If you follow fashion industry trends, you may have heard of two new models that have huge followings on social media and pose for beauty and luxury clothing brands alike: Shudu and Lil Miquela. These models are different because they are not actually made of skin and bones — they are completely digital.
Virtual models are "just the beginning of the avatar revolution," according to Cameron-James Wilson, a 29-year-old photographer based in London and the creator of Shudu.
Shudu is considered to be the first digital supermodel, and boasts incredibly lifelike facial and body features and an Instagram following of over 130,000 people.
Obviously, avatars have their limitations: they cannot walk down a runway wearing designer clothes. However, they can be a digital spokesperson to assist you with your next shopping spree or the face of your customer service experience, according to Wilson.
He says that we will be seeing more and more of this because brands want to have their own unique types of models that are exclusive to them and unavailable to others. Furthermore, the British company Irmaz Models creates digital models as an alternative to human models, and boasts that they "never argue, need to eat, throw tantrums or get tired."
So not only is the average consumer faced with photoshopped images of real people, now they will be staring at images of synthetic people. As we know, digitally altered photographs are already under incredible scrutiny for creating unrealistic beauty standards, but now we have synthetic beauty standards to live up to as well.
We will no longer be comparing ourselves to other human beings, in print and digital advertising — we will be comparing ourselves to inhuman, digitally created, beauty avatars.
To add insult to injury, our clients not only view the inhuman, digitally created beauty of avatars, they are also peering at synthetic versions of their own beauty when they use filters on their photos and selfies. A new trend in mental illness has recently been cropping up, and it is called "snapchat dysmorphia."
Julia Guerra reported this month in Elite Daily that consumers are looking into plastic surgery and other medical esthetic alterations so that they can look more like their filtered images on apps like Snapchat. Because our clients are able to alter their own appearances with the help of filters and photo editing apps, they are looking to do the same in their doctor's office.
Applications make it easy to erase wrinkles and blemishes, whiten teeth, widen eyes, plump up the lips and contour the nose. So, clients are going into their favorite spa or medical spa and expecting to accomplish the same things in the blink of an eye. In essence, clients want to look like filtered versions of themselves.
These advances in technology and the pervasiveness of altered and synthetic beauty images begs the question: how can we, as estheticians, medical and spa practitioners guide our clients through it?
The consensus seems to be, among leading dermatologists and plastic surgeons, that we need to explain to our patients and clients that perfection is not possible.
Dr. Melissa Doft, a New York city plastic surgeon, sums it up perfectly when she says that there is no such thing as an absolutely "flawless" look especially in terms of plastic surgery because there is always the risk of scars and complications. She adds, doctors should be cognizant of patients' motives for surgery and if she feels that a patient is getting the surgery "for the wrong reasons," then more consultations will be necessary.
In essence, the process that will ensure the best outcomes for our clients is a thorough and collaborative consultation. We should be investigating our clients' motives for the procedures that they are most interested in. We should also be able to explain how these procedures and surgeries are performed and their probable outcomes and possible side effects.
After all, unless we are genuinely and ethically managing our clients' expectations, we are not doing our jobs thoroughly.
In many cases, we can make positive changes in our clients' skin texture with a series of chemical peels in conjunction with a professional homecare regimen. We can also reshape and contour some facial and body features in qualified plastic surgeon offices.
Not to mention, that artfully applied skin care and cosmetics can also do wonders in terms of perfecting a client’s look and diminishing flaws. However, all of these services take time, patience and professional training.
If we feel that our clients want their flaws to be fixed in the same time that they can swipe a filter onto a photo, then we know that they probably have unrealistic expectations about their care and outcomes. We need to make sure that our clients have a firm handle on realistic images of beauty versus synthetic ones.
Unfortunately, we are heading into an era where synthetic images are becoming the norm. So it is our job to bring the conversation back to a grounded, realistic and practical place.
At the end of the day, we are working on real human beings: flesh, bone, and a soul. We cannot expect to create outcomes based on beauty standards created by manufactured images comprised of altered photos, pixels and digital engineering.