I heard the motorcycle engine sound and I felt a sense of relief. I was feeling especially small, and I knew he would listen… and care. I was right. I could tell he knew something was wrong right away because he tried to make me laugh.
With tears in my eyes, I confessed how inadequate and weak I felt. I was often teased by my peers because of my size, but it didn’t really get to me. The worst kind of bullying is the self-inflicted kind.
But I had had it. Everyday, we would walk a few kilometers to fetch water at a nearby stream. Sometimes it took several trips to get all the water we needed for drinking, cooking, and washing. And I was tired. I was tired of not being able to carry as much water as everyone else. I was tired of not knowing how to balance the big pot on my head. I was tired of feeling useless, and feeling like I wasn’t getting any better at it.
– “Your strength is not in your height, or your muscles, or evidenced by how much water you carry.” – he assured. “You are the leader… and that’s a great way to use your head. Your contribution is essential to the team.“
My dad has a way with words. Well, he has a way with insecure little girls, and words are his “weapon” of choice.
And that day, with those words, I learned a definition of strength that has shaped much of my life.
If you were to look it up on the dictionary, you’ll see that strength is the capacity to resist attack, pressure, strain, and stress, as well as the ability to deal with difficult situations. Being a strong woman is no easy task, especially being a strong woman in a man’s world.
I had the privilege to attend a pre-premiere press day for Disney’s Alice Through The Looking Glass (now in theaters everywhere), and chat with the film’s producer, Suzanne Todd. She is the epitome of what I consider to be a strong woman, one who is thriving in the sexist and male-dominated world of Hollywood.
When you are in the presence of an inspiring, successful, confident woman like Suzanne, you can’t help but wonder where her strength comes from. She’s a single mom of three (two of which are teenagers), and a rocking Hollywood producer: her company, Team Todd, is the force behind Now and Then, Austin Powers, and Alice In Wonderland . Her films have grossed over two billion dollars worldwide and honored by the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and Emmys.
The producer’s role is to plan, coordinate, and oversee the film from conception to completion: casting, production, shooting and post-production, publicity, and marketing. Suzanne is an expert at what she does and she’s set out to promote female-driven films and to spread the message of female empowerment.
“You look at these dismal numbers of female directors and female producers. I’ve been doing it literally 30 years now, and it hasn’t really changed very much. I wish that it had changed more. It’s certainly taken smalls forward, but it’s not like it’s hugely different. It is, it is very difficult. I’d like to say “oh, no, that’s not true at all”, but that’s true. It’s harder as a woman.”
And that’s Alice’s journey, from Alice In Wonderland to Alice Through The Looking Glass is so powerful and such an important project for women of all ages to support. Even when the numbers don’t add up and the odds may seem to stack against us, it is essential to believe in the impossible and to keep going, even when we are painfully aware that it is hard.
My talk with Suzanne inspired me to share principles of strength that stood out to me as I listened to her eloquent answers to our questions. It’s always a treat when someone gives you so much substance is such a short time. I guess, like my dad, she also has a way with words, and uses them to infuse strength in others.
#1 ~ A strong woman is authentic
Suzanne tells it like it is and makes sure she stays true to what she believes in. If you think about Now and Then and G.I. Jane years ago, you can see the similarity between what’s she’s doing today with Alice Through The Looking Glass and Bad Moms: strong female characters and female-led films. She is passionate about creating films that she would want to see, that are are relatable to actual experience and empowering to women and girls of all ages. She calls this a “we girls can do anything movie.”
“For me with the three kids, the older I get, the less I want to ever do a movie that doesn’t feed my soul.”
And when you watch Alice Through The Looking Glass, I guarantee your soul will be fed.
#2 ~ A strong woman honors her intuition
“My friend, the screenwriter, Linda Woolverton, came to me 10 years ago with the idea of making a movie where the girl could be the hero. That was so exciting to me.”
What was a tiny idea grew into an incredible project that went on to reap unexpected success. We can learn from these successful moms: next time you think you have a brilliant idea, share it with a like-minded friend before you dismiss it.
#3 ~ A strong woman doesn’t rush
It took 6 years for Suzanne Todd to return to the magic, the wonder, and the madness of Wonderland.
