Supermodel: Why I Took It Off For Climate Change

Our guest blogger is supermodel Cameron Russell, a junior at Columbia University and the organizer of the “Supermodels Take It Off For Climate Change” video for the movement.  This is a Wonk Room repost.

Right now, preventing catastrophic climate change is just about the most important thing any one of us should be working on right now. organized a worldwide day of action which took place on October 24. The goal of their effort was to educate and generate attention around the setting of a 350 parts per million CO2 target goal for the meeting to be held in Copenhagen in December. I know something about getting attention and decided to contribute to their effort.

In the history of the world, all five mass extinctions have been accompanied by massive climate change, so we are facing an incredibly serious threat. In fact, we are technically in the sixth mass extinction right now, and it is the first mass extinction being attributed to humans.

The whole “Supermodels take it off for climate change” project happened from start to finish in a little under two weeks and 300 phone calls-who knew production was so complicated! All the girls “” Rachel Alexander, Shannon Click, Hanne Gaby, Olya Ivanisevic, Alla Kostromicheva, Heidi Mount, Crystal Renn, Rianne Ten Haken, and Nicole Trunfio “” are my friends and loved shooting the video for a good cause, so that part was relatively easy to pull together. But let me tell you who was really responsible.

Indirectly there are three people responsible for this video: Tibor Kalman, Bill McKibben, and Robin Chase:

My all-time hero Tibor Kalman showed the world the ability of mass media to convey serious images and create real discussion (think 90’s Benetton advertisements of people with AIDS). Climate change, which is often seen as very political or scientific, needs to be made a people’s issue. My hope is that this ad helps re-brand environmentalism.

Bill McKibben, advocating scientist James Hansen’s target of 350 ppm CO2 to avoid catastrophic effects from climate change, leads the 350 movement “” a widely successful environmental action campaign that remains in close touch with science and politics.

Finally Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar and Goloco, is my mom and raised me in a household that didn’t drive when it could be avoided, bought used clothes and almost nothing else, and led our family and friends by example showing us that it doesn’t matter how much you have. She also taught us to appreciate our personal and unique strengths, skills and experience, and figure out how to put them to good use.

There were at least 26 other people directly involved in making it. Eleven other models donated their free time, a precious day off for these top girls who work nearly every day from their late teens to as late as their early 30’s. Some of them have professional lives outside of modeling too. Cystal Renn just put out a book called Hungry about her transformation into a plus size model “” it’s been incredibly successful and earned her a spot on Oprah. Nicole is the host of Bravo’s “Make Me a Supermodel” show. Heidi is the proud mother of two year-old Liam.

Then there was a whole team of people that made the girls look amazing: a stylist, Shandi Alexander, and her two assistants, a hairdresser, Kevin Ryan, and his two assistants, and two make up artists, Jesse Lawson and Fara Homidi, who all donated their free time as well. Then there was our amazing director Damani Baker, the three guys who assisted him, and Andrew Zuckerman who took still photos. There was my co-prodcuer Alex Vlack who also let us use his studio and turn his office into a wardrobe room. Finally there was Christana Tran and Heather Hughes who work at Women and Supreme model management that helped provide designer clothing and coordinate models.

33 Responses to Supermodel: Why I Took It Off For Climate Change

  1. Joe Brewer says:

    Thanks for sharing some of the background with us about this video.

    Other readers may be interested in this analysis of the video:

    How Stripping Supermodels Promote Climate Action

    The analysis shows how the workings of the human brain have helped the video go viral.


    Joe Brewer
    Director, Cognitive Policy Works

  2. Mark H says:

    The use of a supermodel and all that that conveys interspersed with the sixth mass extinction theory is irony at it’s best. The supermodel representing to many the supreme physical beauty of the species vs the complete and utter contempt for the human species as outlined in the sixth mass extinction article. Irony at it’s best!

  3. paulm says:

    Oh dear, its getting hot round er.

  4. Stephan says:

    Very entertaining action for climate change. This has received quite a lot of media attention which of course is the goal from this campaign! Therefore, I think it has reached it’s goals and I have to admit I enjoyed it.

