Body Delusions

cameron tedCameron Russell transforms herself from hot model to girl-next-door in six seconds after walking on stage for a TED Talk. All she did was trade six-inch heels for flats, wrap a long skirt over her mini and pull on a sweater. 

Image is superficial.

But it’s also powerful.

Once when she had wanted to buy a dress, but forgotten her money, she got the dress for free.

Yet a brown-skinned woman might be followed around the store, identified as a potential shoplifter.

When a friend of Cameron’s got pulled over for running a red light, the supermodel uttered, ”Sorry, officer” and they got off scott free. 

Meanwhile, a dark-skinned man driving by could get pulled over for DWB: driving while black – or brown.

cameron headerOr, as Cameron explained,

I live in New York, and last year, of the 140,000 teenagers that were stopped and frisked, 86 percent 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?”

Young girls often ask Ms. Russell, “Can I be a model when I grow up?” Being a model would be a real self-esteem boost, right? It won’t. Cameron says models are some of the most insecure women on the planet. After all, they are always expected to be “the best,” but are constantly picked apart by fashion editors.

And sure, you can make a lot of money. But modeling is not a career path, she adds:

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 cardio-thoracic surgeon poet, which would be awesome, because you’d be the first one.

Unfortunately after you’ve gone to school, and you have a résumé and you’ve done a few jobs, 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.

You know… dumb blondes… airhead models…

The body creates illusions. Illusions about who is good and bad, who is worthy or not, who is smart and dumb.

Cameron Russell hopes that sharing her experience will help reveal “the power of image in our perceived successes and our perceived failures.”

You can see her whole TED Talk here.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Beauty and Self-Esteem
Surviving Beauty and its Privileges
Beauty, Self-Esteem and Aging

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 5, 2014, in body image, feminism, psychology, race/ethnicity, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. I think it’s really important to have people like Russell be the ones to bring up subjects like this. It might be a little dodgy to say, but having somebody like her put forward messages about peoples’ image makes people listen; people are drawn to conventional beauty, and from that she can captivate a larger audience.

    That aside, I really like that she addresses children in their wanting to be models. It says a lot that somebody who fits societal standards of beauty and is being held in high esteem for her looks is willing to step back and say “Hey, no, this isn’t what you want.” Not in a shaming way of course, but because she doesn’t want kids to ignore their potential to become anything by only focusing on their appearance. I think that notion makes her a great role model. With that being said, I also feel that it’s harmful for people to negate somebody’s intelligence by only recognizing their beauty; the two aren’t mutually exclusive, and people need to realize that somebody’s value as viewed from the outside can also be present on the inside.

  2. Most girls when they are little want to grow up to be a model. Once they get older they start comparing themselves to models. They want to look like the ones in magazines. Do not get me wrong I mean I think being a model would be so much fun, but behind the scenes, not so much. Models are seen as role models to some little girls, but the question is why? Models become insecure as well. You read stories where models are starving themselves or throwing up just so they can fit the look for a single fashion designer. Is your health worth another person’s clothing? I personally do not think so. Yes, most girls are insecure because they are comparing themselves to models in magazines. But do these girls know that most of the models they see in magazines are not actually what they look like? When someone is in a magazine, there is so much Photoshop done to them where it is not even close to what the model actually looks like. Some magazines even make up a person! They take one persons eyes and another persons hair and another body, another mouth, etc. And this made up person is someone young girls are comparing themselves to. I believe saw this in a video in my Sociology class called “Killing Us Softly”. I told myself that if I ever up being in a magazine, I will say that no Photoshop shall be done to me. Little touching up is fine, but not to where it is not actually me. I want to be seen for me, and not for what someone else wants to see me as. If they cannot accept me the way I am, then I would not do the magazine. I believe young girls should be encouraged to follow their dreams. If they are exposed at a younger age to healthier careers and ones that can make a difference, I believe society would be so much more different.

