The power of image

This touching talk by attractive model Cameron Russell says “If you have skinny things and shinier hair, it does not mean you are happier…Image is powerful, but also image is superficial…in this picture,” and she shows an advertisement where the girl is being hugged by the man, “I had actually never had a boyfriend in real life. I was totally uncomfortable, and the photographer was telling me to arch my back and put my hand in that guy’s hair…”

Russell highlights a very important racial prejudice in the world, “I am on this stage because I am a pretty, white woman, and in my industry we call that a sexy girl. So the question is, how do you become a model? And I always just say, ‘Oh, I was scouted’, but that means nothing. The real way that I became a model is I won a genetic lottery, and I am the recipient of a legacy, and maybe you're wondering what is a 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 out on…in 2007, a very inspired New York University Ph.D. student counted all the models on the runway, every single one that was hired, and of the 677 models that were hired, only 27, or less than four per cent, were non-white.”

Russell demystifies the magic we see in stills for commercials when she answers, “The next question people always ask me is, ‘Can I be a model when I grow up?’ It's out of your control, and it's awesome, and it's not a career path. I will demonstrate for you now 10 years of accumulated model knowledge… if the photographer is right there and the light is right there…and the client says, ‘Cameron, we want a walking shot’, well then this leg goes first, nice and long, this arm goes back, this arm goes forward, the head is at three quarters, and you just go back and forth, just do that, and then you look back at your imaginary friends, 300, 400, 500 times…”

And the model shows the swinging movement again and again and continues to add, “Unfortunately after you’ve gone to school, and you have a résumé and you’ve done a few jobs, you can’t say anything anymore, so if you say you want to be the President of the United States, but your résumé reads, ‘Underwear Model: 10 years’, people give you a funny look.”

Cameron shows us how the best photographs are retouched at every stage and at every angle, but the most thought provoking answer comes to the question about getting free stuff. “I do have too many eight-inch heels which I never get to wear… And I got free things because of how I look, not who I am, and there are people paying a cost for how they look and not who they are. I live in New York, and last year, of the 140,000 teenagers that were stopped and frisked, 86 percent of them were black and Latino, and most of them were young men. And there are only 177,000 young black and Latino men in New York, so for them, it's not a question of, ‘Will I get stopped?’ but ‘How many times will I get stopped? When will I get stopped’?”

Russell says to girls, “I found out that of the 13-year-old girls in the United States, 53 per cent don't like their bodies, and that number goes to 78 per cent by the time that they're 17…” Russell suggests that girls think, “If you are a little bit skinnier and you have shinier hair, you will be so happy and fabulous.”

But that is a myth.

“I am insecure… because I have to think about what I look like every day. ..If there’s a takeaway to this talk, I hope it’s that we all feel more comfortable acknowledging the power of image in our perceived successes and our perceived failures,” says Russell.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 5:52:23 PM |

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