Cameron Russell is arguably one of the most beautiful women on the planet. Over the past 10 years, she's graced the cover of Vogue, frolicked in a bikini for numerous fashion ads, and stomped down the runway for Victoria's Secret. But don't assume she has it all. She doesn't—and she's the first one to admit it.
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The 25-year-old model recently gave a presentation at the global series TED, on life as a model. She began by saying, “I am standing on this stage because I am a pretty white woman and in my industry we call that a 'sexy girl.' I am going to answer some of the questions people ask me but with an honest twist."
Russell explained that while a model's lifestyle is filled with travel, glamour, and working with brilliant creatives, that's only a glossy exterior for the corruption and sometimes manipulative nature of the modeling industry, describing how when she started out as a model, she had to act sexual at photo shoots having never even had a boyfriend.
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While explaining that she often gets asked how one becomes a model, Russell says, "....The real way I became a model is I won a genetic lottery and I became the recipient of a legacy. Saying you want to be a model when you grow up is akin to saying you want to win the Powerball when you grow up. It's awesome and it's out of your control and it's not a career path."
While showing photos of her in both fashion spreads juxtaposed against photos of her in real life, Russell says, "These pictures are not pictures of me, they're constructions," says Russell. "They're constructions by professionals — hairstylists, make up artists, photographers stylists and all of their assistants and pre-production and post-production and they build this. That's not me."
But the most insightful part of her talk is when Russel confesses: "I am insecure. Because I have to think about what I look like every day. 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 and the shiniest hair and the coolest clothes and they're the most physically insecure women on the planet."
It makes sense. When a woman is valued primarily for her physical appearance, it can be easy for her to believe that her beauty is her only form of currency. If looks are the focus of a woman's day, they will inevitably occupy most of her thoughts and drive her fears. No wonder models are so insecure.
Russell's words are indeed powerful, but just weeks after her Ted Talk she walked in the Victoria's Secret fashion show. Is she being hypocritical by criticizing the modeling industry while also cashing in on it? "Not at all," says Bethany Marshall, Ph.D., a psychoanalyst in Beverly Hills, CA. "She sounds grounded in reality. We all have to use our assets and gifts to advance ourselves in life. If she was a math genius and refused to go to college, we'd be critical of her. The fact is, she's a gorgeous woman—why shouldn't she use that to advance her life? Her beauty is a resource and an instrument. The difference is, we don't envy the math genius. We envy the model."
This isn't the first time models have let us in on the secrets of the industry. In 2012, Tyra Banks penned an open letter to models praising Vogue for banning images of anorexia. And in 2010, Victoria's Secret Angel Doutzen Kroes spoke out about her struggle to attain the ideal figure, saying: "I probably fit the sample size once, when I was eleven or twelve. It became a problem — I was always told lots of times that I should lose weight. It was a thing, ‘You look great, but you should probably lose a few pounds. That kept going on until I was about 22, and when I was like, ‘This is crazy,’ because I would look in the mirror and I like the way I look."