  3. What upsets me about our recognition to trying to be beautiful all the time is that now I feel the standards are even more difficult to met. As a girl looking good with make up is always a good thing, but NOW people are determined to be less superficial therefore you also need to have natural beauty. If you look hot with make up good for you, but you need to also be able to look equally as attractive with sweats, a hoodie, and not an ounce of make up too because pounds of make up is “soooo fake” When will us girls catch a break?

  4. I agree with the fact that our body are illusions. One of my business professor’s told us a story of one of his friends who went to stanford wearing a worned sandal, short and ripped jeans around the campus. One of the student who went there made fun of the way he dressed. As time goes by that same student started working in a widely known hotel when he finally met the manager of the hotel who was that same man he made fun of. The conclusion was that you should never underistimate people even though there appearance or body may differ what their profession are.

  5. I love everything that Cameron Russell said in her speech. It is so true that looks are superficial. The terms she uses such as “genetic lottery” and “legacy” to describe how she has an advantage over others is really powerful. I also really enjoyed the humor in her speech, The whole time she was speaking, it made me wonder why she never stopped modeling. Why would she continue doing something that she admits hurts and oppresses other people? Aside from this, I really enjoyed her speech. She was very eloquent and made me think differently about the modeling world.

  6. I really enjoyed this TED talk. There’s so much pressure to be beautiful in every single society in the world, and there are always going to be a group that will meet those beauty standards and a group who won’t. I always wanted to be like those flawless girls in the magazines with their perfect milk chocolate skin tones, perfect long hair, and perfect long legs…no wonder why I felt like I couldn’t measure up. They don’t tell you in the fine print that not even the models can measure up!

    Perhaps we spend so much time creating this ideal standard of beauty and trying to adhere to it that we ignore the uniqueness people are born with. I think we would all feel a little less ugly if beauty wasn’t defined in such a clear cut manner and if we all just accepted who we are. Discrimination would be so much harder to do in a world like that and wouldn’t try so hard to emulate women who don’t even exist.

  7. this note did bring some memories back when I was applying for jobs for the first time. My dad told me to make sure that personal look must be neat and sharp because it the job market all applicants look good and if you don’t, you are in a disadvantage even if you have not said the first word in your interview. I believe that women must have it more difficult that males since our system is based in a patriarchy, however being a minority male is probably even harder. As the note said that we are more likely to be stopped by police officers and even if there has not been any good reason to be stopped but things can get out of control and really bad things can happen from missing understandings. We do not have to look far for a example and we can remember the fruit vale incident where an innocent black male lost his life due to racial profiling and discrimination from a white officer. We as society can learn from our past social struggles and implement smooth solutions to the feminist movement and for sure our little girls would dream of becoming The President of The United States instead of models, nonetheless, if your job is a honest job, then there should not be any shame at all but always dream for the best.

  8. It’s such a wonderful speech. I have heard about body image, but never thought it is real. It’s admirable that Cameron, who has suffered a lot of pressure, judgement, and has got some bad look from others, is being honest to talk about her “model life”. She is right. People who judge how other people look based on what their standard of beauty is, which is usually built by technology as what they see in the media. People nowadays, including men, care more about their outside look than the inside, because they determine their ideal of body size and shape come from the way models in the TV perform and fashion magazines look to make others not look down on them. “Looks are everything” said Cameron Russell – It would make you be more succeed and stand out from the crowd with your talent and intelligence, but not your beauty look.

  9. I find it very interesting that a supermodel is saying that little girls should not aspire to be supermodels. Models are all over the cover of magazines and represent brands of clothing that millions of girls wear and they are being told to not want to be that. I think that at some point in a girl’s life, she wishes that she could become a model, I know I did, but as I grew older I noticed I would criticize myself because I did not have the qualifications. I am not tall enough, I am to shy, and the list could go on and on if I kept trying to find more problems, but I realized that I did was find more problems instead of feel beautiful and comfortable in my skin. It is also interesting that Ms. Russell says that supermodels are the most insecure women in the world, and yet these are the women that young girls are suppose to be looking up to as their role models, so shouldn’t they be confident in themselves before speaking out to young girls about how important it is to love your body? I think it is great that a model is standing up and saying these things because then maybe it will show young girls that you do not have to become a supermodel to make an impact on the world.

