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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.

What is it like to be a model? Do you get free stuff? Have you met anyone famous? Are you allowed to eat that

Numerous questions about what it is like to be a model and what the lifestyle entails, have been thrown my way over the last seven years. Honestly, I never really know what to say or at least I struggle to articulate it in a way that does the job – and your efforts made within the job – justice. No matter how many times I feel like I finally understand what to expect and how to explain modelling, life always seems to send me back a note saying, ‘try again’. Try again to define the life of a model. 

Nevertheless, I am going to try. The best way for me to explain my life as a model is by comparing it to playing a game; a game where the odds are your level of success. Modelling should not be seen as a deceitful game or in that case a fun game, but it is a game where you win or lose over and over again, based on luck and how well you play your cards. This is the hand I like to play: 

A game of strategy and persistence

As with any other creative job, you need to be able to work hard and believe that at some point, someone is going to see that what you do is special and worth investing in. You need a style, an image and confidence, all something your agent should be able to help you with. I don’t know if I should consider myself lucky to have had great agents, because it should be something everyone has, but I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have been as successful as I’ve been, without them. If your agent does not support you or you don’t get along, I suggest you change – it is a crucial relationship to keep healthy, both for your career but also for your own mental health. 

Moreover, you need to accept that everything is last minute, and that the right opportunity could present itself anytime, so you need to be willing to sacrifice holidays, social events and other normal things you may need to plan for. You need to be resistant and be able to use the large amount of rejection and criticism you will face, as a tool to build your strategy, rather than taking it personally. Trust me, this is easier said than done… The whole industry is unpredictable, but that is part of the world and part of the game. You need persistence, patience and continue to form your strategy until it bites. 

If your agent does not support you or you don’t get along, I suggest you change

A gambler’s game

Contrary to popular beliefs you don’t roll off the plane onto the catwalk and then jump on a motorbike off to the next job, without having put blood, sweat, time and money into it. As matter of fact, you may never experience anything like this, but that does not mean you won’t try to achieve it by investing non-stop. You need to pay constant expenses for travel, accommodation, clothes, you name it, to meet and establish relationships all over the world. This can be a really positive experience if you love to travel, but as you are investing time and energy trying to get jobs it can be hard and draining, especially as you most likely will be doing it on your own. More often than not you will be spending money and time that you don’t really have, giving up other things that also are important to you. 

The dangerous bit here is that you are in control of so little when it comes to modelling, that the few things you do control you can get obsessive over – such as the way you look and how you behave in front of others. I know that both myself and others have tried to change weight, look and attitude in order to fit into the industry, and trust me when I say that this is in no way necessary! As a model, you do need to look after yourself and stay fit, but there is a really fine line between an unhealthy and healthy attitude to your looks, which should not be crossed. Constantly being in limbo over whether you are pretty enough, cool enough or skinny enough is not going to land you many jobs; Confidence is in the end always the most attractive feature which clients look for. 

There is a really fine line between an unhealthy and healthy attitude to your looks, which should not be crossed. 

A waiting game

This part is by far the most prominent of them all… You spend hours on hours waiting, I think you probably spend 70% of your modelling career just waiting by yourself. Waiting at castings, waiting in airports, waiting in transport and waiting at home. If you do not wait you will lose out, so you wait no matter how long if you want the job. It is boring, but you deal with the wait and you learn how to fill the time – I managed to study a BSc in Psychology while waiting for planes and clients. Even when you don’t have any work scheduled, you never know if a job or casting may come up, so you are always waiting even if you are doing something else. Leaving it up to other people to manage your time is tough and I have personally found it extremely challenging. You are nearly always on your own, so being able to handle this can be easier said than done, as the loneliness can be really anxiety-provoking. I found that filling the time doing things that make you happy when you are on your own, like reading, studying, making phone calls or writing, makes it easier to manage. 

The feelings that all this provokes includes excitement, adrenaline rushes, joy, boredom, frustration and anxiety. It is such a spectrum of emotions, where a lot of the time you can be feeling perfectly content and happy and within an hour you are close to having a panic attack, because of the last-minute changes and your inability to predict and control anything. It is a beautiful job that may create many opportunities, adventure and money. But it may also leave you with a pocket full of bad experiences and loss of money. Often, It’s both. Long story short – whether you are in the modelling industry, looking to join or simply watching from the outside, you ought to level your judgement, attitude and expectations. 

There is no real definition of a model’s life, so just play your best hand and expect the unexpected!

