Pretty Little Thing Sparks Controversy With (Super)ficial Intelligence

Isabelle Kennedy-Grimes

Pretty Little Thing (PLT), an online clothing brand, have caught themselves up in a fair amount of controversy recently with CEO Molly Mae’s naïve assertions about equal opportunity. The company have now spurred further debate with their creation of a ‘virtual girl’, an animated female figure on whom they intend to model their clothes in the future. Consumers of the brand have expressed many of their initial concerns through Twitter; these include, the damaging beauty standards that this animation encourages as well as the threat it has to modelling careers.

Despite being “terrifying” and “creepy”, as some of the public have described, PLT’s attempts to connect the real world with the metaverse also raise several moral issues. In an age where social media and advertising are responsible for setting young female beauty standards – their influence ranging from the inducement of eating disorders to the encouragement of body positivity – anything that exists at the rear-end of this spectrum is to be avoided at all costs.

PLT’s new ‘virtual girl’ hinders the current movement towards body positivity and acceptance. The chosen design depicts a barbie doll-type figure, which is tall and slim and in no way “relatable and real to…customers”, as Creative Director, Toni Hayden anticipates. The fact that the brand’s first model of the ‘virtual girl’ is the epitome of the pre-existing and highly damaging female beauty standard, leads one to conclude that they are in fact uninterested in creating models which are relatable and representative of their consumers. Instead, they have consciously chosen to entertain this unattainable body image which already causes so many young women and girls to develop eating disorders and other mental health issues.

This is highly damaging and demonstrates a total lack of concern for the well-being of the brand’s young, female consumers

To make matters worse, the brand is marketing this model – this body image – as something to which consumers should relate to and identify with. They have set up an online competition, urging Instagram followers to comment suggestions of names for the model, for a chance to be turned into the newest version of the ‘virtual girl’. Already, the enthusiasm with which some followers have responded, calling the marketing scheme “cool” and remarking that this model “looks like a princess”, demonstrates that consumers are susceptible to idolising this virtual figure. The competition ultimately encourages women to associate themselves with, and potentially compare themselves to, this false and unattainable representation of the female body.

This is highly damaging and demonstrates a total lack of concern for the well-being of the brand’s young, female consumers. As a company that prides itself in being a “reactive” brand, they should receive the concerns expressed by their consumers, via Twitter, as strong advisement to nip this marketing scheme in the bud. It promotes unhealthy identification with unattainable beauty standards and deprives real-life models of job opportunities. In addition, as a marketing strategy it is bound to be unsuccessful.

PLT’s ‘virtual girl’ is an ethical money-maker which hinders progress towards body positivity

Consumers of online clothing brands are already suspicious of the quality of clothing in real life, compared to that depicted online. The Snapchat story, ‘What I Got’ is a space where Snapchat users post shocking revelations of the clothes they have received from online. A virtual depiction of clothes on an animated model is unlikely then to appeal to already wary customers.

Ultimately, PLT’s ‘virtual girl’ is an unethical money-maker which hinders progress towards body positivity, as well as depriving models of jobs. Not only this, but as a marketing strategy it will prove ineffective.

Isabelle Kennedy-Grimes

Featured image courtesy of Sincerely Media via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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