How to Make Herself Agreeable to Everyone

A Memoir

Hardcover

March 19, 2024 | ISBN 9780593595480

Ebook

March 19, 2024 | ISBN 9780593595497

About the Book

“Gripping . . . a call to action—and accountability—for the entire fashion industry.”—Marie Claire

A bold memoir that explores who holds the power in an image-obsessed culture, from the model and activist who helped organize the movement to bring equity to fashion


“By elevating me for something I have no control over, the industry and economy signal to all women: there is almost nothing you can do or create that is as valuable as how you look.”

Scouted by a modeling agent when she was just sixteen years old, Cameron Russell first approached her job with some reservations: She was a serious student with her sights set on college, not the runway. But modeling was a job that seemed to offer young women like herself unprecedented access to wealth, fame, and influence. Besides, as she was often reminded, “there are a million girls in line” who would eagerly replace her. 

In her fierce and innovative memoir, Russell chronicles how she learned to navigate the dizzying space between physical appearance and interiority and making money in an often-exploitative system. Being “agreeable,” she found, led to more success: more bookings and more opportunities to work with the world’s top photographers and biggest brands.

But as her prominence grew, Russell found that achievement under these conditions was deeply isolating and ultimately unsatisfying. Instead of freedom, she was often required to perform the role of compliant femme fatale, so she began organizing with her peers, helping to coordinate movements for labor rights, climate and racial justice, and bringing MeToo to the fashion industry. 

Intimate and illuminating, How to Make Herself Agreeable to Everyone is a nuanced, deeply felt memoir about beauty, complicity, and the fight for a better world.
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Praise for How to Make Herself Agreeable to Everyone

“Cameron Russell’s How to Make Herself Agreeable to Everyone is an unforgettable book. Fiercely intellectual, deeply vulnerable, and unapologetically honest, Russell reads through the layers of gender, race, capital, and exploitation in the fashion industry. Through her personal journey, she unpacks how inheritances, commitments, and dreams can both inspire and distort our paths. A voracious reader and critical thinker, Russell reveals the complex dance of an industry that punishes even as it rewards. Her story of being a supermodel and groundbreaking activist is particular, but the lessons she shares apply to us all. She teaches us how to move away from being accomplices to our own suffering and toward being loving witnesses for one another. I highly recommend this powerful work.”—Imani Perry, National Book Award–winning author of South to America

“A unique and honest perspective on the fashion industry. Cameron Russell doesn’t just hold the door open for more voices from within fashion, she makes a compelling argument as to why they must be heard.”—Christy Turlington Burns, founder and president of Every Mother Counts and model

How to Make Herself Agreeable to Everyone somehow exists before, beside, and after reckoning. I don’t know of a more blistering dismantling of what makes a so-called fashion and modeling industry. And that would have been enough. But the book artfully pivots toward repair and locates truths in the actual bodies, experiences, and imaginations of those who hold the clothes up. Craft matters here. Cameron Russell’s writing, and its audacious scope, will become malleable legend.”—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

“Russell’s story of finding her power and using it to uplift others—from workers’ rights to climate justice—holds lessons for us all.”—Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, co-founder of Urban Ocean Lab and the All We Can Save Project

“In an image-obsessed era that reduces women to—or encourages us to reduce ourselves to—our bodies, Russell offers young women, especially, a way through.”—Peggy Orenstein, New York Times bestselling author of Girls & Sex

“Cameron affirms that fashion can be a space and a tool for liberation.”—Geena Rocero, model and author of Horse Barbie

“A sharp, provocative memoir about an evergreen topic.”—Kirkus Reviews
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Excerpt

How to Make Herself Agreeable to Everyone

she’ll do anything

1. On my first shoot the stylist says to his assistant: Let’s go for an S-N-M vibe. Mom, do you remember? I go to the toilet and call you and say, They want to put a belt around my neck, it’s an S-N-M vibe, and you say no belt around my neck, S and M is a sexual fetish. So I say no to the belt, and he thinks I’m ungrateful.

