Day 46: Looks aren’t everything

Cameron Russell, a model for the past ten years, steps onto the TED stage in a short black dress and impossibly high heels. She then tells the audience they’ve already judged her, before covering up with a sweater and a flowing skirt.
As Russell says, making assumptions about people based on their looks is what we do. She admits she’s won a genetic lottery. She was born tall, skinny and white. For those who think race isn’t an issue, here are some statistics. A PHD student at fashion week counted hundreds of models and found only 4% were non-white. 86% of teenagers frisked by police in New York City are black or Latino. For these kids, the question isn’t if they’ll be singled out, rather than when.
Of course, the common consensus is that image is superficial. Most magazine photographs are the construction of the photographer and editors rather than a reflection of the model; to illustrate this Russell shows us photographs of herself which correspond to phases in her modelling career. On one side is a sexy, airbrushed woman, the other shows a fifteen year old girl hanging out with friends.
When asked what it’s like to work as a model, most will answer about the amazing travel opportunities and celebrity meetings. Behind all this, she tells us, are groups of the most insecure women, all knowing everything rests on their looks. Russell speaks at TED during a reasonably early stage of her career. In another ten years she might not stand up and say she feels unhappy in an industry which gives her so many benefits. Here she speaks candidly, reminding us of the emphasis put on our looks. Her hope is that everyone will acknowledge the power of image in our perceived successes and perceived failures.

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