After years of women and leading companies upending a traditional notion of beauty and widening the lens, artificial intelligence (AI) creators are experimenting with the possibilities of what the next iteration of beauty could look like.

Virtual Beauty, a new exhibition at the House of Electronic Arts in Basel, Switzerland, explores how technology intertwines with our identity and reshapes the definition of beauty. Artists featured include Daniel Sannwald, known for experimenting with AI to distort portraits, including 2019’s publication of an AI-generated look for Kylie Jenner on the cover of Dazed Beauty, where AI hair and makeup were applied. This fueled the early potential of AI pushing the boundaries of human aesthetics that would dazzle, confuse, and surprise. The exhibition is open from June 6 to August 18, 2024.

Taking a different approach, subscription-based content creator platform Fanvue and the World AI Creator Awards (WAICA) are teaming up to launch the world’s first “Miss AI” competition, in which the contestants take on a more traditional lens on beauty. The judging examines three criteria, the first being “the classic aspects of pageantry including their beauty, poise, and their unique answers to a series of questions” explains the Miss AI site. The second criteria is tech, examining the innovative use of AI and digital creation. The third is social clout, based on social engagement and audience growth. The ten shortlisted contestants include Kenza Layli from Morocco possessing 300,000 followers on Instagram and TikTtok, and Ailya Lou from Brazil.

Celebrities and models have been taking advantage of AI digital twins for commercial purposes, leading to the rise of AI agencies (or AIgencies), such as The Clueless and The Diigitals. Whilst most virtual models resemble humans, The Diigitals portfolio includes Galaxia, an otherworldly character; again, pushing the boundaries of beauty and going beyond human.

There is debate, however, when it comes to generative AI’s perception of beauty, particularly when it comes to portraying female beauty. In a May article by the Washington Post titled “What AI Thinks a Beautiful Woman Looks Like,” the feature explores three leading AI image generators: Midjourney, DALL-E and Stable Diffusion. It found that all steered towards a “startlingly narrow vision of attractiveness.” When asked to generate “normal women,” the results showed images of women that were “overwhelmingly thin” and “98 percent had light skin.”

This bias has prompted Dove to be the first beauty brand to pledge never to use AI to represent real people in its advertising. This April announcement is part of Dove’s on-going commitment to champion “real beauty.” In addition, the company released “The Real State of Beauty: A Global Report,” with findings that show that 1 in 3 women feel pressure to alter their appearance because of what they see online, even when they are aware it is fake or AI-generated. With 90% of content online expected to be AI-generated by 2025, this is a “threat to women’s wellbeing,” according to its release, reinforcing Dove’s decision.

The Intelligence take

AI imaging tools generating unrealistic beauty standards for women run the risk of reversing the effects of today’s more diverse and inclusive embrace of beauty. However, AI creators and agencies have an opportunity to set new digital beauty ideals, with some taking further leaps to go beyond the human form—this is where the next iteration of digital beauty could excel.

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