Cameron Russell Says Privilege & Insecurity Make Modeling A Bad Career Choice


Cameron Russell has spent most of the last decade posing as a successful fashion model. Occasionally she writes about grassroots public art and political power, and experiments with making art for the internet and the street. She is the director of The Big Bad Lab which creates participatory art and media platforms dedicated to including people in radical demonstrations of positive social change. That’s some resume for a fashion model.

This bio makes Cameron Russell a Smart Sensuality woman: smart, sexy and with heart.

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The model recently gave this franky and refreshing TedX MidAtlantic talk about being a model.

“I felt very uncomfortable to come out here and say, Look, I’ve received all these benefits from a deck stacked in my favor,” she says after engaging the crowd with a fashion attire change from sexy fashionista to beautiful social activist. “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.”

Three key points hit home with me, listening to Russell speak with nervous earnestness, almost as if she knew her sincerity was under scrutiny in the TED supporters limelight.

Images of a Real Young Woman Cameron Russell

In one segment of her presentation, the model revealed that she hadn’t started menstruation when she did her her first swimwear shoot for Allure. These words and visuals danced around the topic of the sexualization of young women — an obsession of the fashion world. On the left is the glossy model image of Cameron. On the right is another picture taken of her in the same year.

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In this very dramatic contrast of real versus fake imagery, the pictures below were taken the same day, with Cameron’s best friend coming with her to the fashion shoot. With all my work in fashion — although at VS we always insisted that the models be 18 years old — I am astounded.

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Fashion Models Are Obsessed With Insecurity

Cameron Russell: “I am insecure”

Contrary to popular belief, there is no guarantee that thinner thighs and shinier hair will make you happy and Cameron drives this message home with total seriousness. Models are insecure because they are totally obsessed with their physicality and the reality that an editor, photographer, blogger or fan will call out every new flaw, every slip in body weight for all the world to hear.

Cameron also issues a staggering statistic that 78% percent of 17-year-old American girls are unhappy with their bodies. This is not new news for AOC readers, but the fact remains so staggering.

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Being Pretty and White Gets You Off the Hook

Cameron took her TEDX talk into territory only tangentially related to her career as a model. Sharing the fact that once in Cambridge she forgot her wallet making a purchase, and was given the dress for free, she also reflects on her friend running a red light and their being pulled over by an officer.

A quick “I’m sorry, officer,” got them moving again. Russell contasts this personal experience with the reality of young men of color in New York. Citing the statistic that 120,000 young men between 14 and 18 were stopped and questioned by police in New York in 2011, she expressed astonishment to learn that only 177,000 young men of color between 14 and 18 constitute the population. Granted, visitors to New York are part of the count.

Bottom line, Cameron Russell gave an valuable and sobering talk about being a model with a voice that encourages young women to aspire to be anything but a model. That’s Smart Sensuality moxie for which we say kudos to this vibrant, articulate person with social conscience, beauty and core values.

Read more about Cameron Russell at The Big Bad Lab!