    For more info on the environment, please also have a look at this Green News.

  5. Rockfish says:


  6. Gail says:

    Joe, I’m going to think this is just charming when you post your next video, stripping your blogger pajamas, with some song like I don’t know how about the theme for The Full Monty?

    Until then, I find it offensive.

    [JR: Noted.]

  7. Jim Cassa says:

    Hi Joe,
    I guess the reactions to this blog post are both negative and positive. I think if the intention is to really benefit climate change it is a good thing,
    Keep the informative posts coming,
    Thank you,
    Jim Cassa

  8. Gail says:

    Are you kidding?

    Pull this post, tell Bill McKibbon to retract any connection, and quickly issue an an apology to all your female (over the age of 23) readers.

    Or you are going to be extremely embarrassed.

  9. Gail says:

    Here’s my earlier post that was eaten, maybe, slightly modified, will appear:

    Um, this makes me think that not only is the human species doomed, but we deserve to be.

    For to use sophomoric (literally!) anorexic models to promote action against climate change, makes me wonder what you stupid middle-aged men are really worried about.

    Is it your children? Or is it the size of your “deleted more graphic and dictionary designation” appendage?

    Is it your own mortality? Or the survival of human civilization, not to mention, a few other species?

    Models happily stripping layers of fashionable clothing to a scintillating beat epitomizes our western culture’s obsession with obscene over-consumption, and short-term gratification over real pleasure. The worship of image, and accumulation of worthless junk, is at the root of our climate crisis.

    This is the most depressing thing I’ve seen in quite a while.

  10. Geoff C says:

    If global warming produces strippers…
    lets burn the coal!

  11. Al says:

    Thanks Gail,
    Loved your comments – every paragraph just got more and more over-the-top. Do you happen to be a stand-up comedienne. If not, you ought to be – I’m guessing you’d do pretty well, and might relieve a lot of that tension at the same time. There’s a lot else I could say, but better not – oh alright then – if you insist…

    Someone’s gotta tell you – the problem with the video is all in your mind. Why the jaundiced attack on someone who’s obviously a perfect (as near as I can tell) example of a healthy person? Well, correct me if you can honestly say I’m wrong, but your gripe with this could not possibly have anything to do with conspicuous consumption, but everything to do with issues closer to home.

    Let’s face it; if most of us didn’t grossly overeat – yes, even in America – more of us would look more like that, and have less compulsion to gripe about someone who has every reason to feel proud of their self-control and exercise regime. Yes, good genes, too, but a lot more of us have those than anyone would guess after 20 years of eating twice as much as we need to.

    Personally, I try to eat moderately and healthily, and exercise, so I’m quite happy with my 6-pack, which I’ve worked hard on, and I wouldn’t be ashamed to show it off under other circumstances, i.e. if my face were not so ugly that I’d be booed off the stage, abs or no abs. But that’s just a fact of life, and I don’t begrudge others their luck, hard work and talent. Labelling “anorexic” everyone who’s slim and athletic has to be a purely reactive defense mechanism, gratuitous and self-defeating, so take it from one who took years to learn how, relax a bit, and enjoy your life a bit more. All the best, honestly.

  12. Gabe says:

    Not to nit-pick, but the “natural state” is more like 270, not 350.

  13. Dan B says:

    Gail’s brought up some good points. All the same I feel we need less angry environmentalists and more creative input from people in all aspects of life. Artists and religious leaders will be key in communicating to the vast diversity of human beings and communities in this country.

  14. Larry Gilman says:

    Gail is basically right. Look, modeling is part of the marketing industry, right? And the 99.9%-of-the-time function of the marketing industry is to maximize consumption by shaping and manipulating desire, right? In fact, the world-burning character of our global (certainly US) economy depends vitally on marketing of exactly the type that these models make their living from, that their profession exists to serve. If we think that a little bit of marketing manipulation for reduced world-burning can prevail against a thousands-of-times-greater amount of exactly the same type of manipulation for the exact opposite goal, I think we are fooling ourselves.

