Victoria’s Secret model Cameron Russell spoke out against the very industry which pays her bills at the annual TED conference in Palm Springs.
The 25-year-old underwear model and Columbia University economy and political science major donned a long skirt, flats, and sweater on stage and let the honesty fly, confessing her deep concerns about today’s standards of beauty and the hollow significance of being a “model.”
How do you become a model? The real way that I became a model is because I won a genetic lottery and I am the recipient of a legacy. Tall, slender, figure … femininity … and white skin. This is a legacy that was built for me, and this is a legacy I’ve been cashing out on.
Can I be a model when I grow up? What I really want to say to these little girls is: Why? You can be anything. You could be a ninja cardio-thorasic surgeon poet! Be my boss. Saying that you want to be a model when you grow up is akin to saying you want to win the Powerball when you grow up. It’s out of your control, and it’s awesome, but it’s not a career path.
Something I have never said on camera: I am insecure. I have to think about what I look like every day. If you are ever wondering if I have thinner thighs and shinier hair will I be happier, you just need to meet a group of models, because they have the thinnest thighs, and the shiniest hair, and the coolest clothes – and they are the most insecure people on the planet.
Heyooo, it’s Cameron Russell in the house! Spliff bam pow! Karate kick girl power!
These are things that many of us bloated, average lumps of American hormones have suspected for years but have never been able to confirm due to our distant views of the the fashion industry’s elite yacht parties. How are we supposed to know what’s going on all the way over there? We’re average peasants, unfit to parade around in our underwear on television.
Cameron Russell’s commentary is candid and deliciously honest. The woman has a brain attached to those bosoms and she’s not afraid to use it. In addition to being intelligent and self-effacing, she’s bravely revealed from the inside of the artfully airbrushed beast itself that everything in modeling is not what it seems.
She’s saying something young people everywhere need to hear right now: The pictures you see in advertisements aren’t real. The people in these pictures aren’t the norm. Looking like the fake people in those fake pictures won’t make you any happier.
If, as she mentions, 53% of 13-year-old American girls are unhappy with their bodies, and that this number grows to be an alarming 78% by the time they are 17, what action is she calling for? What’s the bigger message here? More honest media representation? Is she quitting the modeling business? Perhaps printing up some motivational postcards to pass out at her local grocery store? Nope.
What’s confusing about her talk, after the you go girl tranquilizer dart wears off, is that Cameron Russell is evidently well aware of the inequalities in the system she exploits to make her living, and she keeps doing it anyway. She says modeling portrays an unreal image of her personally and that it presents an unattainable standard of beauty, but it’s not stopping her from rolling in the dollar bills with her privileged, white face and she plans to keep modeling in the future.
What is the ending to this after school special? “Girls, don’t be a model because it’s a rigged system that hurts people, except when you can make lots of money then it’s fine for me because I guess I’m lucky?”
She’s a smart person with some good insights, but her message loses some kapow when she doesn’t address our future, or hers. Here are all the facts- is there a problem or isn’t there? Do we need to “accept the power of image” or challenge it? How does she reconcile her personal profit from a system she admits is built on racism? Or has she? CAMERON! I’m shaking my fist! Where are the final two minutes of your talk?! You were so close and then… nothing. Gone.
Okay, okay. It’s hardly fair to expect her to change the entire modeling world by herself overnight, so her initial honesty is going to have to be a good start. These are baby steps in the right direction towards conversations we need to be having every day. But you’re on to something, Cameron Russell. Let’s see what you do with that big, beautiful brain next.