By way of explanation I say: I want to run for president. I have to be careful about the kind of pictures I take. He looks me in the eye and I look back. Normally adults are pleased or amused when I tell them this. But he rolls his eyes and takes off the belt. He gives me a tiny black bikini. Go! he says, and turns his back.

I’ve never worn a bikini before. I didn’t know I would be wearing one, but I don’t have enough pubic hair yet to need to shave. On set I suck my stomach in until my ribs poke out. How do I stand when my stomach is showing? The photographer keeps telling me, Relax. He has a fart-machine prank he does. I laugh because I’m supposed to.

When the photo comes out, my agent makes it my comp card and sends it to clients. I carry it around to castings to give out. Your body looks amazing, she says.

The stylist won’t work with me for another seven years. When he finally books me again, he jokes: You were such a spoiled brat.

2. On my second shoot the makeup artist paints my lips red, and in the mirror of the RV bathroom my teeth look stained next to the bright color. She tells me I have cocksucker lips. The stylist says I’m going to be huge.

3. My fourth or fifth shoot, the photographer—a legend—kisses me on the lips when I’m standing at the elevators waiting to leave. I am sixteen and the double kiss everyone does is awkward, and so I think maybe I messed it up. A dozen shoots and fifteen years later he will still call me “girl” when we work together and pretend he does not know my name.

4. The photographer adjusts my hair and clothes by placing his whole hand—heavy, warm—on my face, my shoulder, my hip, and then drawing it slowly back from my skin. He stands behind me in the mirror and looks at me and I look away and he squeezes my shoulders. Electricity shoots through me and I think about this feeling even after the shoot is over, when I’m back home, for weeks and months. The agents keep telling me how much money I can make, but all I want is to experience this feeling again.

It turns out this shoot launches my career. A famous art director visits the set that day and says, F***, she’s sexy, to the photographer. I try to be polite and make uncomfortable eye contact while they talk about how I look. Then, since I don’t know what to say, I walk away and sink into a couch on the other side of the studio. I can still hear them looking through the images on the computer: F***, f***, f***, they say.

5. The next time we shoot he will ask me to shoot topless. But I’m sixteen, I say. I feel like I might cry. It has to be topless, says the stylist. I text you, Mom, and my new agent. The photographer asks me if I’m okay. I’m going to leave, I say, even though I don’t want to, I just want to shoot with him wearing a top. I hug and double kiss him goodbye and walk out. Like we’re breaking up. Of course, nobody cares; they have six other girls on set, ready to go.

6. The famous art director will nickname me “Camarones.” He makes me lie in the dirt next to a swampy river, my body fake wet, sticky with baby oil, and tells me to arch my back and close my eyes. I stay lying in the mud, wondering if there are leeches, because they want my legs to stay where they are (positioned just so, spread at the water’s edge) while the crew looks through Polaroids. The art director will come over and take pictures on his personal camera. F***, he says.

Mostly, though, they shoot their contract girl. At the end of the first day the sky turns dark and the wind picks up and they turn a big spotlight on her lying in the reeds, wearing just jeans. The air is thick and wet. She is glowing. She covers her breasts with one arm and rolls around looking into the camera. Her lips get an extra spray from the makeup artist’s glycerin bottle; they open. She is dripping. The rest of us disappear into the evening drizzle. When they are done, an assistant brings her a white robe, which she ties loosely. The art director throws an arm around her, the robe bunches, and I see her nipple. They walk together to a car, which will take them back to the hotel. Production shepherds me into the van with the rest of the crew.

The next day they shoot me again in the afternoon. God, you’re sexy, says the art director. I don’t know what to say. I wish I could have heard what their contract girl said when she was on set, but I couldn’t get close enough.

