The Victoria’s Secret model Cameron Russell wants to shift the media spotlight to “women who really are doing fantastic things.” She recently became known for a TED talk that went viral advising young girls not to pursue modeling.
Cameron Russell, like most fashion models, knows how to pose for the camera, a skill she demonstrated on a recent Friday at the Brooklyn studio of her media consulting company.
Dressed in dark skinny jeans, black hoodie and bright purple socks, Ms. Russell sat on a stool as she communed with the camera lens at a three-quarters pose, arched her back just so and artfully tousled her hair. Her eyes were contoured with bright purple eye shadow, her lips a comical shade of hot pink.
“I feel like I should say something really serious right now,” Ms. Russell said. She lowered her voice an octave and furrowed her brow. “This video is about changing the hetero norms of our society,” she added, before bursting out laughing.
Ms. Russell, 25, has been modeling since she was 16. She has posed for Vogue and Elle, and has walked the runway for Chanel and Versace. Last November, she put on some lingerie and a pair of thigh-high yellow rain boots, and walked in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show.
On this particular Friday, she wasn’t selling lingerie. She was shooting a promotional video for Interrupt, a new webzine that seeks to give a platform to women who feel marginalized by mainstream media. Ms. Russell, as one of the site’s founders, was appearing in a before-and-after video in which she undergoes two transformations: one as a sexy model, another as a muscular man.
“We thought it would be fun to play with the way fashion can influence gender perceptions,” she said, before the shoot began.
“So we’ll do one super-femme shot,” she said, and then “one masculine shot with stubble, ripped arms and armpit hair.”
If Ms. Russell doesn’t sound like a typical fashion model, it’s because she’s not. The daughter of Robin Chase, a Zipcar founder, she grew up in Cambridge, Mass., and has a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from Columbia. She signed with Ford Models at 15 after being scouted on the street several times while visiting New York with her mother.
“I thought it was going to be like two jobs and a funny experience,” she said. “Around the same time, I went to the Naval Academy in Annapolis for their summer seminar. I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll go into the Navy.’ Then the next week it was, ‘Oh, I’m shooting French Vogue.’ ”
A more recent claim to fame is a widely viewed TED talk she gave last year, advising young girls not to pursue modeling and bluntly explaining the secret to her success. “I am on this stage because I am a pretty, white woman, and in my industry we call that a sexy girl,” she said onstage.
The TED talk rapidly went viral — and was quickly followed by an op-ed for CNN and a segment on ABC’s “Nightline.” Interrupt is Ms. Russell’s attempt to transform her newfound celebrity into something meaningful and long lasting. “I felt like I was getting a ton of press, and not for fantastic reasons,” she said. “I wanted to share the press with some women who really are doing fantastic things.”
So Ms. Russell, a self-described “Internet nerd” and avid Twitter user, posted an open letteronline with a simple question for women: “What would you say if you had access to mass media?”
The resulting site, which went live in March, features high-quality photo spreads of glammed-up female activists, interviews with female directors and readers’ responses to her open letter.
“If mass media only responds to cute outfits, nice smiles and high gloss,” the Web site asks, “what would happen if we put these amazing women on camera wearing high fashion, glamorous hair and tons of makeup?”
A second issue, focused on body image, was uploaded on May 2 and featured essays and artwork on Afros, eyebrows, bra challenges faced by transgendered women, and Kim Kardashian’s armpit fat. Future issues may focus on fashion, health, race, L.G.B.T. issues and women in sports.
Back in the Jay Street studio, Ms. Russell’s makeup artist applied gloss to her arms and chest while she joked about her appearance on CNN’s “Starting Point” earlier that day.
“I was super awkward on it,” she said, laughing. “I felt like I was watching tennis the whole time. And then someone totally tweeted ‘@CameronCRussell, you look like you’re watching tennis.’ ”
Makeup completed, Ms. Russell stood and braced her hands on the stool, flipping her head over and submitting her hair to a few more rounds of spraying and teasing by her hairstylist.
“Oh, we also need a shot with cleavage,” Ms. Russell said, eyeing the camera strategically and tugging her tank top down before offering up a few sultry poses.
Her photographer handed her the camera so she could see the final shots.
“That is insane,” she said happily. “I look crazy. I look perfectly crazy.”