Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model. | Cameron Russell


Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Morton Bast 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. (Laughter) 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. (Laughter) 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. (Laughter) Well — (Laughter) 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? 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. (Laughter) 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 that was hired, and of the 677 models that were hired, only 27, or less than four 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.” (Laughter) If, after this amazing list,
they still are like, “No, no, Cameron, I want to be a model,” well, then I say, “Be my boss.” Because I’m not in charge of anything, and you could be the editor in chief
of American Vogue or the CEO of H&M,
or the next Steven Meisel. Saying that you want to be
a model when you grow up is akin to saying that you want to win
the Powerball when you grow up. It’s out of your control,
and it’s awesome, and it’s not a career path. I will demonstrate for you now
10 years of accumulated model knowledge, because unlike cardiothoracic surgeons, it can just be distilled right now. So, if the photographer is right there, the light is right there, like a nice HMI, and the client says,
“We want a walking shot,” this leg goes first, nice and long,
this arm goes back, this arm goes forward, the head is at three quarters,
and you just go back and forth, just do that, and then you look back
at your imaginary friends, 300, 400, 500 times. (Laughter) It will look something like this. (Laughter) Hopefully less awkward
than that one in the middle. That was — I don’t know
what happened there. Unfortunately,
after you’ve gone to school, and you have a résumé
and you’ve done a few jobs, you can’t say anything anymore, so if you say you want to be
the President of the United States, but your résumé reads,
“Underwear Model: 10 years,” people give you a funny look. The next question is,
“Do they retouch all the photos?” And yeah, they pretty much
retouch all the photos, but that is only a small component
of what’s happening. This picture is the very first
picture that I ever took, and it’s also the very first time
that I had worn a bikini, and I didn’t even have my period yet. I know we’re getting personal,
but I was a young girl. This is what I looked like with my grandma
just a few months earlier. Here’s me on the same day as this shoot. My friend got to come. Here’s me at a slumber party
a few days before I shot French Vogue. Here’s me on the soccer team
and in V Magazine. And here’s me today. And I hope what you’re seeing is that these pictures
are not pictures of me. They are constructions, and they are constructions
by a group of professionals, by hairstylists and makeup artists
and photographers and stylists and all of their assistants
and pre-production and post-production, and they build this. That’s not me. Okay, so the next question
people always ask me is, “Do you get free stuff?” (Laughter) I do have too many 8-inch heels
which I never get to wear, except for earlier, but the free stuff that I get
is the free stuff that I get in real life, and that’s what we don’t like
to talk about. I grew up in Cambridge, and one time I went into a store
and I forgot my money and they gave me the dress for free. When I was a teenager,
I was driving with my friend who was an awful driver
and she ran a red and of course, we got pulled over, and all it took was a “Sorry, officer,”
and we were on our way. And I got these free things
because of how I look, not who I am, and there are
people paying a cost for how they look and not who they are. I live in New York, and last year, of the 140,000 teenagers
that were stopped and frisked, 86% of them were black and Latino,
and most of them were young men. And there are only 177,000
young black and Latino men in New York, so for them, it’s not a question
of, “Will I get stopped?” but “How many times will I get stopped?
When will I get stopped?” When I was researching this talk, I found out that of the 13-year-old girls
in the United States, 53% don’t like their bodies, and that number goes to 78%
by the time that they’re 17. So, the last question people ask me is, “What is it like to be a model?” And I think the answer
that they’re looking for is, “If you are a little bit skinnier
and you have shinier hair, you will be so happy and fabulous.” And when we’re backstage, we give an answer
that maybe makes it seem like that. We say, “It’s really amazing to travel,
and it’s amazing to get to work with creative, inspired,
passionate people.” And those things are true,
but they’re only one half of the story, because the thing
that we never say on camera, that I have never said on camera, is, “I am insecure.” And I’m insecure because I have to think
about what I look like every day. And if you ever are 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,
the shiniest hair and the coolest clothes, and they’re the most physically
insecure women probably on the planet. When I was writing this talk, I found it very difficult
to strike an honest balance, because on the one hand, I felt very uncomfortable
to come out here and say, “Look I’ve received all these benefits
from a deck stacked in my favor,” and it also felt really uncomfortable
to follow that up with, “and it doesn’t always make me happy.” But mostly it was difficult to unpack
a legacy of gender and racial oppression when I am one
of the biggest beneficiaries. But I’m also happy
and honored to be up here and I think that it’s great
that I got to come before 10 or 20 or 30 years had passed
and I’d had more agency in my career, because maybe then I wouldn’t tell
the story of how I got my first job, or maybe I wouldn’t tell the story
of how I paid for college, which seems so important right now. If there’s a takeaway to this talk, I hope it’s that we all feel
more comfortable acknowledging the power of image
in our perceived successes and our perceived failures. Thank you. (Applause)

100 comments

  1. ATTENTION! Everyone reading this YOU can change the way you look through something called mewing it changes your bone structure to make you look better

  2. It's not the color of their skin, it's the culture they have created. This is the focus we need to address not skin color.

