Programmed Perfection

Supermodels have long been the embodiment of the fashion world. These individuals have been revered across the world for there looks, style and fame – creating many aspirational followers. However, the recent creation of AI model ‘Shudu’ has instigated tension in the fashion community, prompting the question of the use of computer-generated models as well as cultural appropriation controversy. 

‘Shudu’ was created by digital artist Cameron-James Wilson – a self-described ‘geek’ who has a long history in the fashion industry. Looking for a creative outlet, Wilson been dabbling in the creation of online and customisable Barbies. One of these creations described as a ‘South African Princess’, was the inspiration for ‘Shudu’ – a hyper-real AI model with an extremely dark complexion aimed to represent the African community.

‘Shudu’ quickly became an online sensation after her first post last April – amassing over 89000 followers. Her appearance caught the attention of singer-turned-entrepreneur Rihanna, who released her makeup line ‘Fenty Beauty’. Shudu was signed to promote the beauty line, appearing in a post with orange lipstick on and gathering over 222000 likes – more than four times the average post the brand generated. This caused controversy for more than one reason.

Firstly with Wilson being a white male and ‘Shudu’ embodying a black female, many believe that there are elements of cultural appropriation. This can be further perpetuated by the ongoing black-lives-matter campaign in America, in which the African-American community is speaking out against white privilege and police brutality. There has been backlash online as to how this white photographer could be “capitalising off black bodies”. Some of these comments include “Black models, specifically dark skin black models are not a trend though. We should be the norm”

Another digitally related controversy caused by Shudu was the fact that an AI model was chosen over a real woman. Many believe that individuals and models could have benefitted from the profit from their sheer talent, rather than going to a generator behind a computer screen. Furthermore, the use of the digitally created and enhanced body defies the latest trend of positive body image and using “real models“.

However, Wilson believes that use of Shudu adds to the movement. “It’s meant to be beautiful art which empowers people. It’s not trying to take away an opportunity from anyone or replace anyone. She’s trying to complement those people.” he quoted to Harpers Bazaar. The addition of AI into the fashion world may also make for a cheaper alternative, as well as being able to create an entity which fits the design brief perfectly.

Thus as there are two main controversies caused by Shudu, I will leave readers two questions to ponder. Firstly, do you consider Shudu as a form of cultural appropriation? Furthermore, do you think it is just to introduce AI models into fashion?





6 thoughts on “Programmed Perfection

  1. This was a really interesting read, Ellen! I can understand the ‘cultural appropriation’ argument, but there’ll always be people critiquing when it comes to ethnicity issues. I can understand that using Shudu (for campaigns and modelling) would take away from the authenticity of using a real model, but most of the time, models in photos are edited to a certain degree of ‘perfect’ anyway. At least Cameron-James created a model that isn’t the typical idea of attractive (that being blonde hair, blue eyes and a perfect body). In saying that though, I don’t think I would like seeing AI models become the norm within the fashion industry. I think it’s really interesting though seeing how a digital model has attracted other businesses and created a following on social media. I like seeing how people/businesses are utilising advanced technology to create something out of the box; technology is going to continue developing so might as well experiment with it!

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  2. I personally don’t think the photographer had a malicious intent. It seems like it was simply a way to express his creativity.

    I definitely feel like a real model would have been a better choice, but that could just be because it’s the norm. At the moment it’s unusual to see digital models, however as it becomes more common in the future I feel like people will learn to adapt and accept them.

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  3. I definitely think there is an issue here with creating a digitalised ‘ideal’ figure. The fashion industry has faced criticism for years for its contribution to unachieavable body standards and poor body image. Creating a digitalised figure creates an unattainable ideal for females to look up to. However, from another perspective, perhaps this is a way to take the human element out of it and show that these figures are merely a work of art. If we look at it that way and respect the creation behind it, this could actually help improve body standards in a strange way. We can look at this and know that it is not real, as opposed to seeing images in magazines and never knowing just how much is realistic vs retouched.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A lot of my friend have suffered from boy dysmorphia issues, so I can totally see where you are coming from here! hopefully AI models can incorporate different sizes of models to improve issues such as these which a rampant in our generation


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