Model Determined to Use Her White, Thin Privilege for Good

This excellent, short (hooray!) TED talk from model Cameron Russell is filled with great bits of insight and info. Here's a taste:

The real way that I became a model is that I won a genetic lottery, and I am the recipient of a legacy. What do I mean by legacy? Well, for the past few 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. And this is a legacy that was built for me, and it's a legacy that I've been cashing in on.

Some fashionistas may think, "Wait. Naomi. Tyra. Joan Smalls. Liu Wen." But the truth is that in 2007 when an inspired NYU Ph.D. student counted all the models on the runway, of the 677 models hired, only 27, or less than four percent, were non-white.

Jenna already wrote about the talk itself — and it's definitely worth watching if you haven't — but Russell followed it up with a piece on CNN's website today. This time, she asked for help. She noted that her talk has been viewed four times more than Colin Powell's talk from the same event. She asks, "Even if I did give a good talk, is what I have to say more important and interesting than what Colin Powell said?" It's a good question.


She wants some advice; how should she use her celebrity? She's obviously a smart, interesting woman, and she's saying important things. Does she have an obligation to shine the spotlight meant for her onto other people? Onto bigger issues?

She writes:

Like many young people I believe I have potential to make a positive impact in the world. But if I speak from a platform that relies on how I look, I worry that I will not have made room for anyone else to come after me. I will have reinforced that beauty and race and privilege get you a news story. The schoolteacher without adequate support, the domestic worker without rights, they won't be up there with me.

So what do I do? I am being handed press when good press for important issues is hard to come by. These outlets are the same outlets that spent two years not reporting a new drone base in Saudi Arabia while press in the UK covered it.

I'm not sure what the answer is, but it's cool she's thinking about it — and more importantly, talking about it.


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So what is the point of this TED talk? Really?

What is Cameron Russell doing about this inequity?

She's saying what everyone already knows. She offers no solution.

Her reverse strip-tease was comical... was it supposed to give her more credibility because she dressed down (ironically enough, by putting more clothing on)?

I don't get it. She looks down from her ivory tower and laments the ridiculousness of her decade-long career... but her checks have been cashed, and her appearance probably helped her secure a TED spot to begin with. So what is the point???