    Anybody who can be influenced by this kind of cutesy titillation at all is unlikely to be moved by it to change their life, or their climate politics, other than superficially — because this kind of cutesy titillation is being used to tell them far more persistently to consume, consume, consume, and, thus, implicitly, to support a politics that protects consumption, consumption, consumption. Which of course entails largely unabated greenhouse emissions — not to mention other deadly processes such as ore exhaustion, arable-soils destruction, ocean plastics accumulation, exploitative manufacturing, pollution, etc. etc.

    You can’t SOLVE the problem WITH the problem. And manipulative, sex-exploitative marketing is overwhelmingly part of the problem.

    [JR: You can’t solve the problem until all segments of society are trying to raise awareness and take action. If we take off the table all of the advertising and marketing tools and media that got us into this mess, then we are certainly fighting with both hands tied behind our backs.]

  15. Wonhyo says:

    I empathize with criticisms of female objectification, but in this case, I think the ends may justify the means.

    There are large segments of the population that will NOT be swayed to climate/energy reality by the likes the James Hansen, Al Gore, John Kerry, or Joe Romm, no matter how hard they try.

    This video will reach large parts of this otherwise excluded audience.

    I agree with Gabe. 450 ppm and 350 ppm should both be considered intermediate goals. The ultimate goal should be restoration of a natural state between 200 and 300 ppm with 275 ppm being the (historically) ideal target.

  16. Larry Gilman says:

    [It was weird, I hit the Submit button and my text disappeared but no version of my comment with the “awaiting moderation” flag came up. Please forgive, and use this version if possible, if this is a duplicate submission. — LG]

    I’m honored to have provoked an in-house response from this blog that I rely on and admire. But:

    JR: “You can’t solve the problem until all segments of society are trying to raise awareness and take action.”

    Not so. We are never going to get “all” segments of society to “raise awareness and take action”: there will always be some residuum of subgroups that are indifferent, unbelieving, and hostile. Realistically, the problem will be solved if and when a _sufficient majority_ takes action. This may or may not include the fashionista universe.

    JR: “If we take off the table all of the advertising and marketing tools and media that got us into this mess, then we are certainly fighting with both hands tied behind our backs.”

    True, but of course I never said that “all” communication tools must be disavowed. I have argued that it is futile to deploy certain manipulative forms of marketing on behalf of climate awareness, because those forms are, for the most part, only capable of influencing people who are being pushed in the exact opposite direction far more persistently by exactly the same forms. That is a specific and coherent claim about certain tactics — not a recipe for total despair and surrender. People who do what supermodels tell them to do are going to spend very little of their lives saving the climate, a great deal of their lives purchasing an endless flow of new products, possessions, and luxury services.

    It’s only “tying your hands behind your back” when you renounce a tool that actually does the job. I’m arguing that manipulation and titillation don’t do this job — with possible rare, fleeting, and/or superficial exceptions. And what about all the other persuasions, including humor, drama, reasoned discourse, music, etc. etc.? Essential, all of them — all, that is, which are not essentially part of the problem, as are consumerism, lies, and some other stuff.

    Our quiver is full of arrows: why throw boomerangs?

    And I haven’t even touched yet on the grotesquerie of the industrial beauty standard — vividly exploited and promulgated in this video — and all the suffering it causes, in this society and globally. This is not a matter of opinion but the subject of a large body of scientific research going back decades. For example, Gail is mocked above for associating anorexia with skinny models, but the connection is quite real, as a few seconds on Google Scholar will confirm. The first nonblocked article that comes up for “beauty standard anorexia” says,

    “Results support the sociocultural perspective that mass media promulgate a slender ideal that elicits body dissatisfaction. . . . The moderate degree of dissatisfaction that is now normative among women (Rodin et al., 1985) encourages many girls and women to diet to manipulate their size and shape (Gordon, 2000). However, due to genetics and the physiology of weight regulation, only a few females can actually mold their bodies into the idealized slender shape. Thus, dieting, coupled with certain personality and family dynamics, can induce all-consuming, dangerous eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa (Polivy & Herman, 1999).”

