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I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that Covid has forced fashion businesses to accelerate their digital transformation. Technology has become more of a necessity than ever before, rather than just something experimental, hence the rise of virtual influencers and models

The computer-generated images (CGI) help to promote products and share fashion content. Brands ask their agencies such as @thediigitals if they can digitally wear their designs, just like real-life models. An example, I’m sure most of you are familiar with is Lil Miquela, who has racked up 3million followers and collabed with many well known brands.

CGI Humans as a marketing Strategie

Virtual Influencers have almost three times more engagement than real influencers now (shocking, I know). Research revealed that consumers’ interaction with digital humans may change the way businesses interact with consumers regarding communication channels.⁠ The findings unveil positive consumer attitudes towards interacting with digital humans. However, it is interesting to note that men were significantly more positive towards their intention to interact with digital humans than women.⁠

So, what effects will virtual models have on consumers?

In the fashion industry, the most common concerns for consumers are what CGI models mean for setting realistic body standards and the overall influence on body image. The negative impact of fashion models on appearance is not new to us. There is already numerous criticism relating to the number of images of models with a slim physique and activists campaigning against the false representation of beauty on social media. There is no wonder that virtual models would have an impact on consumers who desire to possess a thin image and be seen as fashionable. 

Transparency and Authenticity

Now due to the rise of technology we have the most perfect models who don’t even really exist marketing our clothes. So, with authenticity already a big issue wouldn’t you agree CGI models are a step too far? 

 

Shudo Gramm is another famous virtual model, she is based on a barbie doll, the princess of South Africa, instead of a real person. At least when we were younger we knew that Barbie was just a doll, but will younger children think she is real? 

 

A study implied that early exposure to dolls epitomising an unrealistically thin body ideal may damage girls’ body image, which would contribute to an increased risk of disordered eating and weight cycling. So if toy dolls weren’t bad enough, we now have models based on dolls but without really knowing if they are real. 

Virtual Models and Social Comparison

From a psychological perspective, one of the negative consequences of virtual models is social comparison.  Instagram has created a ‘comparison culture’ amongst its users and the lack of transparency of models is a big issue in terms of social comparison. ‘Social Comparison Theory’ suggests individuals drive to evaluate their progress and in the absence of objective standards, people compare themselves to others to know where they stand. 

Women that define self-worth by meeting idealised beauty standards could be more likely to engage in social comparisons. This is because the tendency to base one’s self-worth on appearance often has negative consequences for affect and esteem. It can also negatively influence consumers to engage in behaviour in an attempt to achieve unrealistic beauty standards.

Upward comparisons occur when consumers compare the self, often subconsciously,  with a model’s body as it is perceived to be “better”, but this can lead to negative self-perceptions. 

But, are virtual models really that bad?

With everyone using GCI more often such as Instagram filters and being constantly exposed to retouched models in beauty marketing they can be argued to be just like what we already have. 

Cameron James Wilson, the creator of Shudu said he’s “adding imperfections rather than taking them away, you’ll see more natural imperfections on Shudu’s page than your average influencer.” A Virtual plus-size model with visible stretch marks has also been introduced, Shudu sister, and Lil Miquela has posted displaying her armpit hair. This suggests that using virtual images as a marketing strategy could be used to promote self-acceptance, prosocial emotions and enhance self-esteem. 

Ads are more effective when the physical features of human models match those of consumers, so consumers may be more likely to purchase as the model looks more similar to them. As people prefer brands that are humanised, so basically the more human-looking these nonhumans look, the better. Consumers may think, if even the most perfectly made models have these perceived flaws mine must be accepted?

To sum up, though brands should embrace new technologies that add value for the consumer, they should be wary of the ethical challenges that CGI influencers pose to an industry that should be built on transparency and authenticity. 

I think it’s all about curating your feed, Instagram is said to be one of the most inclusive platforms if we use it properly and limit our exposure to unrealistic beauty standards.

Scrolling on your Instagram feed you have probably noticed that, instead of the usual model-look bodies, an increasing number of women are showing their stretchmarks, cellulitis and that they have gained a couple of pounds. All of this is part of the Body Positivity Movement and on social media, many brands are sponsoring it. But are they doing it well?  And most of all, how is it impacting the way women choose to buy products?

