A Victoria's Secret model takes down the fashion industry in just nine minutes.

To finish up the year that was, we’re going to bring you the most popular Mamamia posts of 2013. It’s like a countdown, an advent calendar of sorts, but one that gets your through the post-Christmas blur and into the new year. We’ve been lucky to have some truly wonderful writers join us to share their thoughts on Mamamia this year. This is the very, very best of what they had to offer. Enjoy.

“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. It’s out of your control and it’s awesome — and it’s not a career path.”

This is just one of the honest, surprising and incredibly insightful thoughts shared by Victoria’s Secret model, Cameron Russell in her recent TED talk that has quickly gone viral.

During the nine minute speech (take the time if you possibly can), Russell tackles the issue of body image, challenges our society’s perception of beauty and talks about how, at age 16, the fashion industry “constructed” a highly sexualised and unrealistic image of her.

Russell also advises little girls who aspire to be models to consider careers as “ninja cardio-thoracic poets” instead.

Every minute of her speech is worth watching:

If you can’t watch the video because you’re still hanging out for that national broadband network to be connected (congrats to the 27 people who are hooked up) or you’re at work and your boss expects you to you know, work (outrageous) – then we’ve broken down Russell’s message below.

She tells the assembled crowd that: “For the past few centuries we have defined beauty not just as health and youth and symmetry 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 this is a legacy I’ve cashed out on.”

Russell goes on to demonstrate the reality behind six of her fashion editorial images for Vogue, V and Allure magazines. She effortlessly dispels the common belief that life would be better or easier if only we were slimmer or more beautiful.

“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,” Rusell says.

Russell (in her 10 years of experience in the industry) confirms that most of the fashion images we see are not only retouched but manipulated by teams of people in order to portray unattainable levels of perfection/beauty/sex appeal.


The photo on the above left is Russell’s first ever fashion editorial as a model. Shot for Allure magazine in 2003 when she was 16 years old, Russell says of the fashion shoot, “this is also the first very time that I wore a bikini, and I didn’t even had my period yet… I was a young girl, this is what I looked [on the right] with my grandma just a few months earlier.”

“In this picture [above] 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,” Russell says.

It’s pretty hard to believe that both of these images were shot on the same day. On the right Russell appears to be a carefree teenager, on the left a seductive goddess well beyond her adolescence.

This is a photo of Russell for French Vogue, the photo on the right was taken a few days prior to the fashion shoot at a friend’s slumber party.

Russell in V magazine epitomising every bit the vampy seductress – a stark contrast to the the reality on the right of a teenager gearing up for soccer practice.

Of the cover for German Vogue Russell says: “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 recognise me. I was sitting directly across from her wearing sweatpants, a windbreaker, no makeup and hair up in a bun.”

Moral of this story? The images we see – and perhaps unconsciously aspire to – are not real.

“They are constructions by a group of professionals: by hair stylists, make-up artists and photographers and stylists and all of their assistants and pre-production and post production and they build this, that’s not me,” says Russell.