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Why we’re not here for Balmain’s use of CGI models in its latest campaign

Why we’re not here for Balmain’s use of CGI models in its latest campaign

Maybe it’s my age (I’m in my mid-30s) but I can’t get into how seriously people take the face-morphing filters available in photo editing apps. They’re great for laughs, sure, but when it’s like a hundred selfies with the same huge saucer-like eyes and alien-like head shapes, I lose the plot. Is that the new idea of beauty? Does the number of these filtered-to-hell pictures, matched with a “seductive baby” gaze, mean that the subject of the photos isn’t being ironic about their use of these editing effects anymore?

But enough about my opinions, because a major fashion label has even foregone the use of Photoshop in its latest campaign. Balmain, under the creative direction of Olivier Rousteing, presented its newest additions to the “Balmain Army” (squads and armies are such a tired concept, by the way): CGI models. Yup, not human but computer-generated.

My initial reaction:

In an interview with Refinery29, Rousteing explained this fuckery: “I created the virtual reality army in the same way that I’m creating my collection. I’m really obsessed with music [his collaborations with Beyoncé and Rihanna are proof of this] and what I really love about it are the icons [who brought the sounds to life].” Other musical influences were Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Prince, and David Bowie, with the Ziggy Stardust icon a direct inspiration for Zhi. Margot, meanwhile, is “the French girl of his childhood dreams.”

This gimmick reeks similarly to that W Magazine cover and fashion editorial featuring Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid (who, BTW, are part of the Balmain Army) as Photoshopped-to-hell-and-back “placebo pets.”

This cover, one of the few released by the magazine, was for W Magazine’s 10th anniverary art issue released back in 2016.
Responsible for this visual nightmare are artists Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch.

More than the visceral reaction ignited by these totally unnatural images, regardless of how talented James-Wilson is, there are other issues to unpack behind this bizarre move. So many jobs are already automated, affecting livelihoods of laborers, and we all know that unless a model is a top-tier name or a nepotism star, they have to hustle for gigs constantly—and a lot of these gigs pay them peanuts, if at all. Even among these struggling models, there’s a hierarchy, as those who are conventionally beautiful (white, with Caucasian features and zero body fat) are still given preference over models of color and of different shapes and sizes. And before anyone says, “Uh, the Balmain campaign has two non-human women of color in it. Diversity!”, bish, please:

Besides, wouldn’t hiring human models be less expensive than using CGI technology?

Then there’s the already pervasive influence that the fashion industry has on our collective self-image, especially among women. As if the pressures to look a certain way aren’t enough already, sprung upon us is another, totally unattainable idea of beauty—because it’s not even human in the first place. No pores, no facial hair, not even the tiniest jiggly bit? Let’s all just go home then and live the rest of our lives with our god-given faces and bodies shrouded away from public view in shame.

Look, I don’t own anything from Balmain and I probably never will, so I wasn’t part of the target of this campaign in the first place. But this kind of insidious bullshit starts out small, as if like a novelty, before it totally sinks its hooks into collective culture. The groundwork is already laid down—we’re all already self-conscious enough that we don’t even notice it most times anymore—and so it takes just a tiniest nudge, like a new filter here or there, to make us feel even more inadequate. And among the most affected among us who also happen to have the financial resources, these are just more reasons to get a nip here and a tuck there to achieve some semblance of attainment of perfection.

The ugly joke, though, is that the goal post is always moving. And that goal post for physical perfection gets moved continuously by those who are powerful and influential enough to do that, and they get richer and more powerful feeding on our collective feeling of being inadequate as we already are. The sadder thing is we don’t even seem to want to acknowledge this terrible, long-running punchline.

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