Moved by these questions, I decided to carry out a research to understand what young girls think about Body Positivity and if the movement may influence them to buy certain products from certain brands. I was particularly interested in including the beauty industry in my study as it is the one that benefits the most from the desire to look beautiful and attractive.

From a young age, as women, we are constantly reminded of “the importance of beauty” and how essential it is to be viewed gorgeous and feminine. In other words, how important it is to be skinny, athletic with possibly long hair and no imperfections of any kind. 

I think you know what I am talking about and I think you have noticed how this type of beauty is strongly shown in the media. We constantly see these model-like girls who, let’s say it, do not represent real-life women. I have observed that it is strongly highlighted the so-called “thin ideal”, the ideal slim female body and there is so much content related to “thinspiration” that is any visual or textual image intended to inspire weight loss.

The thin-ideal that makes us dissatisfied

If we are constantly bombarded by these images, how could we not be influenced by them? The constant glorification of these types of beauty has led to an internalisation of the “thin-ideal”. As a consequence, we tend to compare ourselves to the beauty portrayed in the media and, noticing that we are not like the standard, we then become dissatisfied, and we do everything in our power to become like the models. 

Thankfully there has been a strong desire to differentiate the bodies shown in the media and to destroy the unrealistic way of how women should look. Several beauty brands are now increasing the number of media contents related to Body Positivity, focusing on including diverse body sizes and appearances. The issue, however, is that the majority of beauty brands are still showing certain standards that are not realistic! They might show diverse body sizes but not the so-called “imperfections” that come with them. They still filter the models shown.

Young girls want authenticity

The results of my research did not strike me at all. I discovered that modern female consumers do not believe in the majority of those brands. They do not consider the modern beauty brands authentic, real or moved by any desire to change the current society in a more inclusive and acceptive community. Young girls do not believe those brands anymore but above all, they don’t trust them. They don’t trust them because they still behave like all the other ones: they still choose to show certain prototypes, they still edit the photos and hide the imperfections.

As you may know, the loss of trust is not a good thing for a brand. No trust means no loyalty and no desire to buy. As I found in my study, even if young girls believe in the Body Positivity, they do not want to buy from brands that pretend to believe in it. Showing some sort of fake Body Positivity content does not make any difference. Beauty brands should do better.    Maybe, they could take a leaf out of this pandemic reality where dark circles, pimples and grey hair are on the agenda.

I’m sure I can speak for us all when I say my screen time has significantly gone up throughout the pandemic. As much as I don’t like to admit it, it’s the result of mindlessly scrolling on Instagram. However, research suggests that the app may contribute to adverse psychological outcomes and poor appearance-related self-perception or as some call it ‘influencer envy’.

The rise of technology has meant the ability to manipulate the way we look has become effortless. Subsequently, new generations are exposed to much more than just airbrushed photoshoots in magazines. A few scrolls down our feed and most of us will see Instagram models, influencers and even peers who perpetuate an unattainable standard of beauty whether it’s “knowing your angles”, a face filter or smoothing out your skin. Apps such as Facetune allow physical features to be manipulated entirely with the click of a few buttons, removing imperfections to whiten teeth, slim waists and reduce sizes to be accepted as beauty ideals.

Comparison Culture

Social Comparison Theory’ suggests individuals drive to evaluate their progress and in the absence of objective standards, people compare themselves to others to know where they stand. However, on Instagram, we can compare ourselves to these edited pictures or individuals with cosmetic surgery (without realising). You may think you easily spot editing; however, only 60%- 65% of the time people recognise edited photos.

A debate has arisen about whether it should be compulsory for manipulated faces and bodies to be labelled as edited on Instagram. This has been proven somewhat controversial- what is your take? On the one hand, it creates a warped sense of beauty, especially for vulnerable women with lower self-esteem. However, is it right to police people’s bodies, especially when it may make the poster feel more confident? Researchers found that viewing an idealised image from social media had a negative influence on women’s body image, no matter if it came with a disclaimer or not. Although, disclaimers lead viewers to form a less favourable impression of the poster. This suggests it may do more harm than good as the posters emotional wellbeing may lower with no effect on the viewer.