“Linda and I went back into the literature, and read the books, and re-read the books again and re-read the poems. And we actually read a couple other books on feminism and raising girls and the specific art of the emotional life of girls.”
It took over a year to develop the script into a plotline that would be authentic to the characters, while adding action, adventure, and themes that would be both resonant and interesting to explore.
#4 ~ A strong woman gives back
I always say that empowered women empower women and Suzanne Todd exemplifies this concept, devoting her time and resources to motivate and inspire aspiring filmmakers.
“I went to film school at USC, so I always have a girl mentee every year from their [ Stark Mentorship Program], and I always have a mentee every year from Producers Guild of America, which is another group that I’m affiliated with. I was on the board of a girl’s school here called the Archer School for Girls for six years, so I work with those girls, and I actually got to go and speak on a panel for their film festival. I love spending time around, young people, because they have so much more energy than I do, and get so much inspiration from them.”
Besides her mentoring effort, Todd is committed to raising money and awareness to several children’s charities.
#5 ~ A strong woman carves out time for what matters
I was a single mom for 8 years so I know how difficult it is to carve out even a little time out of work, chores, and everything else that comes up.
“I have my kids 100 percent, so I found over the years that it’s important to have time for the three of them together with me, to have family time, but also to have individual time with them. I didn’t realize in the beginning how important it was to carve out time for each of them, because they’re all different and unique in their one way.”
This is precious advice whether you are a single mom or a married mom. I totally have a girl power crush on her – she is so wise!
#6 ~ A strong woman embraces the mess
Suzanne is a real mom, just like you and I, and she embraces the mess and madness that comes with motherhood.
“My schedule is always crazy. I use Google calendar – everyone probably does. Everybody has a color and I always joke and say it’s like a war operation of like moving people around. You make your plan, and on the day somebody gets sick or they forget their homework. She forgot her volleyball shoes…It’s just a little bit of craziness.”
#7 ~ A strong woman seeks balance
Alice Through The Looking Glass was shot in London, so she brought her kids with her. There are times when something’s gotta give, and we can find a less conventional way to make it all work.
“We would take the crew call in the morning, and they each had a classroom where they would go and do their school work from home with a tutor, then we would have lunch together, then they each had a department that was their favorite. They weren’t like going off with their friends or going to their softball games. That was super fun for me.”
#8 ~ A strong woman is persistent
Suzanne has been working nonstop on Alice Through The Looking Glass the last three and a half years. To say this is a massive undertaking is an understatement. And with that, additional challenges:
“The response to the first film was so unexpected and overwhelming. So then there’s all this pressure that you don’t, you want to do something always with movies that will be commercially viable, because that’s why you get to make more movies, but you also want to do something that says something that’s important to you.”
The addition of a variety of sets to Alice Through The Looking Glass made it harder than the first, and getting the cast together, working with everyone’s schedules was a challenge.
“It’s all like a very complicated jigsaw puzzle,” confesses Todd.
Her persistence has paid off and she’s been able to create a film that kept true to what we all loved about Alice In Wonderland, while reinventing it in a meaningful way.
#9 ~ A strong woman meditates
“I’m a big meditator. I have been for 20 years and I taught it to my kids now. And when people always ask me how I get so much done in a busy day, I think that’s a big part of it, which makes no sense to people, because they’re like: “What do you mean? You take 20 minutes off twice a day to meditate!” But for me it really helps me focus and stay on track and helps me get things done. “
Enough said. My girls and I love praying, meditating, and doing yoga together. This motivated me so much! Have you ever tried meditation?
#10 ~ A strong woman tells her story
Suzanne is so inspiring because she shares her story. She shares my philosophy that you can find purpose in your pain, and you can bless others with your experiences.
“I usually can just tell them mistakes that I made more so than wisdom that I can pass along, but sometimes you can learn for other people’s mistakes.”
#11 ~ A strong woman has fun on purpose
Suzanne’s laugh is infectious. She was telling us about how much fun it was working with Sacha Baron Cohen:
“One thing he really, really wanted to do was wear tights.”
It was refreshing to see that you can be a serious professional while enjoying what you do and having a good time.
#12 ~ A strong woman is vulnerable
When you interview a big Hollywood producer, you don’t expect she’s going to talk about crying, but that’s Suzanne Todd for you. I believe that as women, we are the most beautiful and the strongest when we give ourselves permission to be vulnerable.
