The Power of Image
“Image is powerful. But image is superficial.”
That was the opening line of Cameron Russell’s TED Talk in 2013 — a line that encompasses many issues in modern-day society.
As a model of 10 years, Russell felt not only qualified but required to discuss the power of image.
In modern society, media is king. When it comes to growing wealth and popularity, the more media you do the better. Whether it’s a company trying to grow brand awareness, an Instagram model trying to gain followers, or a YouTuber trying to grow their channel, attention gained equals success.
What is done to gain this attention may not represent who the person or people actually are, though.
While the posturing of corporations to match the common thinking among their customers represents an ethical dilemma, there are much deeper issues rooted in image.
Namely, social media.
Image in media has been an issue for a long time. But it has grown to an even larger scale with phone applications such as Instagram, where looking at beautiful people is incredibly easy and accessible.
In 2019, a poll done by the Mental Health Foundation in the UK showed that one in eight people have considered taking their own lives over concerns of their bodies. Over a third felt anxious or depressed due to their body.
It isn’t all body image, though. With Instagram in particular, people are selling their lifestyles.
Take Dan Bilzerian for example. Bilzerian has been selling a lifestyle of boats, guns, money, and sex for years and has amassed a following of over 32 million people on Instagram. Men around the world want to be Dan Bilzerian.
In reality, Bilzerian is only showing the best of himself. While his followers sit at home sulking because of what they don’t have, they are setting themselves up for a lifestyle of despair caused by comparison.
It happens to many women, too, who may see hundreds of pictures a day of Instagram models.
These models are selling a lifestyle and a look that often isn’t real. And as Russell says, physical beauty should not be the most forefront criteria to define a person.
“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 not a career path.”
Russell wanted to make it clear that physical beauty is not earned and therefore should not be sought. Being “beautiful,” as defined by media portrayal, is simply winning a genetic lottery.
She also discusses the free things she gets because of her looks. Sure, some of these things are clothes and shoes. But some of them are passes from police officers for running a red light when a “normal” person would receive a ticket.
“I got these free things because of how I look, not who I am. And there are people paying a cost for how they look and not who they are.”
Living a lifestyle based on looks can be rewarding in some ways but damaging in others. Sure, traveling the world is great. But does it outweigh the mental toll of having to uphold the standard?
“The thing we never say on camera is ‘I am insecure.’ And I’m insecure because I have to think about what I look like every day. If you are ever wondering, ‘If I have thinner thighs and shinier hair, will I be happier?’ You just need to meet a group of models because they have the thinnest thighs and the shiniest hair and the coolest clothes and they’re the most physically insecure women probably on the planet.”
When scrolling through Instagram and comparing yourself to those “beautiful” people that make you resent your situation and perhaps yourself, remember that opening line.
Image is powerful. But image is superficial.