  10. These TED talks seem to attract the best humanity has to offer, don’t they?

  11. I agree with this completely, especially the getting pulled over. Although im a black female,i got pulled over and I cried and I got out of a ticket. I think it just depends on how you work the cop to be honest, although race is a big part of this. As for the modeling, I myself want to be a model but after reading this I took a lot into consideration. Especially the insecurities and airheaded- ness. I don’t want to be that girl with the underwear model on her resume. I mean theres a reason im in college right? But there are girls at our school who are models and im good friends with one of them and shes actually quite intelligent and she has other jobs, so I believe that having only one job on your resume is that persons fault. But overall this was a great piece.

  12. Its admirable that people who have the means to have their opinions heard chose to do it for something that doesn’t benefit them economically and actually benefits others. And also admirable that people with a bit of power still choose to use it wisely and try to bring conscious to people and especially the youth. This woman can be (and probably is) making a difference in the lives of many young woman (and men too) in the way they perceive their bodies and also their intelligence. She breaks a little the myth that models are empty, dumb blondes with nothing to say. She a model who is very well spoken and who stands up for something she believes in. I really like how she says that she is not the woman on the pictures, how she mentions that is all a creation by a whole team of very talented people but that is not her. This statement I believe strengths her argument about the power of image. I like this video and her talk in general because people and especially the youth are in desperate need of role models that break away from the myth and speak the reality of their lives, their careers and they everyday situations.

  13. I think Cameron Russell has a point that we put too much judgment on physical beauty. For the most part, if you’re not white, skinny and flawless; than society will not find you attractive. If you fall in that category, you can get anything you want. I praise her for her honesty on being insecure. I believe most models are insecure about their bodies or looks in general. Hence the reasons so many of them have eating disorders and other health problems. As she shows the pictures of herself modeling and her normal pictures of herself, you can see a huge difference. It takes a lot of people to make someone look that “picture perfect” and flawless. When she did the cover-up with clothes, it probably made the audience pay more attention to her speech than her body.

    Even though my husband and I were always telling our daughter she’s beautiful, she still was starting to fall for the whole “model image” thing. She gained weight before she grew taller and people were calling her “fat”, “chubby” and other such names. She wanted to be like her friends who were sizes 0-6, whereas she was a size 16. We kept telling her looks aren’t everything – it’s what’s on the inside that really matters. Today, she is a size 8 and 4 inches taller. With hard work and dedication, she’s lost weight and gained confidence. The funny thing is that her “skinny” friends are now jealous of her. She has curves and they are just boards. Most of all, she didn’t have to “dumb herself down” to be accepted. She has just excelled her intelligence! She now realizes that her brains and inner beauty is more important than her outer beauty; she’s just more comfortable and confidant in her own skin. I know I’m being bias but my daughter will always be beautiful to me, no matter what!

  14. I don’t like women who go too far to show off to every man an outer beauty, I prefer personality over miniskirts.

  15. I remember watching this a while ago. Just the simple act of changing what she was wearing was eyeopening.

  16. I love what she has to say and also her bravery. Pretty girls can get looked down on for exposing the downside of beauty, which is a prejudice of its own kind. She struck me as a beautiful and vulnerable human being with a lot of important things to share.

  17. I truly think that people are judged too much when it comes to what they consider as “being successful”. People put up unnecessary boundaries and limits for them selves and therefore create unhealthy pressure in their lives. For the whole “model concept” i think that it is either worse or the equivalent to spending time/life in a prison. (not saying i have personal experience, because i don’t.) My parents always told me to “reach for the stars” and i know that some girls might think that modeling will make them feel pretty and make their lives better, but in reality it does the opposite. Its silly and wrong to associate your appearance so much with your success and your attractiveness. It only hurts you in the end. We have to learn to look past these things and try to live a better (healthier) lifestyle.

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