I feel so blessed to have stumbled upon a recent TED video by model Cameron Russell. For those of you who don’t know, TED is a non-profit organization, developed to share ideas on an open, accepting platform. “TED” stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design,” but the talks often cover a wide range of topics from a broad spectrum of talented, inspired speakers. One such speaker at the recent TEDx Midatlantic was Cameron Russell.
Cameron has been a model since the age of sixteen, working for fashion moguls like Vogue and Victoria’s Secret. She is also currently an undergraduate at Columbia University, where she studies economics and mathematics. She is active in the non-profit sector, and she has a blog, http://funnyandinteresting.com/. Basically, she is a stereotype-breaker—never more apparent than in her TED talk.
Her talk, entitled “Image is Powerful,” is brilliant. She first addresses the issue of being born with a legacy. Cameron was born white, skinny, and symmetrical. Therefore, she was born lucky—born to be a model. She didn’t do anything to earn her beauty; she was born with it, as are many skinny, white girls, to the detriment of other races. For instance, out of 676 models recently hired for runway, only 27 were non-white.
Cameron goes on to show photos of herself in magazines and in real life. In magazines, she’s a sex siren. She’s wearing designer clothes with perfect makeup and perfect hair. In real life, she wears hippie skirts, her hair in a bun, barely any makeup. She makes the point that the pictures of her in magazines are not pictures of her at all. They are “images,” intended to make consumers believe the hype—hype that we can all be awesome, hot, and confident—when in fact, according to Cameron, models are the most physically insecure people she has ever met.
However, we buy into the image. We think, “If only I had thinner thighs … if only my hair was shinier … if only, if only, I would be happier.” Based on Cameron’s TED talk, even if our wishes to be more beautiful come true, we don’t necessarily feel better. I am a victim of this fallacy. Five years ago, I wore size nine jeans. Now, I’m a size four, and yet, most days, I feel less sexy than I did five years ago. I look in the mirror and think, “I could lose a little bit more weight. I’ll feel better about myself if I do.” I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way.
According to Cameron’s talk, 53% of thirteen-year-old American girls are unhappy with their bodies. By the age of seventeen, that number jumps to 78. Seventy-eight percent! We can’t blame the fashion industry; Cameron doesn’t. However, she makes it perfectly clear that what we see in magazines is not real. Photos are airbrushed. Girls are poked and prodded by professional makeup, hair, fashion, and image experts before a shoot. The images young girls covet are no more than fantasies, yet these fantasies appear real, which makes it incredibly difficult for normal women to feel pretty—when we should! We should feel pretty, because we are. We’re also real, which is better than being airbrushed, better than existing as an “image” and not an actual person.
Cameron Russell’s TED talk is an inspiration. I wish her video could be shown in high schools all across America. Her video already has 140,000 hits, and I hope you go and check it out in its entirety. Her talk is not to be missed—a breath of fresh air in our image-hungry, shallow universe. Her talk is an example of bravery, as she stands up against her own career path, but she does so in an effort to change society’s unrealistic expectations of beauty—expectations that threaten the psychological health of young girls and women everywhere.
Check out the video HERE.