I’m not a huge fan of “TED talks.” There’s something about them that seems too slick, too polished, too homogenous, for me. But a friend turned me onto a TED talk last week that I think is worth discussing.
In her TED talk, model Cameron Russell makes the argument that the images we see in the media are not real. That even models don’t look like models in real life.
This isn’t a revolutionary idea—we all know that the images in our magazines and on our screens are not real—but hearing it from a model is somehow more convincing, especially because she gives us the photographic and anecdotal evidence to back up her point.
At one point, Russell tells a story about how people sometimes don’t even realize she’s a model when they meet her in real life:
“In December I was shooting in the Bahamas, and on the way back I was in a boat with other people staying on the same island. One woman was going on and on about the model she’d seen on the beach who was ‘so gorgeous.’ Of course, that model had been me in hair, makeup and a neon bikini. The whole 30-minute boat ride she didn’t recognize me. I was sitting directly across from her wearing sweatpants, a windbreaker, no makeup and hair up in a bun.”
Russell also reminds her audience that being beautiful doesn’t make anyone happy. She explains, “If you ever think, ‘If I had thinner thighs and shinier hair, wouldn’t I be happier,’ you just need to meet a group of models. They have the thinnest thighs and the shiniest hair and the coolest clothes and they are the most physically insecure women, probably, on the planet.”
Still, Russell admits that “How we look—though it is superficial and immutable—has a huge impact on our lives… people pay a cost for how they look” while also challenging the notion that our looks should play such a strong role, implying that our obsession with models and celebrities is unhealthy:
“When I gave a talk at TEDx, I thought that if I did a good job, the video might go viral. But … it has 140,000 views while Colin Powell’s (who spoke at the same event) has only 2,700. He is an incredibly experienced and intelligent man. And yet our society’s obsession with celebrity and models means more people were interested in listening to my talk.”
Until today I didn’t know who Russell was, but the fact that her TED talk is 500% more popular than Powell’s proves her point that our obsession with beauty is completely and totally f***ed up.