    (“The Effect of Experimental Presentation of Thin Media Images on Body Satisfaction: A Meta-Analytic Review,” in _Thin Media Images_, 2001,$FILE/Groesz%20et%20al%20(2002).pdf )

    Nor is this a cherry-picked outlier, as a scan down the Google Scholar hits list, or a dive into the bibliography of the quoted piece, will confirm.

    And we’re the people who take science seriously, yes?

    So, Gail is right on: this funny, smart, can’t-look-away, well-made little video IS depressing. No surprise: profit logic REQUIRES the industrial beauty standard to make us (or at least women) feel bad, as experiment confirms that it does. (“Fat” compared to 19-yr-old Ms. Steelybuns? Buy our magic pill!)

    So even if we could win the climate PR war this way, it would be a rotten, misery-generating way to do it. And that’s reason enough not to do it. (The “ends justify the means” view of Green communication is Michael Crichton’s, not mine.)

    Sincerely, and with thanks for your indispensable blog,


  17. Louise says:

    Gail, A woman in her underwear is not exactly porn. The video is a joke that plays around with expectations to make its point. ( “The Full Monty” was also a joke and turned salaciousness upside down.) It may not be high minded, but a lot of people connect more to an ironic bit of glitz than a peer reviewed study or fact filled blog, which are of course needed. Also, I wonder if all women (over 23?!?) are so offended. There’s a lot of gross media content denigrating women, but this doesn’t qualify.

    [JR: Yes, and what about Leonardo DiCaprio or George Clooney or Brad Pitt and other great-looking guys pushing climate or other causes?]

  18. Brooks Bridges says:

    It sells soap and cars, why not climate action? Don’t see the human race changing in this area any time soon.

    The models donated their time to do what they do very well – sell things. They were not “exploited”.

    If it reached an audience not often reached by other means, so much the better. The more often a message is repeated, the better it “sells”.

    Anyone who watches TV (about once a month for me) sees far more “suggestive” scenes often. Or reads a magazine.

    My wife said if Victoria Secrets adds are a 10 (she thinks THEY are objectionable), this was about a 4. And she thought if it helped sell climate change, no big deal.

    It looked pretty tongue in cheek to me rather than being suggestive.

    There’s always the “Off” switch.

  19. Anna Haynes says:

    > “This video will reach large parts of this otherwise excluded audience.”

    Amen. Thanks to all involved in its creation.

  20. Gail says:

    Speaking as a 5’4″ person who has spent a considerable portion of my life at 109 lbs., I can assure you, Al, that looking like that isn’t “healthy”. It is the result of either poverty and malnutrition, or deliberate self-starvation.

    Anyone who is familiar with the modeling and acting industry who isn’t lying for profit would assure you that women who look like that are wreaking havoc on their health. Look at the see-saw weight of famous singers for example, and add to that, ballerinas.

    Louise, I never said or suggested that the video was porn! (see – how twisted it becomes!)

    But that’s a peripheral issue. And the degree of nudity or sexuality isn’t the point either, I’m not a prude.

    The most important point, as I stated originally, is the truly obscene (not sexual) overconsumption of our society and the fetishization of it through commercialism and in this instance, fashion.

    The amount of clothing discarded in that video is a terrific reflection of the waste in our (American – that’s mine) society of clothing, household goods, batteries, magazines, packaging, ad infinitum.

    It is in that sense that I find it disgusting. And the young people who made it should be gently encouraged to understand that discarding layers of clothing is not the answer. Buying fewer “new” fashions and cosmetics and footwear -and investing in more durable goods – is the message they should be sending. That, and maybe learning how to grow vegetables, to eat.

    Oh, and by the way, I’m not against pleasure, at all.

    Joe, would you like your daughter to grow up to be a model in a similar video??

    [JR: Hmm. Am I endorsing every aspect of every person I cite or post? I don’t think so.]

  21. Gail, I still haven’t made up my mind here on this issue, but I want to thank you for bringing it to my attention. I count myself as fairly enlightened about such things, and was inclined to mere smirk at the video and think, “cute.”

