When I gave a talk at [TEDxMidAtlantic] in November, I thought that if I did a good job, the video might go viral. But I was still astonished when not only did it go viral, but also today it has 140,000 views while Colin Powell’s (who spoke at the same event) has only 2,700. He is an incredibly experienced and intelligent man. And yet our society’s obsession with celebrity and models means more people were interested in listening to my talk.

Afterwards I was invited to speak on CNN and written up in Jezebel and [The] Huffington Post, among others. I didn’t say anything groundbreaking. I haven’t done the profoundly impactful work many TED speakers have. And yet, people watch.

Why? I don’t know the answer to this entirely. From personal experience, nearly everyone I meet, be it young teenagers, flight attendants, academics, CEOs, actors, you name it, they all want to talk about modelling. And actually, here’s where I think the real power of modelling lies. Not in an ability to get wealthy people to buy expensive clothes, or news anchors to invite you onto their shows (these things can be powerful too). Modelling is a powerful platform because it engages people…

[Modelling] gave me the opportunity to talk about privilege and race on national television – topics most [Americans] are usually very uncomfortable discussing. Yet, they are easy topics to discuss when we talk about modelling. And since the CNN piece was posted yesterday, hundreds of people have engaged with what I said on Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr and elsewhere, and the clip has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

I hope that in the coming months and years I can figure out how to use my lottery ticket to make mass media that is more informed, more participatory and more responsible.

Cameron Russell talking with Australian Vogue about her TEDxMidAtlantic talk, “Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model,” which is the featured talk on TED.com today.
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