Model Cameron Russell shocked the fashion industry with her speech at the TED conference late last year saying that she only got into the business because of her looks. The 25-year-old model stands firm on her message of criticism against the fashion world and has inspired young girls and models everywhere with her honest opinions. Here’s what you need to know about this gutsy model.
1. She Condemns Beauty as the World’s Obsession
Russell surprised the fashion industry with her brutally honest outlook on the modeling world. “The real way I became a model is I won a genetic lottery and I became the recipient of a legacy,” she said at the TED conference last October in Washington, D.C.
She said that living a supermodel’s life isn’t all glamour and lifestyle because in reality, it’s filled with corruption and manipulation. She recalled her early days when she had to act sexy at photo shoots before she even had a boyfriend. At the conference, she showcased her fashion spread photos alongside photos of herself in real life. She said:
These pictures are not pictures of me, they’re constructions. They’re constructions by professionals — hairstylists, makeup artists, photographers stylists and all of their assistants and pre-production and post-production and they build this. That’s not me.
2. She Wants Young Girls to Pursue Other Career Paths
During the controversial video, Russell also added that pursuing modeling is not considered a career path:
Saying you want to be a model when you grow up is akin to saying you want to win the Powerball when you grow up. It’s awesome and it’s out of your control and it’s not a career path.
Russell spoke with ABC’s Good Morning America, saying that a lot of young girls tell her they want to be models. She says modeling is not a great aspiration and that girls should be studying other professions like engineering or politics.
3. Her Video on TED Received Over 1 Million Views
Russell’s video at the TED conference sparked conversations and debates on the web about the fashion business. The video has been viewed over a million times, and Cameron’s name has been mentioned by countless media outlets.
4. She Wrote a Special Piece on CNN About Being a Model
Clearly, Russell wasn’t done after that buzzy video. She appeared on CNN and posted a special article for the network about why she gave the talk at TED and her humble views on beauty. She wrote, “I gave the talk because I wanted to tell an honest personal narrative of what privilege means.”
She also said her looks confirm how beauty is defined in this day and age:
I work hard but my modeling career gives my views undeserved attention.
5. Russell Isn’t the First to Criticize the Industry
Russell isn’t the only who has exposed the true workings of the fashion industry. Last year, Tyra Banks wrote a letter to models thanking Vogue for banning images of anorexic models. And in 2010, model Doutzen Kroes spoke about her constant struggle to lose weight:
I probably fit the sample size once, when I was 11 or 12. It became a problem — I was always told lots of times that I should lose weight. It was a thing, ‘You look great, but you should probably lose a few pounds.’
6. Her Mother Founded Zipcar
Russell’s family has been in the spotlight for some time, especially her mother, Robin Chase. Chase is the co-founder of the popular car-sharing service Zipcar. Robin was the former CEO of the company as well as the CTO for six and a half years — appearing in TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in 2009 and Fast Company’s Fast 500 Champions of Innovation.
7. She Wanted to Go into Politics and Met Bill Clinton
When she was young, Russell showed interest in politics. She worked on the Clinton presidential election campaign with her friends in the ’90s. Russell was only 10 when she met Bill Clinton after he delivered a speech at MIT. The former president gave her some valuable advice: Stay in school, try to know as many different types of people as she can, and understand their goals.
8. Russell Started Modeling at 16
Growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Russell began her modeling career in 2003, working at the Ford Models agency after speaking with one of her friends who worked there. She bounced around various agencies before settling with Elite Model Management in 2011, working with photographers like Nick Knight, Steven Meisel and Craig McDean. She was featured in many magazines and worked on campaigns for companies like Louis Vuitton, Calvin Klein and Armani. She also walked the runway in shows for Prada, Marc Jacobs, Chanel and Victoria’s Secret.
9. She Majored in Economics and Political Science
Cameron attended her mother’s alma mater, Wellesley College, before transferring to Columbia University to study economics and political science. She went to school part-time before getting her bachelor’s degree at the Ivy League school.
10. She Has a Passion for the Arts and Social Change
Besides politics, Cameron also has a thing for art. To show her dedication, Cameron runs the blog ArtRoots, which covers grassroots public art and political power. She also creates street art in her spare time.
Also, Cameron is the executive director of The Big Bad Lab, which makes participatory art that focuses on people trying to effect positive social change.