NEW YORK (AP) — Caitlyn Jenner took the stage at Glamour magazine's Women of the Year awards and told an admiring crowd that the six months since she came out as a woman have been "the most eye-opening experience of my life."
Jenner, one of a group of honorees that included actress Reese Witherspoon, ballerina Misty Copeland, designer Victoria Beckham, the victorious U.S. women's soccer team, and a group of women from Charleston, South Carolina, who suffered great loss in the June church shooting there, also said she believes she was put on Earth to tell her story and perhaps make a difference in the world.
She told the Carnegie Hall crowd Monday evening that before she came out as a woman, she stayed home most of the time, feeling alone. "Now," she said to cheers, "I actually like going out, and I like being myself."
"I'm very happy to be living on the other side," she said.
Jenner described going through "many, many years of isolation" before coming out. Then she sat down with her children to discuss her options. "And I came to the conclusion that, you know what? Maybe this is why God put me on this earth, to tell my story ... and maybe make a difference in the world. What a great opportunity in life to have."
But once she came out publicly, she says she was hit with a slew of questions: What is your style? Who are you going to wear? Are you a feminist?
"I never in a million years ever thought I'd be here," Jenner noted of the annual Glamour event. "And I'm sure you didn't either."
Jenner is not the first transgender woman to be a Glamour Woman of the Year; last year, actress Laverne Cox was honored. Still, Jenner's inclusion had sparked some backlash on social media. "We prefer to focus on the positive," Jenner said through a spokesman ahead of the announcement.
Cindi Leive, Glamour's editor-in-chief, told The Associated Press that criticism of Jenner's inclusion "certainly gives you an appreciation for the hostility to the trans community that still exists out there."
The annual ceremony mixes high-wattage celebrities with lesser known names, and this year, the award winners included the five women touched by the South Carolina church massacre — Alana Simmons, Nadine Collier, Bethane Middleton-Brown, Felicia Sanders and Polly Sheppard — and lauded in the aftermath as "The Peacemakers of Charleston." Also among those honored: Entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes, and Planned Parenthoood's Cecile Richards.
Copeland, who became the first female African-American principal at American Ballet Theatre in June, thanked Glamour "for honoring a black ballerina." To the young girls seated in the balcony from various schools and girls clubs, she said, "We're trying to set the best example for you."
Witherspoon gave the final speech of the night, speaking passionately about female ambition. "I believe ambition is not a dirty word," she said.
Witherspoon co-founded a production company, Pacific Standard, which aims to make films featuring strong female lead roles — "not the wife or the girlfriend, but the lead," she said — as a way to fight the gender gap in Hollywood. The company's "Wild" and "Gone Girl" earned Oscar nominations for Witherspoon, Laura Dern and Rosamund Pike.
Beckham was introduced with a video clip from her children and husband, soccer star David Beckham. She gained fame as a Spice Girl, but has since become a respected fashion designer. She was also honored Monday for her work in AIDS education and prevention.
"I love what I do," Beckham said. She added that with her fashion, she aimed to make women feel "like the best version of themselves."
The U.S. women's soccer team was introduced by late-night host Seth Meyers, who got a cheer when he advised young women in the audience to "never waste a second of your time on (a guy who) doesn't want your input and advice."
The team handily crushed Japan to win the 2015 World Cup in July, and was recently welcomed at the White House by President Barack Obama. "There is no dream too big," Carli Lloyd, who scored a hat trick in the finals, told the younger girls up in the balcony.
Associated Press writer Leanne Italie contributed to this report.