Model Cameron Russell does her damnedest to unpack the knapsack of beauty privilege in this new TED talk, which you should probably watch. "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. "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."
During the talk, Russell also provides side-by-side comparisons of pictures some of her fashion shoots from over the years with contemporaneous candid snapshots, as a means of talking about the unreality of fashion's imagery. (She also remarks that at the time of her first-ever swimwear shoot, for Allure, she had not yet gotten her period.) There's a passage in The Corrections where the character of Denise, a chef, cooks a Christmas dinner in her mother's home and finds her work doesn't rise to her usual standards. "You forget how much restaurant there was in restaurant food and how much home was in homemade," Denise remarks. There's a lot of "restaurant" in fashion: every image we see in a magazine is the result of many hundreds of deliberate aesthetic choices made by professionals. Editors, stylists, photographers, hair and makeup artists, art directors, retouchers. Nobody really looks "like that."
And if that seems like a rather obvious point to anyone who works in fashion, perhaps it is less so to to the many women and girls who grow up in a visual culture saturated by fashion. Russell quotes statistics that show that 53% of 13-year-old girls in the U.S. don't like their bodies. "And," Russell continues, "that number goes to 78% by the time they're 17."
Also, Baratunde Thurston (the YouTube commenter!) calls it, "a wonderful talk that honestly explores privilege, insecurity, and perception in one of the world's most glamorous and least understood industries."