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5 Bad Girls Throughout History Who Will Inspire You Today

What does it mean to be a “bad girl?” That was the question that inspired illustrator Ann Shen to create her debut book Bad Girls Throughout History. Having grown up as the quintessential “good girl,” Shen struggled with how young men, when outspoken, were perceived as leaders and mavericks, while the same behavior exhibited in women put them in the bad category. She decided to tackle this misconception and reclaim the term “bad girl,” flipping it on its head to embody all the awesome things women have done throughout the ages to pave the way for a better world.

What resulted was the original Bad Girls Throughout History, a 12-page zine that Shen created and sold herself. The response was so positive that she created a second volume, and then ultimately expanded the collection to the 100 women featured in the book today.

In honor of the launch of this dynamic and beautifully illustrated book, we chatted with Shen to learn more about five of her favorite women from the book.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

One of the greatest, most selfless, and courageous humans to ever grace this earth, Harriet Tubman is easily my favorite Bad Girl. She escaped the abusive horrors of slavery (a law and accepted norm at the time) to then turn around and risk her own safety to help hundreds of others to freedom. Tubman was, among being a nurse, scout, and spy during the Civil War, the first American woman to lead an armed assault—resulting in the liberation of over 750 slaves. At the end of her life, she donated her estate to open a care facility for elderly African-Americans. She was the one person whose life story made me break down in an ugly cry when doing research for all her endurance, resilience, and grace. Harriet gives me such hope for humanity.

Mae West

Mae West

Impossible to forget, Mae West was a living goddess whose star is a permanent fixture in Hollywood history. She wrote all her own legendary one-liners and was in control of her own sex symbol status. In fact, she created it! Becoming a bona-fide movie star at the age of 40, West is an enduring symbol that women can be whatever they please at whatever age they please. I love her for her incredible wit—one of my favorite lines from her is: “Marriage is a fine institution, but I’m not ready for an institution.”

Mary Blair

Mary Blair

One of the most influential artists in Disney studio’s (and my own personal work’s) history, Mary Blair was a brazen artist who had a unique vision and fierce design sense to back it up. I love that in a time where women were relegated to ink and paint jobs, Mary was bold enough to march into Walt Disney’s office and demand she be on the South America trip with other (mostly male) visual development artists, a move that would change her artistic work and the visual direction of Disney studios.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Now that I know where she came from—being one of the nine women in her class at Harvard Law School, supporting her cancer-stricken husband and young daughter while in school—to become the badass judge that she is, I’m even more grateful that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of our Supreme Court Justices. We are truly blessed to be living in a time where we can witness Ginsburg delivering fiery dissents as a model of leadership and intelligence.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Ruth Westheimer

Dr. Ruth Westheimer was one of the most surprising and delightful women I researched for this book. Knowing she was a leader in the field of sex therapy, with her frank yet coy style of discussing a wide range of sexual topics, I was surprised to find out that she was also an orphan survivor of the Holocaust and a trained Israeli sniper. There’s so much more to her story, which you’ll read in the book, but she’s a living testament to the saying “good things come in small packages”—she’s a diminutive 4’7”!

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For more of the baddest women out there, check out Bad Girls Throughout History today. 

Ann Shen

Ann Shen is a Los Angeles-based illustrator and graphic designer whose bright, colorful style has been put to work all over the world. Her illustrations have been featured in the New York Times, BUST, Grazia, The Huffington Post, and other publications.

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