The New Beauty Standard: Driven by Generative AI

June 12, 2023

Instagram’s newest top model, curated by generative AI.

In the ever-evolving realm of social media, a powerful force has emerged, reshaping our understanding of beauty and leaving a new impression of the “it” girl: generative artificial intelligence (AI). As algorithms and machine learning models become more sophisticated, the impact of AI-generated content on driving a new beauty standard is increasingly evident, raising important questions about its influence and the implications it holds for social media.

Forget photoshopping applications like FaceTune, where people flock to use in order to conceal blemishes or correct imperfections. AI-generated images can take this to a new extreme: from flawless skin and symmetrical features to unrealistic body proportions, AI-generated images project an idealized version of beauty that is virtually unattainable for the average person.

These “perfect” visuals are already gaining traction online. The newest Instagram model resemblant of a real-life barbie, is being created using a generative artificial intelligence program. The photos are impeccable, if not cinematic; the model has luscious hair, perfect bone structure, killer style. As these types of programs start to become more popular, however, and out-do the very influencers or real-life Instagram models that are already exacerbating a beauty standard supported by unrealistic diets and FaceTune, perceptions of beauty may only become farther from the reality.

Constant exposure to and the propagation of curated, digitally altered images with the help of generative AI programs will only lead to more powerful erosions of self-esteem, where even real-life models cannot compete. These pressures already supported by social media to conform to idealized standards can have detrimental effects on mental health, as individuals strive to attain an unattainable level of physical perfection.

Even more broadly, the perpetuation of homogeneous and limited representations of beauty through generative AI can exclude and marginalize individuals who do not fit the prescribed standards. The generative AI barbie-like images are popular for a reason: they lean into the very Eurocentric beauty standard that we’ve spent decades trying to get away from. Reinforcing existing beauty biases exacerbates issues of inclusivity, diversity, and body positivity.

The role of social media platforms in driving these new beauty standards cannot be overlooked. With AI algorithms often prioritizing engagement and amplifying popular content, there is a risk of creating a feedback loop, where AI-generated images adhering to a narrow beauty standard gain more visibility and influence. This amplification can reinforce and normalize a singular idea of beauty, suppressing diversity and promoting a one-size-fits-all aesthetic.

However, it is essential to recognize that generative AI is not inherently negative. It has the potential to be a powerful tool for artistic expression, creative exploration, and self-discovery. AI-generated content can challenge traditional beauty norms, blur boundaries, and inspire innovative forms of self-expression. When used responsibly and ethically, AI can foster inclusivity by showcasing a wider range of beauty ideals and celebrating individual uniqueness. But will that favor its own algorithm?