Victoria’s Secret model Cameron Russell has been getting lots of attention lately, not because of her looks but because what she thinks about them.
The 25-year-old U.S. beauty spoke at a regional TED conference in Washington last fall and the video of her presentation, which was uploaded on the TED website two weeks ago, has already drawn over a a million views and hundreds of comments.
In a talk titled ‘Image Is Powerful‘, Russell adopts an almost apologetic tone as she looks at her looks and the sociocultural forces that imbue them with so much value.
“I’m on this stage because I’m a pretty white woman,” she says, noting that she has been “cashing out on” her genetic blessings for 10 years.
Her remarks become substantive when she compares the privileges of her heritage with the incidence of stop-and-frisk police checks on black and latino men in New York City. Life “is a deck stacked in my favor,” she says, adding that she is “one of the biggest beneficiaries of the legacy of gender and racial oppression” in America.
Russell’s comments barely scratch the surface of what are very big — and important — issues. She could tackle several PhD theses using some of comments in this 9-minute talk as a starting point. But that’s hardly the point here.
What’s important is that she spoke up at all, breaching the undeclared vow of silence in the modeling community and giving an honest assessment of the superficiality of it all.
This video should be required viewing for young women aspiring toward a glamorous career in modeling. It’s not a path to personal happiness, she points out. In fact, good looks turn out to be, ironically, a mixed blessing.
Models “are the most physically insecure women on the planet,” Russell says. “I’m insecure because I have to think about what I look like every day.”
She also provides some rare insight into the “story” behind many of her most-seen fashion assignments: when she shot her first bikini assignment, she hadn’t even had her first period yet, and the day she shot a cover for French Vogue, she also had a sleepover at a girlfriend’s house.
“These are not pictures of me,” she says. “They are constructions.”
[NOTE: That's Cameron Russell in the main photo above, from a Spring 2013 photoshoot for Victoria's Secret.]