A model uses her success to underscore some important points about image and privilege.

It’d be difficult to find a single one of us who hasn’t been influenced by advertising and images.

It’s so subtle that a lot of us could probably even tell ourselves we haven’t been influenced because it’s like the air we breathe it’s around us constantly and we don’t even think about it that much.

Case in point I bet you can finish this slogan without even Googling it: “Choosy moms choose ______.” If you don’t know the brand, I’d bet you’re an outlier.

We’re constantly absorbing data and impressions from imagery and ads whether we know it or not, and companies pay big money in the race to be the first to push their impressions into our faces. They certainly aren’t paying that kind of cash for something if it isn’t effective.

Let model Cameron Russell break it down because she nails it.

She’s had success as a model for about a decade, and she took to the TED stage to share some unique insight from her journey.

Here are three great aha moments she brings to the audience.

1. Image can be a powerful influence over our perceptions, and some people are more able to wield it than others.

She came out looking like this, knowing it was going to give a certain first impression.

All images from TED/YouTube.

Then she did the first ever on-stage wardrobe change at a TED talk.

And then she explained why she’d do something so awkward:

“Image is powerful. But also, image is superficial. I just totally transformed what you thought of me in six seconds.”

You’d never guess that she hadn’t even had a boyfriend before this photo was snapped, right?

2. In response to girls asking whether they can be models, she explains that while there’s nothing wrong with being a model, it’s not a career path.

Cameron likens modeling to winning some kind of genetic and societal lottery. Her message to young people: Set your sights on something else.

“Be my boss. Because I’m not in charge of anything and you could be the editor-in-chief of American Vogue. Saying that 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 out of your control, and it’s awesome, and it’s not a career path.”

She demonstrates what she’s learned from 10 years of modeling: what direction to look, how to pose, and the art of looking back at imaginary friends for the camera 500 times.

3. What we see in magazines is a complete fabrication and a construction from something else entirely.

She wants people to realize just how fake what they’re looking at in advertising really is. Cameron illustrates it with images of what she really was like during certain times of her life, in contrast with how magazine images portrayed her at the same times.

This side-by-side comparison is a magazine shoot and a family photo taken in close succession. A little different, right?

How much does it floor you that these photos were taken within a few months of each other?

Her entire talk is really fascinating and invites us to look at the advertising we see in a much more educated light.

Cameron makes some incredible points about how she’s benefitted from a stacked deck in our society all because she won the genetic lottery, and she juxtaposes that against the different life experiences of others all based on how society perceives their looks.

As one of my favorite bands says about media and advertising, “There is a war going on for your mind.” If you’re thinking critically about it, you’re winning.

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