A rise in cosmetic surgery 

Evidence suggests social media pushes us to take part in life-threatening beauty trends in the interest of acceptance and social compliance in society, affecting emotional wellbeing. WomensHealth found that those in their 20s desired the fox eye effect of having eyes stretched upwards and back (as if pulled in a secure high ponytail) more than any other age group. This leads to surgery involving implanting dissolvable threads under their skin to hoist it up or Botox to raise their eyebrows. This was most likely the result of repeated exposure to this popular beauty trend and wanting to look more like models such as Bella Hadid. It seems women persist in internalising these beauty ideals as a model for their own comparisons. Consequently, steps need to be taken to help those affected by idealised images on Instagram.

With that Being Said Positive Psychology Can Help…

Positive emotions broaden momentary ‘thought-action repertoire’ (so, like how joy sparks the urge to play), which widens an individual’s mindset. Having an open mind while scrolling down the gram means you are more receptive to different information types. Putting you in an excellent position to judge whether the image is altered and whether or not you should engage in social comparison. These actions then become internalised and lead to feelings of acceptance.

In a 2020 study, women either observed ‘Instagram vs reality’, ‘ideal’ or ‘real’ images. Viewing the ‘Instagram vs reality’ and ‘real’ images whilst identifying the ‘ideal’ images as fake, disrupted the ‘social comparison process’ and reduced body dissatisfaction. This research suggests Instagram can enhance self-esteem with the photos associated with hashtag trends such as #instagramvsreality and #nomakeup as they promote self-acceptance. 

“If positive psychology teaches us anything, it is that all of us are a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. No one has it all. No one lacks it all.”

– Christopher Peterson

Therefore, follow some ‘real’ accounts representative of yourself to minimise the risk of engaging in unhealthy social comparison. 

Here are my recommendations for excellent reality-checking and body positivity accounts: 

1.  @danaemercer

“Reminding you you’re special.”

2. @planetprudence  

“Helping you see that your thoughts aren’t alone.”

3. @celebface

“WELCOME TO REALITY.”

4. @stephanieyeboah

“Self Love Advocate”

5. @hi.ur.beautiful 

“Here to remind you that there is no bad way to have a body.”

So what’s stopping you from using Instagram as a tool to foster an appreciation for the full spectrum of beauty!

Many stylists will tell you that vertical stripes have a slimming effect. Scientific research has proven this assumption to be false.

 

“Shakaila you really should wear vertical instead of horizontal stripes, you already have large breasts”.

I’ve received many a criticism in my 24 years of life but this one stuck with me ever since I heard it from a well-meaning colleague about 4 years ago. At the time, I never really realised the true extent of my love of stripes. Half of my wardrobe consisted of some sort of striped pattern – strangely most of them horizontal. Would I have to part with my penchant for the simple and elegant pattern because it made me look disproportionally large? I finally ended this rather nonessential period of contemplation upon discovering that the demonization of horizontal stripes is nothing but an old wife’s tale.

It’s a commonly held belief that when it comes to clothing, horizontal stripes have a widening effect. If you have a larger bottom half, stylists such as TV Personality Gok Wan recommend that a horizontal striped top will help to “balance you out” by broadening your chest to match.

However, research suggests that horizontal stripes have the complete opposite effect.  In 1925, Hermann von Helmholtz created the Helmholtz illusion. He composed an image with two squares containing equally spaced stripes – one with vertical stripes and the other, horizontal. As shown in the image below, the square containing horizontal lines appears taller and narrower than the identical square made up of vertical lines. This illusion occurs because horizontal stripes have more “filled space” from top to bottom thus making it look taller and thinner than the same-sized square.

Moreover, research has found that the illusion holds when applied to the body. A 2011 study found that when participants observed pictures of identical mannequins wearing horizontal and vertical striped clothing, the mannequin wearing horizontal stripes “needed to be 10.7% broader to be perceived as identical to the one in vertical stripes” (Thompson & Mikellidou).

Given the near century old history of the Helmholtz illusion it’s unclear how the ‘Horizontal lines make you look fat’ trope has managed to gain such a reputation.

Styling is as much of an art form as it is a science so before you cast out a portion of your wardrobe – check the data.