  3. Models are props. Many very attractive people search for validation in the only way they know how – their looks. Why? Because they're insecure. They're always wondering if someone else is more attractive. They don't know how to contribute to others so they're always focused on themselves. And many of them have been so deprived of necessity that they've had almost no need to develop their own personality, so they outsource their brains because they've coasted in their looks their entire lives.
    I've met some incredibly beautiful women, but when you try to related to them as a human being its like the lights are on but nobodys home. They have no skills, no fortitude, no maturity. Yet they're so damn hot that they can lure in the weakminded with a single glance. But after a week with them you realize you're dating a baby. You thought she was a prize when really shes a participation trophy. Hot isn't pretty. And for every hot girl out there, there's a guy that's tired of her. We overemphasize looks too much and culture has become warped as a result.

  4. POLICING THE STATISTICS. Racial profiling does not exist. Police follow the statistics. If the crimes are predominantly committed by minorities, and in NYC they are, then why stop and frisk the white dudes? The statistics dictate that you'll be more successful in stopping the minorities. There is no "gender or racial oppression". So I guess you've perpetuated the stereotype of a pretty, but stupid, model. Congrats.

  5. CONGRATULATIONS for courage and honestly ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜

  6. I look different means I have freckles all over my face and body but I love myself more bcoz I doesnot have beauty but god gave me good shape and good height, I love myself to dress neatly I be myself but good looking peoples are too jealous they count on me and hurt me each and everytime, wts their in people mind? god will give one and take one we have to understand that live happily, never hurt others, never judge others, never count on others

  7. Trust me guys i m beautiful i m rich i have a good family good relationship and a great circle of friends…but i m not happy i always feels deprssed nd anxious….always fear of loosing things….so happuness is not about getting or achieving something its jst a state of mind

  8. Maybe not the sharpest TED talk ever, but she comes off as sympathetic and reflective. How are people getting annoyed with that?

    All she is saying is, that her beauty gave her unfair privileges in life and she feels bad for that. Partly because she sees other people struggle for their lack of the (current) perception of beauty. Also, even though she recognizes her own benefits from this society, it does not eliminate her insecurities.

    Seems perfectly sympathetic to me.

    But I also understand those, who doesn't feel beautiful, who sees this and think: If she feels bad, I feel really bad.
    But I think the point here is that, what is being portrayed as a benefit, can also be a curse.

  9. Also, I'd just like to say that I was very intrigued by a TED talk by a tall, slim, beautiful woman whose subject for the talk is looks and physical beauty. It really makes the viewer excited about beauty!

  10. Looks are everything. In fact you stand and talk at that because you have good looking. Ugly people will be treated badly. Just real life fact.

  11. I don't buy it. She has not felt what rejection is because she had had the benefits of her beauty. She does not know what she is talking about because she has never experienced what an ugly person suffers from.
    that BS of saying "poor me…Im so insecure" is so hypocritical. It is just an attempt of making others see that you understand them even though you dont deal with these issues.
    I understand that society judges you too, but most people like you judge others three times more how someone looks.

  12. Itโ€™s sad that a lot of people miss the points she is trying to make. Goes to show how bad the problem actually is.

  13. by 3:58 … While there are so-called advantages to being 'White' (of which I am) I've grown tired of the inherent blame-game and, moreover, why the so-called advantage exists. -Side-notes: I dig a person, and their color is irrelevant. If I don't prefer a given sexuality or culture, it's not only my right but impossible to reprogram… That said, whereas postjudice is logical, i hate prejudice. Yet, in America, some can't stand Whites. They blame us for a lot, as if every one of us can magically change the world. What they don't blame us for is, because we came here and were most educated and industrious, that we built a nation; the most powerful, successful, technological, agricultural, civil-rights conscious, inclusive, freedom-loving nation in the world. Is it perfect? No? (reference 'Trump'). We have a long way to go, still. Even so, White's and this nation created mostly by Whites, are the most entertainment and technologically stolen from, and culturally appropriated from, 'race' ever. The world wears baseball caps and blue jeans while they talk on I-phones and play their Xbox… all while drinking Coca Cola and woofing down cheeseburgers. – All I'm saying is, non-Whites aren't perfect either, so try to look on the bright side from time to time, and remember we get to write and read these comments because we came out on the right side of World War 2 (for starters). I now return you to your regularly scheduled web-surfing.

