Veteran model Cameron Russell did something quite refreshing, and almost unheard of, during her ten-minute talk at the TEDxMidAtlantic: BE FEARLESS event: she told the truth and gave honest answers to the questions she is most frequently asked. Not skirting around the fact that she was on the stage purely because she is a model and “a pretty, white woman,” Russell took advantage of her platform to address the skewed importance that is placed on one’s image.
To visually illustrate her point, she started her speech wearing a black mini dress with stilettos before transforming into a more suitable outfit—and image—of a knee-length wrap skirt and black sweater. The quick change of an outfit demonstrated how powerful image is, but also how superficial it can be, and she would know since she has made a career off of this superficiality.
Knowing that she won the genetics lottery, Russell also addresses how she lucked out by being born into a societal legacy that perpetuates the idea that tall, slender, and white equals beautiful. But this is not a revelation or shocking. In fact, her speech shouldn’t be shocking. She is honest and truthful and open. She realizes how she did not “do” anything to be in her position. This realization leads into her encouragement for young girls to try to be something other than a model—and this encouragement is what will gather the most headlines and buzz.
Admirably, Russell wants to motivate young women to take control of their own fate and realizes aspiring to make a career out of modeling is akin to wanting to win the powerball. Russell understands the glamorous image of her job—sure, she gets to travel the world and work with creative people—but instead she urges these girls to pick a career in which they have more control. She still wants girls to dream big: “Be the President of the United States, the next inventor of the internet, a ninja cardio-thoracic surgeon poet”. Or even her own boss so they can control who gets to be in the pages of magazines. But, be something that doesn’t depend on luck.
Russell also gets frank about the insecurities of models, the lack of diversity in the modeling industry, and the times she’s gotten things for free because of her looks. It wasn’t shocking to hear that less than 4 percent of models who walked in fashion week were models of color. Nor, is it surprising that models, surrounded by beautiful, thin women all the time, are insecure about their own looks and bodies. What was noteworthy, and maybe even surprising, about her time on the TED stage was her candidness and for that, we thank you, Ms. Russell.