GLAMOUR spoke to Dr Rachael Kent, an expert in digital health and social media, about the appeal of transformative technologies such as Lensa’s AI avatars.
“We have always used media to play around with our appearances and perform different identities, from painted portraits, photography to animation, digital filters, and now AI tools like Lensa,” she says. “These apps have become so popular for a number of reasons, both cultural and technological.”
“Firstly, we can see the rise in popularity of Lensa as a form of escapism and play. Escapism, of course, is not a new phenomenon, but it is certainly accelerated when our day-to-day cultural landscape is not easy to deal with, as it is right now.”
She adds: “Secondly, our social media and filtering apps have become an everyday extension of our lives and ourselves. Transforming ourselves using AI apps is not new, however, perhaps because Lensa offers many different images, we get to see ourselves in a multitude of characters which not only airbrush our faces, but transport us to a different time in history, or fantasy world. Is it the perfect form of play and escapism, or another form of attention-seeking?”
As for whether the popularity of Lensa avatars is damaging the body positivity movement, she takes a more balanced view. “On the one hand, yes, we can see the Lensa AI tool as a form of performativity, showing a curated and idealised self, and we could argue that this trend does not contribute to the body positivity narratives we increasingly see across social media as it is not representing a real and authentic body,” she says.
“But I would argue, if we are using an AI tool to perform our identity in different ways, do we not already know and understand this is a characterisation of self, not a true depiction? The Lensa images are clearly not reality, or an authentic face, but are a form of play and augmentation.
“The tipping point exists if and when we become fixated upon these images of ourselves as more desirable or ‘Instagrammable’. Sharing an image for fun is not unhealthy. Only sharing images of ourselves heavily filtered with AI and attempting to pass it off as reality is unhealthy and damaging for our own sense of self-worth and esteem as well as detrimentally impacting others’ mental health online as they might compare themselves to your insta-worthy image. When filtering gets normalised as how we view ourselves and others in our everyday lives, this is when these apps become unhealthy.”
There’s no doubt that the current slew of AI avatars are far from realistic – they’re mostly painterly, mystical and other-worldly, though some veer more on the life-like side. But in an age of aesthetic comparison, do we really need another ‘lens’ to look at ourselves through, or another editing tool at our fingertips?
Avatars can be a fun way to express and transform yourself, undoubtedly, but proceed with caution – no mystical portrait could ever live up to the magic of you.