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  • Hi, my name is Cameron Russell

  • and for the last little while I've been a model,

  • actually for 10 years.

  • And I feel like there is an uncomfortable

  • tension in the room right now,

  • because I should not have worn this dress. (Laughter)

  • So, luckily I brought an outfit change.

  • This is the first outfit change on a TED stage,

  • so you guys are pretty lucky to witness it,

  • I think.

  • If some of the women were really horrified

  • when I came out, you don't have to tell me now,

  • but I will find out later on Twitter. (Laughter)

  • I'd also note that I am quite privileged

  • to be able to transform what you think of me

  • in a very brief 10 seconds.

  • Not everybody gets to do that.

  • These heels are very uncomfortable,

  • so good thing I wasn't gonna wear them.

  • The worst part is putting this sweater over my head

  • because that's when you'll all laugh at me so --

  • don't do anything while it's over my head.

  • All right.

  • So, why did I do that?

  • That was awkward. (Laughter)

  • Well -- (Laughter) --

  • hopefully not as akward as that picture.

  • Image is powerful.

  • But also image is superficial.

  • I just totally transformed what you thought of me in six seconds,

  • and in this picture 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.

  • And of course barring surgery, or the fake tan

  • that I got two days ago for work,

  • there is very little that we can do to transform how we look.

  • And how we look, though it is superficial

  • and immutable has a huge impact on our lives.

  • So today, for me, being fearless

  • means being honest, and I am on this stage

  • because I am a model. I am on this stage

  • because I am a pretty white women.

  • In my industry we call that a sexy girl.

  • And I am gonna answer the questions

  • that people always ask me but with an honest twist.

  • So the first question is, "How do you become a model?"

  • And I always 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'm the recipient of a legacy.

  • And maybe you're wondering, "What is a legacy?"

  • Well, for the past two centuries we have defined beauty

  • not just as health and youth and simetry

  • 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.

  • And I know there are pople in the audience

  • who are skeptical at this point,

  • and maybe there are some fashionistas who are like,

  • "Wait -- Naomi, Tyra, Joan Smalls, Liu Wen,"

  • and first I commend you on your model knowledge,

  • very impressive. (Laughter)

  • But unfortunately I have to inform you

  • that in 2007 a very inspired NYU PhD student

  • counted all the models on the runway,

  • every single one who was hired,

  • and of the 677 models that were hired,

  • only 27 or less than 4% were non-white.

  • The next question people always ask me is,

  • "Can I be a model when I grow up?"

  • And first answer is, "I don't know,

  • they don't put me in charge of that."

  • But the second answer and what I really

  • want to say to these little girls is,

  • "Why? You know, you can be anything.

  • You could be the President of the United States,

  • or the inventor of the next Internet,

  • or a ninja cardio-thoracic surgeon poet,

  • which would be awesome because you'd be the first one." (Laughter)

  • If after this amazing list they're still like,

  • "No, no, Cameron, I want to be a model",

  • then I say, "Be my boss",

  • because I'm not in charge of anything,

  • and you could be the editor-in-chief of American Vogue

  • or the CEO of H&M or the next Steven Meisel.

  • Saying that you want to be a model when you grow up

  • is a akin to saying that you want to win

  • the Powerball when you grow up.

  • It's, you know, out of your control,

  • and it's awesome and it's not a career path.

  • I will demonstrate for you now ten years of

  • accumulated model knowledge, because unlike

  • cardio-thoracic surgeons it can just be distilled

  • right into it right now.

  • So, if the photographer is right there

  • and the light is right there like a nice HMI

  • 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 forth, 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 (Laughter)

  • three hundred, four hundred, five hundred times.

  • It will look something like this -- (Laughter) --

  • hopefully less awkward than that one on the middle, that was --

  • I don't know what happened there. (Laughter)

  • Unfortunately, after you've gone to school

  • and you have a resume 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 resume reads "Underwear model 10 years"

  • people give you a funny look.

  • The next question people always ask me is,

  • "Do they retouch all the photos?"

  • and yeah, they pretty much retouch all the photos,

  • but that is only a small component of what's happening.

  • This picture is the very first picture that I ever took

  • and is also the very first time that I had worn a bikini,

  • and I didn't even have my period yet,

  • I know we are getting personal,

  • but, you know, I was a young girl.

  • This is what I looked like with my grandma

  • just a few months earlier.

  • Here's me on the same day as the shoot

  • -- my friend got to come with me --

  • Here is me at a slumber party a few days before I shot French Vogue.

  • Here's me on the soccer team and in V Magazine.

  • And here is me today.

  • And I hope what you are seeing is that

  • these pictures are not pictures of me, they are constructions,

  • and they are constructions by professionals,

  • by hair stylists, and make up artists and photographers and stylists

  • and all of their assistants, and pre-production,

  • and post-production, and they built this.

  • That's not me.

  • OK, so the next question people always ask me is,

  • "Do you get free stuff?" (Laughter)

  • I do have too many eight inch heels

  • which I never get to wear, except for earlier,

  • but the free stuff that I get is the free stuff

  • that I get in real life and that is what

  • we don't like to talk about.

  • I grew up in Cambridge and one time

  • I went out to a store and I forgot my money

  • and they gave me the dress for free.

  • When I was a teenager I was driving with my friend,

  • who was an awful driver, and she ran a red and of course

  • we got pulled over, and all it took was a

  • "Sorry, officer" and we were on our way.

  • And I got these 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% of them were black and Latino and most of them were young man.

  • And there are only 177.000 young black and latino man

  • 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?"

  • When I was researching this talk I found out that

  • of the 13 year old girls in the United States

  • 53% don't like their bodies. And that number

  • goes to 78% by the time they are 17.

  • So the last question people ask me is,

  • you know, "What is it like to be a model?"

  • and I think the answer that they're looking for is

  • if you are a little bit skinnier and you have shinier hair

  • you will be so happy and fabulous.

  • And when we are backstage we give an answer