    FWIW, I’ve forwarded this post to my three compasses on such issues for their feedback — no offense, but we’ve never met personally; these other women I have. Regardless of their conclusions, yours or even mine, your carefully articulated arguments here have reminded me not to become too sanguine about issues.

  22. Gail says:

    Some things shouldn’t be posted. Nancy sent me this:

    Yeah – one of our members (a friend of the Zipcar owner, father of one of the models) asked me to put this video on our website, but I refused.

    Good for you! I agree with you.

    It’s toxic. You should remove it. And tell Bill McKibbon, it has no place in the effort to reduce CO2 emissions to 350.

    It’s just offensive, on so many levels.

  23. Gail says:

    Gary, I am so interested to learn how other people react!


  24. Re #18, Brooks Bridges: “The models donated their time to do what they do very well — sell things. They were not ‘exploited’.”

    Speaking from a purely logical perspective, your statement there is guilty of a false assumption: That people are pure, independent individuals and therefore “voluntary” acts are equally pure exemplifications of pure, unpolluted, uneffected volition. One might call this the “myth of volunteerism” (my phrase); but the genuinely operative term here is “myth.”

    Basic psychology — I mean, the most elementary 101 stuff — will teach us about Stockholm Syndrome and Battered Person Syndrome. People will seemingly “choose” to identify with their abusers, and adopt the abusers’ worldview as their own. (These examples will reach to such extremes as to include “Uncle Tom” and the “Capos” at Nazi death camps.)

    Now, just to be clear, observing the fallacious nature of your argument does not address the truth of your conclusion, one way or the other. As I previously noted in my comment to Gail, I am still ambivalent about this issue.

    [JR: The problem with your argument is that it negates the free will of anyone you deem. The time was donated freely.]

  25. Dan B says:

    Gail and everyone;

    I feel there’s truth in what everyone is saying about this post. Modeling, and the whole culture of “Supermodels” is not something progressives, or people with clear principles, should emulate. What this does to young girls and women is destructive and manipulates their concept of self image. What it does to young boys validates their worst notions of domination and reducing women to sexual objects.

    And “Marketing” as corporations utilize it is destructive to our egos and marginalizes community.

    I believe we must be very careful to avoid destructive means of marketing and anything that reduces the dignity of humanity.

    And I believe that Joe is referring to the type of “marketing” that’s utilized by every progressive non-profit in the country, some of it is more effective at getting the message out and transforming society, others less so. Marketing is a tool. It can be utilized for progress or for maintaining unhealthy institutions.

    Here’s an idea for a response to the “Supermodels Take it Off” that’s been very powerful at pointing out the shortcomings of the message (and, when it comes to ultra-conservative pundits – taking the wind out of their sails) – make your own video that parodies them. I’d love to see a batch of regular women take it off – to reveal super-woman outfits beneath, perhaps a Super Green Women, Super Sustainable Sisters – go riff on it. Have fun! Poke fun!

    We need more entertaining videos from women, not less.

  26. Larry Gilman says:

    Hm, nobody seems willing yet to look at or respond to the body of scientific research, to which I give an exemplary link above, that studies how thin-model industrial beauty standards actually do harm people.

    “It sells soap and cars, why not climate action? ” Because it harms people? Would that be a not-totally-bizarre reason for not celebrating this video as simply the cutest thing since kittens?

    These particular forms of sexual image and identity, our fixation on these precise body types, aren’t “human nature.” They’re culturally specific. They’re constructed, manufactured, inculcated. And we are systematically, openly, constantly manipulated by means of them. And I’m as conditioned as anybody else. (Who’s looking at the _number_?) And we can still make choices — “we ain’t no amoebas.”

    Realistically, the models and other technical people involved are probably great individuals and they are certainly trying to make a positive contribution here. All granted. And yet it’s still possible to think, without being a complete loon, that this is not a wise way for the climate-awareness movement to go.