How many times have you been running around at work trying to meet a tight deadline and suddenly noticed your heart pumping faster, your head hurting, you are perhaps even feeling some stinging in your chest? How many times have you then decided to pop a couple of paracetamols, ignore it, and continue as is? Sound familiar? It sounds like fashion to me.

Charlies D. Spielberger, a late renowned New York psychologist and writer, quoted:

Anxiety seems to be the dominant fact – and is threatening to become the dominant cliché- of modern life.”

I believe this is what’s happening. The way that we work to the point of anxiety has been normalised over the years and more people accept the work pressure, without really understanding what anxiety does to you.

Researchers generally define anxiety as a feeling of tension, worries and physical changes such as headaches and high blood pressure, and further studies suggests that more serious cases of work stress could lead to a variety of anxiety disorders.

It does not come as a surprise that a stressful work schedule is known as one of the leading factors for anxiety, and I recognise this as the main source from my own experience with anxiety.

As a model I have been expected to be 100 places at once several times; You may have different castings at the same time, been booked for two/three shows that overlap each other, or you may simply be trying to catch a flight that you are never going to make because work finished late.

The adrenaline, excitement and commitment get you through it, but the consequences are stress, extreme tiredness and sometimes panic attacks. I have witnessed everyone from designers, to agents, to assistants, to photographers, go through similar pressure and I often do not think we recognise how significant and unhealthy if has become.

Times like fashion week where everyone is working around the clock under horrendous pressure, to make unrealistic deadlines, leaves us wondering why we do it.

Our Emotional Attachment to Fashion

I believe one of the reasons we take on this amount of work pressure, is connected to the emotional importance people attach to their work in fashion. For many people their creations and their work are their pride and joy, which makes it so much more than ‘just a piece of fabric’, and missing their deadlines means that they do not get to showcase their emotion, personality and passion. All these things are important and are somewhat incredible to have in your profession, but the issue is that this level of importance causes us to avoid listening to warnings of anxiety and stress.

The Continuity of a Hierarchical Attitude

Another reason for why we accept anxiety in the fashion industry, could have something to do with an outdated hierarchical attitude that dominates how things run. People over many decades have been treated so badly by someone in a higher position, making them feel entitled to pass that attitude on to someone else whenever they find themselves in a position of responsibility.

Even though the latest generation are slowly breaking down these norms, the subconscious justification people have of certain behaviour keeps it relevant to discuss. I wonder whether the way people are processing being treated so poorly, is by reassuring themselves that this is the way to success, and that it therefore should continue to be so? Some food for thought.

The Work-pressures Effect on our Judgement Skills

In some cases, it even seems like the work pressure and the tight deadlines somehow give the work more meaning and importance, as the pressure makes us dedicate all our time available to the task. When the stress and anxiety kick in due to the amount of work, our decision-making skills and situational awareness have shown to be affected. We will then not only struggle to make constructive decisions at work, but our ability to make judgement calls on when the work pressure becomes too much and how ourselves and others should be treated, diminishes.

It is not difficult to recognise that anxiety is greatly represented within the fashion industry, the difficulty lies in justifying the priority of our own mental wellbeing over the industry’s tight deadlines. Easing anxiety is not done by taking a coffee break now and then, but smaller things do make a difference as they give you a space to listen to yourself and reflect.

Give yourself breaks, make time for yourself, make time for an alternative stimulus such as a hobby or friends to take a bit more priority in your life, and most importantly; talk about it! Talk about your workload with friends, family, colleagues, a therapist, whomever you feel comfortable talking to – we are all going to be able to relate somehow.

At some point you will know when the pressure is worth the outcome, and you will be able to flush those paracetamols down the toilet and still find a way to outlive your creative passion, without having to neglect your mental health.

Why did an assembly of distinguished guests idly sit by and watch models faint and struggle on the catwalk while simultaneously tweeting their outrage and sympathy for the models?

Kanye Omari West. The Artist. The Mogul. The Fashion Designer.

His list of credentials can go on and as an out and proud Kanye fan I can wax lyrical about his creative genius all day long. However, with his latest offering – Yeezy season 4, the fashion industry has looked at that list and replaced the last period with a question mark.  

Things We’ve Already Seen Kim Wear a Million Times –  Alyssa Vingan Klein (Fashionista)

Dumb and Basic – Tim Gunn (People)

Just Leotards in Neutral Shades – Ellen Scott (Metro)

It’s arguable that Mr West’s latest offering of oversized shearling coats, knit dresses, thigh high boots and 90’s style leotards could have passed as, I don’t know, a Post-Modern take on Normcore. I’d buy that. The fashion editors may have even bought that too. But there was one hurdle that Ye’ just couldn’t overcome – the show itself and this is where we see the dark side of Psychology unfold.

