03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

12 Glamorous Role Models Talk About Their Role Models (PHOTOS)

If someone invited you to a dinner party, and told you that the other guests would include poet Maya Angelou, designer Stella McCartney, Ambassador Susan Rice, and comedienne Amy Poehler (oh, and Michelle Obama might just stop by for appetizers), how long would it take you to leap out of your seat and scramble over to the fete?

You'd get there in record time, I bet.

Last night I had a comparable experience: I was given a catbird seat at the events celebrating Glamour magazine's Women of the Year awards, which honored the ladies mentioned above and many other "courageous and inspiring women who are changing the world."

It's a little bit weird to be in such close proximity to some of our era's amazons: several of them are literally Amazonian, like Iman or Tyra Banks (I'm not a short woman and I still felt mouse-like standing in front of them with my little tape recorder). Others, like Ambassador Rice, are surprisingly tiny but could absolutely bowl you over with their stare.

The important role that mentoring plays in women's lives was the theme of the night; Honoree Michelle Obama discusses it with particular intensity in Glamour's December Issue.

"For me, role modeling was immediate, it was touchable," she says. "I had people rooting for me ... it really makes a difference."

She's a very lucky lady in this respect: having role models and mentors can make a huge difference in a young woman's life. I still have my icons, who strengthen my resolve on a daily basis (my beloved copies of Diana Vreeland's DV and Marlene Dietrich's ABC are often secretly tucked into my bag for courage during big, nervous-making interviews). Female writers have been writing about the importance of encouragement and example for generations; Virginia Woolf and Alice Walker both avidly emphasize the importance of "forerunners."

So, with this in mind, I trotted around the Women of the Year dinner and asked a handful of prominent women who their earliest female role models were. After all, as Stella McCartney said at one point during the evening, "behind every great woman is a great woman."

Read the excerpts below each slideshow picture to see who has influenced some of our era's most visible ladies. Not surprisingly, "mom" gets the center stage in most of their stories.

Click here for more coverage about the Glamour Magazine 2009 Women of the Year Awards.