    JR asks about DiCaprio et al. Yeah, good point, what about ’em? Maybe that approach _isn’t_ fundamentally better? Maybe all celebrity activism has a dark side? Maybe the cult of celebrity giveth and the subtext taketh away? Worth thinking about, at least?

    And so what about the science, guys? Or maybe we have a new phenomenon here: Beauty-Standard Denialism. Scoffing and anecdotes are all we _really_ need to dispose of a question . . . don’t confuse me with your smarty-pants scientists . . .

  27. Gail says:

    It’s kind of funny that those who “deny” that the video is a marketing mistake use denier tactics to rationalize their defense of it, like the classic “straw man”, throwing out a a phony argument and then knocking it down – as in refuting the charge of, “porn” or “exploitation”. Whoever said the models were being exploited, or the video is porn? Or bringing in distracting allusions that don’t really equate like diCaprio and other male celebrities. Have they been photographed in cheesecake poses or strip videos promoting climate action?

    Back to you, Larry, you are much better at explaining this than I!

  28. This is just a lame, tame form of greenwashing. A strip-tease using the deck chairs of the Titanic

    Examine the message to our subconscious: “The fashion industry stands on this side of the issue and don’t you dare disturb heavy fashion commerce”

    Otherwise, she would have been at a treadle powered sewing machine, making her own clothes. Yeah!

  29. Louise says:

    Gail, I was exaggerating when I said it’s not exactly porn; I didn’t misread you. It’s interesting that this video set off so many bells and whistles, even though the tone clearly signals that it shouldn’t be taken literally. (i.e., the clothing being thrown off is not about consumerism, fashion, or waste; it is hyperbole- in a joking tone- to make a point about the rising temperature. Like a lot of messaging that has to hit the mark quickly.)

  30. A Siegel says:

    Glad you posted this

    Interestingly, there are some items that I raised in an interview with Cameron when I posted the video a couple weeks ago that she didn’t cover here which might be of interest (seeing comments above):
    Q: Any thoughts about next steps? (Take the same theme and get male models to do it?)

    One thing we’d like to see is copycat videos. People around the world putting on 40 articles of clothing and doing their own count down to 352 or 351. It was incredibly fun and funny to do. We were waddling out onto the set. I think people could have a lot of fun with this.

    Q The fact is that ‘super model’ translates into ‘super traveler’. Many would see that as one of the great ‘benefits’ of being a top model. Yet, such travel creates a significant carbon footprint. How should we balance that? What are your thoughts? [Please note, we all face the reality of challenges in our lives, whether created by work or otherwise …]

    It is an incredible challenge and definitely something I think about. Right now, I’m not in charge of where shoots take place. Even with a carbon tax of some kind, advertising will still likely be shot in beautiful places around the world. The cost of traveling to the location is a very small part of the whole. The good news is that there aren’t that many models or teams doing this work. At home, in Manhattan, I walk and bike every where. I don’t have a driver’s license and don’t have a plan for getting one any time soon.

    Let’s be honest, here, it is hard to see that “modeling”, the “fashion industry”, and the concept of buying that latest fashion to add into the bulging closet is core to a sustainable human civilization. And, not having a driver’s license doesn’t real negate (could we say “off set”) that impact. On the other hand, these models’ action to use their celebrity to promote discussion of certainly has more power of wide communication than (yet) another A Siegel blog post to be read by 3.5 people.

  31. Cynthia says:

    I agree with Al; I didn’t find offensive at all. Just looked like healthy young adult females to me, not even “titillating”.

    Maybe next time they can have some males stripping and saying “It’s the Methane, stupid!”

  32. Cynthia says:

    (Methane is the real devil behind climate change. Carbon dioxide is just the stimulus to set the methane permafrost off.)

  33. Troy says:

    To be completely honest, my reaction to this video is very clouded. On one hand the climate needs our help and this can definitely bring in a whole new herd of people in but it is somewhat offensive to people to think that people have to undress in order to get this kind of message across. I worry about how to reach the other. There should have been two different types of commercial to include everyone. Just to get everyone involved. Just so as not to be sexist. You know…