For his Yeezy season 4 show, Kanye enlisted the help of long-time collaborator Vanessa Beecroft. Against the idyllic backdrop of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, the Italian performance artist used her tried and tested method of framing the catwalk with a cohort of Black and ethnic minority models standing in formation.  Sleek? Yes. Powerful? Perhaps. Innovative? No.

In his last show – Yeezy season 3, this method of staging felt less redundant and more momentous. In the world famous Madison Square Garden, music from The Life of Pablo album played out to an audience of approximately 20,000 attendees who watched on as hundreds of models stood-to-attention in a packed out stage. A visual display inspired by a 1995 photo depicting the deplorable conditions of men, women and children inhabiting a Rwandan refugee camp. A show that mixed both fashion, music and social commentary, Yeezy season 3 will go down as ‘a moment’ in fashion history, the same of which cannot be said for his most recent presentation.

The work of a model is often deemed to be uncomplicated to say the least but attempting to look both beautiful and blasé in 90-degree heat is no easy feat. Throughout the purposely delayed Yeezy Season 4 show models gradually looked less dynamic and more dehydrated. Reports suggest that at least three models fainted with no assistance whatsoever from the production staff. 

“Why isn’t someone from Adidas, which sponsors this extravaganza, helping them? Where is artist Vanessa Beecroft, who choreographed this show? Why isn’t West aiding these women? Why am I not trying to assist them? Are we all complicit in this?” – Robin Givhan (Washington Post)

 

Image source Footwear News REX Shutterstock.
Image Source Footwear News REX Shutterstock

US Magazine reports that Bruce Pask, the men’s fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, eventually came to the rescue of one struggling model but what can be said for the inaction of the remaining attendees? Why did an assembly of distinguished guests idly sit by and watch these events unfold while simultaneously tweeting their outrage and sympathy for the models? 
It’s called The Bystander Effect, the psychological phenomenon behind their passivity. 

Psychologists Lantané and Darley began their research into the Bystander Effect in 1968 after news surfaced of the murder or New York resident Kitty Genovese. The New York Times published the story which detailed the gruesome murder and sexual assault of Geneovese which took place as a staggering 38 witness watched on and did nothing. 

“For more than half an hour thirty-eight respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens. Twice, the sound of their voices and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out and stabbed her again.  Not one  person  telephoned  the  police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead.(Gansberg, 1964, p. 1)”.  Whilst recent studies have gone on to question to accuracy of the reported events (e.g. Manning, Levine & Collins, 2007), the sequence is all too familiar. 

​Writing for Psychology Today, Bakari Akil details a recent incident which occurred in the city of Philadelphia “in which a man was recorded beating and punching a woman, mercilessly, for over 20 minutes. The incident was recorded by a man who wanted to remain anonymous, but talked with Fox News about the crime. In his recording you can see a few people filming the assault with their cell phones and people wandering in and out of frame as the man straddles over the woman, raining down blows, as if in a Mixed Martial Arts match.” 

We’ve seen this scene played out far too often. The internet is full of videos of people being injured whilst a crowd of bystanders simply watch on in horror and sometimes amusement. Within fashion specifically countless compilations exists of models falling on runways crippling under the unbearable pain of too-high shoes and too-tight garments all in the name of fashion. And what do we do? We share, we like and we post. 

Image Source Business Insider AU

Now I’m sure many of you are reading this whilst exclaiming “not me, I’d never!” Well, research has suggested otherwise. In one study participants sat in a room while another person (an actor) faked a seizure. Results found that if the participant was alone whilst this incident occurred, 85 percent of the time they left the room and notified someone. However, if there were more participants in the room the probability of someone leaving and notifying staff dropped down to 31 % (Lantané & Darley, 1968). 

Why does being in a crowd impact our need to help? Research points to a diffusion of responsibility, the idea that somebody else will sort it out. And this phenomenon is not only observed when witnessing misfortune. Even when amongst a group experiencing a positive turn of events individuals have displayed a do-nothing attitude. For example, ‘when a class-action lawsuit brought by models against their agencies was settled at $22 million in 2005, the court couldn’t find enough models to claim the damages’ (New York Times, 2011). It appears that the phrase ‘United We Stand Divided We Fall’ needs some reworking. 

When shit hits the fan, in our heads, we are all Bruce Pask’s but in reality we’re simply spectators. So where do we go from here? Maybe next time we witness something disastrous unfolding before our eyes, instead of using our fingers to grab our phone to tweet and record, how about we lend a helping hand. After all, what’s the worst that can happen?