“I just remember the first time [Johnny ] (Depp) opened his mouth and spoke, I got tears in my eyes, because it was like seeing the Hatter again. I was like seeing an old friend that I hadn’t seen for so long”
#13 ~ A strong woman is grateful
Just as she entered the room, we chatted about her commitment to help her friend, Maria Shriver’s, fundraising event “Move For Minds” through social media.
We all got a glimpse of how sweet and extremely generous she is when she gave her Disney Alice shoes to Sheri Lyn of SheSaved.com for donating to the cause. It was a beautiful moment that none of us will forget… the power of gratitude in action.
#14 ~ A strong woman trusts herself
During our time together, I felt that Suzanne was reading my mind. One thing she said that deeply resonated with me is proof that we must trust our inner wisdom:
“I talk about a lot with my kids, and stuff that comes up for them, because, I always think the best advice I can ever give myself is the advice I tell my kids. So if I pause and think about what I would tell them, then I usually do a better job avoiding negative thoughts inside.”
#15 ~ A strong woman honors the past
A strong theme in Alice Through The Looking Glass is that time is precious to all of us and that you can learn from the past. And I love Suzanne’s quote about it:
“Looking backward is, in some ways, just a waste of time.”
#16 ~ A strong woman lives in the present moment
“There’s a thing about technology, that it was supposed to be created to give all of us more leisure time: “Now you’re gonna leave work early and have extra time to spend with your kids.” But really in some ways it’s turned all of us into 24 hour workers. It’s a balance that we all have to try and find for when we’re gonna turn it off of put it away and really sit down on the blanket and have a picnic with our kids.”
Producer Suzanne Todd hopes people will be inspired to have these conversations and be in the space of giving a second thought about how they spend the time in their day.
“It’s our most precious resource.”
#17 ~ A strong woman invests in the future
Alice Through The Looking Glass was not only time consuming, but an expensive film to make: the costumes, the additional sets, and the visual effects. A strong woman invests in herself, in her dreams, and in her next level of success. And as strong women, just like she did investing in Linda Woolverton’s idea, and investing in Colleen Atwood’s vision for the costumes, we can invest in their efforts, and be uplifted in the process. It’s always a win-win.
#18 ~ A strong woman doesn’t sweat the small stuff
“I’m learning every day just like the rest of [other moms]. I definitely sweat the small stuff less and I feel like in my old life, I definitely sweated it more. And maybe that’s just because I don’t have time for it, or the energy for it, but, situations, people, things that bring drama and conflict and aren’t productive moving forward things, I really stay away from or avoid or I will cross the street to get away from.”
Amen… y amen! We need a “No Drama” policy in place!
#19 ~ A strong woman stays focused
Suzanne Todd’s secret to success:
“Focusing on what you really need and being brutal about it.”
It’s like I always say about focus: Follow One Course Until Successful.
#20 ~ A strong woman says NO
Another really essential part of using your strength as a woman lies in thinking your YES through, creating boundaries, and learning to say NO.
“I’m definitely a little bit less of a ‘yes to everything’ and people pleaser than I was when my kids were younger. And I think it’s a good thing.”
#21 ~ A strong woman is not perfect
And last, but not least, there’s that illusion of unattainable perfection we sometimes aim for or we hold someone else to. And Suzanne not only gets it, but wants to rid the world of that disease.
“I feel like we’re all so hard on ourselves on a daily basis as moms, myself included, because we feel like we could have done more, we could have done better or, that girl packed a better lunch or her kids speak Mandarin or, all those things. I can just feel good about what I’m trying to do and enjoy my life with my kids rather than just trying to be this unobtainable, perfect mom.”
And make sure you “Travel Through The Looking Glass” and transform yourself into your favorite ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS character!
You can also keep the kids entertained with these fun ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS activity sheets:
Alice Through The Looking Glass Coloring Sheets
Alice Through The Looking Glass Bookmarks
Alice Through The Looking Glass Spot The Differences Activity
Alice Through The Looking Glass Maze
Alice Through The Looking Glass Jigsaw Map Of Underland
Share your strengths with us in the comments below and let me know what you most love about Suzanne Todd, and her brilliant family film “Alice Through The Looking Glass.”