  14. 1 Chronicles 28: 9. "And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever."
    People judge by their looks but God looks at your heart.

  15. It is true that people didn't get the meaning of the video but at the of end day people (including me ) are still soo insecure about their bodies and i never waste a chance to look in the mirror and criticise myself. But let me say this honestly and unbiased that I am one of the top 5 prettiest girls in my class(and I am comparing myself to others which is pathetic). As she said she is a winner of genetic lottery but when people are models they can still compare themselves to others and feel happy that they look better than most persons. People are sometimes denied the opportunity to showcase their true potential due to their looks and every clothing to skincare company aims on the insecurity of people (there are exceptions ).Even though many people overcame this "appearance is important" outlook and became successful they had to fight for it. one of the greatest achievements of humanity will be to overcome this cycle.And people let's admit it weren't you more eager to listen to her before she changed the attire. Would that happen on the same degree if a non white or less pretty person was standing there if they spoke the same,wore the same dress and did hair the same?

  16. the biggest example of the halo effect is me watching this video and listening intently even though i actually don't care at all

  17. This is insidiously designed to cast some as undeservingly reaping exclusive benefits. Welcome to life. It isn't equal here. And don't put words into my mouth about what I find beautiful. This woman is mouthing popular ideas because she feels bad about being lucky. If she were a little less lucky, she might be grateful.
    Because someone is favored does not automatically mean another is oppressed. This is a feel-good waste of time, from someone who IS desperate to be liked. .

  18. It's funny you're all like "Be physically nice makes everythings that's so sad". Yeah I agree with you but we are all the people to blame. WE should make an alliance btw ugly people and BEAT HE WORLDDDDD MOTHERFUCKERSSSSSS

  19. guys i mean if you thought about it a second you will realize you made them you gave them the chance to be that rich and famous you just stop encouraging this industry

  20. Yeah youโ€™re hot things are tough try being ugly and things are more tough ๐Ÿ˜‚ this is a fart talk. Yeah we get it. Still have the upper hand so eat a fart

  21. Looks aren't everything, all I got was the benefit of the doubt, massive amounts of money, free stuff, admiration, my choice of romantic partners, world travel, kindness from strangers, meeting artistic and famous people, having my image captured, minipulated, and then charished by everyone, and I just smile and cop lets me go. But sometimes I'm Insecure about my hair not being shiney or my thighs being big. Luckily there are wigs and photoshop for that. She seems like a sweet lady, but she didnt say anything that we dont already know. She didnt mention the real downfalls of modeling… SUCH AS: creepy photographers, naked photos being leaked, sexual exploitation, scams, dangerous stalkers, catfish-people using your image and pretending to be you, anorexia, not looking the same in "real life", and aging out of your "career".

  22. All i heard is models are insecure so i can take advantage of them by destroying their weak confidence and i can get Taylor Hill as a gf

  23. For me this endearing soul is seeking the truth about inner peace and joy. Sharing her own self doubts because she focuses upon the superficial to be successful.

    Self recognition means awakening to the reality of selecting the path of evolution through a particular physical vehicle. Does this define the soul? Is she superficial?

  24. This woman is giving light to extremely relevant issues such as racial profiling, body positivity, and privilege and all ya'll can do is make fun of the title? Did you guys not hear a word she said? It's so inappropriate to dismiss such a beautiful and articulated argument to its title, to no good substance.

  25. Scrolling through comments and wishing if I would've wrote this comment and would've got this much likes..๐Ÿ‘€

  26. You can't have it all in this life.
    I've always been complimented on my looks, but for years I've felt like a monster, unable to feel confident or even normal. After therapy, I'm finally feeling like myself, it's a slow process, but I appreciate what other people see in me now, because I see it, too. Work on yourself first!

  27. Often models look great in pics but in RL some just look really tall and thin and they're not very enviable, going on a pure looks basis.

  28. thinner legs are not pretty , i don't know who started this trend of lean petite women as models portraying women , that's not women body

  29. Model aren't genetically blessed these people that say this are insecure about the weight mainly if you fix ur weight ur gonna look as good as most of them

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