We tend to look to the experienced or the aged for our wisdom. Assuming that years play the major part in assembling the experiences from which smarts are distilled. Recently camparigirl and I have come across wise thoughts by women young enough to be our daughters. Words that have stopped us in our tracks and started us thinking. Last week camparigirl introduced a wonderful young women she met on NPR through Story Corps: I wanted to tell you about a Victoria Secret model called Cameron Russell.
Over the years I have met many women who have modelled as a career. Rock’n’roll boys are attracted to model girls. And what 22-year old girl doesn’t want a guitar hero on their arm? But more than that, for these two species: it is a meeting of opportunity and DNA. They both have winning tickets in what Cameron Russell calls “the genetic lottery”. What propels them is a sense of needing to do something with their talent. Wait, wait, wait – before you yell – being a great model is a talent. Not every beautiful girl can do it. Just like not every eager-plucker can master the guitar.
In this very brief talk Russell is smart, funny, considered, warm and, even though she has strutted the runway in a rhinestone bikini and a pair of angel wings … she’s more than a little nervous in front of the TED crowd. She tells her audience how image can build and destroy – that she is a creation of someone else’s imagination: “these are not pictures of me, they are constructions by professionals …and they build this. That’s not me.”
Russell also talks with wry awareness talks of the ‘freebies’ she gets through being beautiful: of getting off traffic tickets, of being given a dress in a store … passes she says she got because of how she looks, not who she is. She knows that other people suffer negatively from appearance profiling: “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 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?”
In answer to the inevitable question: ‘Can I be a model when I grow up?’, Cameron always responds: “I don’t know, they don’t put me in charge of that.” When, what she really wants say 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. If, after this amazing list, they still are like, “No, no, Cameron, I want to be a model,” well 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.
And she proves that beauty doesn’t equal invulnerability: “….the thing that we never say on camera, that I have never said on camera, is, “I am insecure.” And I’m insecure because I have to think about what I look like every day. And if you ever are wondering, “If I have thinner thighs and shinier hair, will I be happier?” you just need to meet a group of models, because they have the thinnest thighs and the shiniest hair and the coolest clothes, and they’re the most physically insecure women probably on the planet.”
Russell tells the truth without drama and she makes good sense. She has survived ten years in a business that requires strength and focus. She has used her income to go to college. I like her. She’s the kind of (role)model I want my nieces to meet. Whether they plan to strut the catwalks or not.