stepping in to take charge of a failed mission to take over the world.

As I got older, I learnt to appreciate a female antagonist. I found myself wanting to identify with them more and more because they were so bad. They easily stood on their own two feet, didn’t rely on anyone else and did what they wanted, whenever they wanted to. They were so bad, it was good.

Shego was my first lesson in “fuck it”. She never broke a sweat (or a nail) trying to take whoever down, she never stressed when a plan didn’t play out properly — she just stepped in when necessary or didn’t when it wasn’t.

Words to live by: I don’t do cakes. I don’t bake ’em, I don’t jump out of ‘em.

10. Julie Cooper-Nichol

Julie Cooper-Nichol played by Melinda Clark

The O.C had a great act for breaking stereotypes and getting you to like the unlikeable. Julie Cooper-Nichol is just that — unlikeable. Or so she was.

Julie, mother of Marissa and Kaitlin Cooper, starts out as the snobbish, uptight, typical California pilates mom but you learn to love her.

Despite her strong dislike towards Ryan Atwood in the initial seasons, her questionable parenting and her gold digging abilities, you eventually learn what makes her tick and why she is the way she.

Left to Right: Kaitlin Cooper, Marissa Cooper, Julie Cooper-Nichol

Julie, through and through, is trailer park trash who came from less than nothing but that didn’t stop her. In an attempt to give her kids the life she never had, she climbed her way to the top of the Newport social ladder; seemingly stopping at nothing to get there. But when a number of opportunities arise for Julie to get what she wants, she sides with her moral compass.

Julie Cooper-Nichol is a good person and that’s what I love about her. Because despite all of her flaws and errors in judgement, she still comes through. Not only for her kids and her friends, but for herself too.

Words to live by: Don’t settle for comfortable.

That’s all folks.

Happy International Women’s Day and here are to these 10 women who have taught us a lesson in being our best and baddest selves.

Sydney based writer taking a look into culture, media and mental health. For business enquiries please contact via

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