The Victoria’s Secret model Cameron Russell on Image is Powerful at TEDxMidAtlantic 2012 conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Image is powerful by Cameron Russell at TEDxMidAtlantic 2012
Hi. My name is Cameron Russell, and for the last little while, I’ve been a model — actually, for 10 years. And I feel like there’s an uncomfortable tension in the room right now because I should not have worn this dress.
So luckily, I brought an outfit change. This is the first outfit change on the TED stage, so you guys are pretty lucky to witness it, I think. If some of the women were really horrified when I came out, you don’t have to tell me now, but I’ll find out later on Twitter.
I’d also note that I’m quite privileged to be able to transform what you think of me in a very brief 10 seconds. Not everybody gets to do that. These heels are very uncomfortable, so good thing I wasn’t going to wear them. The worst part is putting this sweater over my head, because that’s when you’ll all laugh at me, so don’t do anything while it’s over my head. All right.
So, why did I do that? That was awkward.
Well — Hopefully not as awkward as that picture. Image is powerful, but also, image is superficial. I just totally transformed what you thought of me, in six seconds. And in this picture, I had actually never had a boyfriend in real life. I was totally uncomfortable, and the photographer was telling me to arch my back and put my hand in that guy’s hair. And of course, barring surgery, or the fake tan that I got two days ago for work, there’s very little that we can do to transform how we look, and how we look, though it is superficial and immutable, has a huge impact on our lives.
So today, for me, being fearless means being honest. And I am on this stage because I am a model. I am on this stage because I am a pretty, white woman, and in my industry, we call that a sexy girl. I’m going to answer the questions that people always ask me, but with an honest twist.
So the first question is, how do you become a model? And I always just say, “Oh, I was scouted,” but that means nothing. The real way that I became a model is I won a genetic lottery, and I am the recipient of a legacy, and maybe you’re wondering what is a legacy. Well, for the past few centuries we have defined beauty not just as health and youth and symmetry that we’re biologically programmed to admire, but also as tall, slender figures, and femininity and white skin. And this is a legacy that was built for me, and it’s a legacy that I’ve been cashing out on.
And I know there are people in the audience who are skeptical at this point, and maybe there are some fashionistas who are like, “Wait. Naomi. Tyra. Joan Smalls. Liu Wen.” And first, I commend you on your model knowledge. Very impressive.
But unfortunately, I have to inform you that in 2007, a very inspired NYU Ph.D. student counted all the models on the runway, every single one who was hired, and of the 677 models that were hired, only 27, or less than 4% percent, were non-white.
The next question people always ask is, “Can I be a model when I grow up?” And the first answer is, “I don’t know, they don’t put me in charge of that.” But the second answer, and what I really want to say to these little girls is, “Why? You know? You can be anything. You could be the President of the United States, or the inventor of the next Internet, or a ninja cardiothoracic surgeon poet, which would be awesome, because you’d be the first one.”