Model: I won 'genetic lottery'

Posted By GABRIELLE LEVY,  |  Feb. 19, 2013 at 1:28 PM
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Something about model Cameron Russell's TEDx talk really struck a nerve, shared thousands of times and watched more than a million times since it was posted online last month, adding steam to the growing conversation around beauty standards, self-image and self-worth..

Russell, who has modeled for Victoria's Secret, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, knows a little something about how damaging those beauty standards can be.

"Saying that you want to be a model when you grow up is akin to saying that you want to win the Powerball when you grow up," she said at the TEDx talk in October.

Russell seems to be baffled by how strong the reaction has been to her talk.

"The talk itself is nothing groundbreaking," she wrote in an essay posted on CNN Monday. "It's a couple of stories and observations about working as a model for the last decade."

"I gave the talk because I wanted to tell an honest personal narrative of what privilege means."

In particular it is the barrage of media requests I've had that confirm that how I look and what I do for a living attracts enormous undeserved attention.

Do I want a TV show? Do I want to write a book? Do I want to appear in a movie? Do I want to speak to CNN, NBC, NPR, the Times of India, Cosmo, this blogger and that journal? Do I want to speak at this high school, at that college, at Harvard Law School or at other conferences?

I am not a uniquely accomplished 25-year-old. I've modeled for 10 years and I took six years to finish my undergraduate degree part-time, graduating this past June with honors from Columbia University. If I ever had needed to put together a CV it would be quite short. Like many young people I'd highlight my desire to work hard.

But Russell's talk seems particularly salient at a moment when people are struggling with defining beauty. Kate Upton is being called fat after landing the first back-to-back Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition covers since Tyra Banks in 1996 and 1997 while impressionable teens starving themselves to achieve a "thigh gap" to look like the models they see in magazines.

Russell's response--"I won the genetic lottery"--has stuck with us because it's the healthiest attitude about body image a celebrity has given young women in a long time.

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