7. I shoot a fragrance campaign with this same art director, and nobody tells me that I am the star of the campaign. Instead I sit alone for a day while everyone else shoots, wondering if I haven’t made the cut. The second day he tells me, We need you making out with a guy. He suggests a model who is loud and obnoxious. I point and suggest another model whose name I don’t know. It’s just acting, I think. He laughs and says okay. So my first kiss is standing in a pool in underwear and a tank top. We kiss over and over for the cameras.

8. At castings—where the only time I get to speak is when I say, Good, thank you, after they ask, How are you today?—I get called purebred, all-American, well-educated, from a good family, maybe perfect for a contract, timeless, classic, but a little exotic, almost a little ethnic, do you have any Native American ancestry, the whole package, a triple threat. I’m still in high school, can’t really sing or dance, and the last time I acted was in fourth grade, so I sense that what they mean is, I have the body, the face, and the White* skin they’re looking for.

The walls at castings are covered with photos of nearly identical-looking White girls, for the summer season with tans, paler for fall/winter and couture. I am White, hip 33, waist 21, bust 33, 5' 9.5" but we could round up.

9. An art director who owns the magazine we’re shooting for in Paris looks through the back of the RV while I change. At first I don’t notice. He convinces my agent to have me take Polaroids with him. He asks me to go topless, I say no. Chérie, he says, this is Paris. But I want to run for president of the United States, I say. I can’t take topless pictures.

I wonder if the reason why I’ve been saying I’m going to be president all these years is because I want to be treated like someone who might be president one day.

He shrugs, leaves the room, and returns with a strapless bra. When he shoots, one of his hands holds the camera and the other reaches to pull the top down.

Is it twisted? I ask.

Just need to hold it straight, he says. Eyes here, he says. The Polaroids fall onto the floor while he takes them.

When he’s done I look down and my nipples are exposed. How did I not feel the elastic sliding so low? The pictures develop and I see he has made me look topless.

As soon as I’m in the stairwell I feel my face get hot and tears roll down my cheeks. The whole thing happened too fast. I feel weak and stupid.

Dad picks me up from the airport when I get home, and I try to tell him about it.

Couldn’t you have just said no? he asks.

I tried but the agency thought it was important.

I guess you’ll know for next time.

When the magazine comes out, he’s put me on the cover.

10. Next time is a decade later, when he requests me for a shoot and I waver while my agent convinces me, yes, I should do it. You need good editorial, she says. Okay. The shoot takes two days and the photos are fine. He treats me like an old friend and I act like one.

11. Photographers call me jailbait. One invites me to drinks. Eventually, I find my body in a bed next to him. Not myself: A lot of myself will be surprisingly gone by then. (You don’t know how much of a self you are until you aren’t.)

12. A French agent takes me out to dinner at a sushi restaurant where you can text other tables. Lots of men are there and they start texting our table. The agent brought his cousin too, and they are laughing, replying for me in French I don’t understand. He takes me home on his motorcycle and I have to hold on tight to his body to be safe.

The agent gives his cousin my number and his cousin texts me asking if I’ll go on a date with him. I say no—his cousin must be at least thirty and he lives in Paris and I didn’t like him at dinner—but I save his number and his name in my phone, because I’m seventeen and nobody has ever asked me out before.

My French agent sends me emails and says he’s in love. He says all the boys must be in love with me but I should go for a Frenchie. I try to respond like an adult, with sarcasm and distance. “You need a hobby,” I write. Other emails I ignore, because what do you say?

13. My agent tells me they aren’t shooting me because I’m a virgin.

14. My agent tells me they aren’t shooting me because I lost my virginity.

About the Author

Cameron Russell
Cameron Russell has spent the last twenty years working as a model for clients including Prada, Calvin Klein, Victoria’s Secret, H&M, Vogue, and Elle. With over forty million views, her TED talk on the power of image is one of the most popular of all time. She is the co-founder of Model Mafia, a collective of hundreds of fashion models striving for a more equitable, just, and sustainable industry. She continues to organize, consult, and speak to transform extractive supply chains and center climate justice. She lives in New York with her family. More by Cameron Russell
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