Preach On, Victoria's Secret Model
Cameron Russell's TEDx talk went viral a couple of weeks back, as viewers clamored to share a Victoria's Secret model's frank discussion on fakeness or "construction" of images with their daughters (and sons).
Certainly I want my kids to hear this message, but that's not why I came away so impressed with Cameron Russell. I'd spent college summers interning at a catalog company and seen what she was referring to up close and personal. I had been there for the transformation that took place at a photo shoot. I had learned the magic of Photoshop. I've not been under any illusions about the "beauty industry" for a long time.
What impressed me about Cameron Russell was her ownership of the very thing that made her a success.
"For the past two 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," said Russell, a 5-foot-10 brunette with a face like Cindy Crawford's. "And this is a legacy that was built for me. And this is a legacy that I've been cashing out on."
That is not something you hear folks claim every day. Not many of us are willing to cop to the various legacies built for us—especially those we've been "cashing out on."
Clearly I wasn't the only one struck by this. While a guest on Soledad O'Brien's Starting Point, Russell says simply she believes we should be talking about the "uncomfortable and complicated" topic of privilege and that she is well-qualified to speak to it.
To illustrate, Russell turns across the table to Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, and says: "You're a senator, and you're a white man. I'm sure you had to work really hard to get there. And that means that it's very complicated to figure out and unpack the role of privilege. But for me, it's so easy. I'm here. I'm successful because I'm pretty. It's easy to tell that story. Because it's honest and it's obvious."
Indeed it is. But no sooner does Russell say this than does she face pushback—CNN contributor Ryan Lizza wants her to credit her own worth ethic as a model. In asking this question, in pushing her to attribute her success to hard work (which Russell insists accounts for just "2 percent" of what's she's achieved), Lizza further proves Russell's point.