TED Weekends dissects our collective notion of beauty

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Cameron Russell: Looks aren't everything. Believe me, I'm a model. Cameron Russell: Looks aren't everything. Believe me, I'm a model. Cameron Russell wants to have a discussion about the way that we, as a society, perceive beauty. Media representations of women, she says, are replete with racist and sexist representations, encouraging women to live up to a standard that is both oppressive and unattainable. Russell’s profession offers an insider’s perspective on the topic – after all, she has been modeling for over a decade.

Her candid talk from TEDxMidAtlantic led to this edition of TED Weekends on the Huffington Post. Below, find essays to start the discussion on our perceptions of beauty.

Cameron Russell: Beauty Is in the Lies of the Beholder

Women are not crazy for wanting to have a discussion about body image. And the conversation isn’t as superficial as the one Dove keeps encouraging us to have. It is a conversation about sexism and racism. It is a conversation about the real reason we try to shrink our waists and whiten our teeth (and sometimes even our skin). Most of the time we don’t do those things to make ourselves happy, we do them for someone else. I think we should start talking about that.

The easiest place to see discrimination is our incomes. Modeling is one of the few professions where women actually out-earn men. And across all jobs, studies have found that more attractive women earn more. A woman’s value is too often skin-deep. In 2004 a study found that resumes with very African-American-sounding names were 50 percent less likely to get called for an initial interview. And racial bias in salaries is overwhelming. While white women make an average of 78 cents for every man’s dollar, for African-American women that number drops to 62 cents, and for Hispanic women to 54 cents. Read the full essay

Donna Highfill: Beauty and Biblical Plagues

There is nothing like a biblical plague landing on your face to make you question the importance of physical appearance. I was 24 years old when I noticed a massive knot on my face that caused my left eye to close slightly. I was sure that something horrible had bitten me and was equally sure that some topical cream and an antibiotic would cure it. But when my normally personality-less dermatologist sat down beside me, put his hand on my arm and said, “You are so young and pretty. I am so sorry,” I knew I was wrong on both counts.

At the time the plague descended, I was a trainer for a mid-sized bank, which called for me to present in front of people on a regular basis. I was also getting married soon… that special time in a girl’s life when you prepare for that walk down the runway that church folks call an aisle.

Sparing the more vivid details of cystic acne, I will tell you that it is a cruel skin disease that can ravage the skin with huge, painful cysts. See? Biblical plague stuff. Fortunately, mine hit only one place on my body. Unfortunately, that place was my face. Read the full essay