BY Fast Company 5 MINUTE READ

The beauty contest features polished travel influencers representing the likes of Morocco and France, humanitarian activists dedicated to LGBTQ+ issues and women’s health advocacy and of course, social media models with perfectly symmetrical faces clad in skin-tight activewear.

But there’s a catch: All were made using artificial intelligence.

A shortlist of 10 AI-generated influencers made it to the final judging stages of the world-first competition, vying for a $20,000 prize purse and the chance to be crowned “Miss AI.” If you were at all skeptical about what the results of such a competition might tell us about the nature of AI influencers and the people who create and control them, the list will probably do little to quell your concerns.

Since the World AI Creator Awards (WAICA) announced the pageant, in partnership with content platform Fanvue—a similar platform to OnlyFans—in April, about 1,500 AI creators from the U.S., Africa, South America, India, Japan, South Korea, and Europe entered their contestants, which were judged on three criteria: realism, tech and social clout. The final shortlist includes Kenza Layli, a voice for feminism in the Middle East. Anne Kerdi, a promoter of French tourism and ocean conservation and Aiyana Rainbow, the face of LGBTQ+ activism.

Now, in a pageant in which the contestants were real women, this lineup might seem impressive. But as none of these women are actually self-proclaimed endometriosis warriors or bastions of empowerment, these identities are merely symbolic. These characters represent an idealized version of womanhood ascribed by their creators and largely influenced by the social media and celebrity landscape.

Responses to the pageant have been mixed. Some see the competition as a showcase of technical and creative talent, celebrating the hyperrealism of AI influencers and ushering in an exciting new paradigm of digital marketing.

“The creators shortlisted have established impressive and engaged audiences in a short space of time,” says Michael Bloch, one of the pageant’s judges and a PR expert, “and that’s really appealing for brands seeking new ideas for partnership opportunities.”

And Bloch is correct, to an extent. AI influencers don’t argue, they don’t age, they don’t get tired and they can serve as an ad for whatever product you’re looking to promote—regardless of whether they can actually benefit from the product personally. AI influencers can’t actually use skincare, supplements or most of the lifestyle accouterments we’re usually sold via social media ads.

But critics argue that Miss AI is a celebration of unrealistic beauty standards and highly sexualized fake influencers who add fuel to the fire where the negative impact of social media is concerned.

Others have taken issue with the competition being presented as a beauty pageant in the first place, and criticized the use of an outdated style of competition that caters to the male gaze. After all, if this is a competition for AI designers, why not just call it that? Why ascribe agency to the creations and set an impossible standard for human beauty by calling the proceedings “a pageant”.

“The whole point about a beauty pageant is that there is no such thing as the perfect model,” says Mark Frankel, a lecturer on the Dark Web and AI at the London Interdisciplinary School. “AI is taking its starting point from a totally unrealistic idea of perfection, which it then builds into a fantasy rather than a reality.”

(A spokesperson for WAICA acknowledged there was “more work to do” when it comes to beauty standards. “This isn’t about pushing unrealistic standards, but realistic models that represent real people,” the spokesperson says.)


Despite its well-meaning statement on diversity, WAICA was surely aware of what kind of entries an AI pageant would encourage. By positioning the contest as a beauty pageant, rather than a design competition, WAICA automatically narrowed its definition of diversity. Creators would surely enter contestants that look like exaggerated beauty queens with little deviation from this standard. Then again, AI creators have been creating highly sexualized influencers with unrealistic features since the advent of AI, so from WAICA’s perspective, a pageant might have seemed the most natural choice of competition by which to judge these creations.

Each creator has ascribed a set of values, physical attributes, and behaviors to their Miss AI contestant but while the shortlist of winners might feature activists and feminist contestants, the prize money will be going directly to the creators, and so will any revenue earned in brand partnerships. There’s a moral gray area here in that these AI-generated pageant winners will be extolling the virtues of feminism, selling beauty products they can’t use and will likely be creating adult content on Fanvue for subscribers—but they’re being controlled by their creators. They’re essentially products themselves, revenue drivers, which arguably makes any perceived activism somewhat moot.

But Fanvue co-founder Will Monange, doesn’t see any issues with this arrangement. “That’s the beauty of the AI creator space,” he says. “It’s enabling creative people to enter the creator economy with their A-generated creations without having to be the face themselves.”

Some AI models already have hundreds of thousands of followers and make thousands of dollars a month in brand collabs. Including two of the pageant’s judges. Emily Pellegrini, was designed by an anonymous creator who asked Chat GPT to describe the average man’s dream girl, and then designed the model to those specifications. Pelligrini reportedly makes thousands of dollars on Fanvue and her creator fields DMs from celebrities and famous athletes. The other AI judge, Aitana, was created by Rubén Cruz and earns him up to $10,000 a month in brand collaborations.

Every AI influencer in the winning shortlist is slim, poreless, and glossy with perfect hair and make up. They’re posed in libraries, with rocket ships, cuddling their AI dogs and walking through imagined dramatically-lit cities. They look like supermodels. And while WAICA and the competition’s judges might not have explicitly meant to reinforce the darker side of what’s possible with AI, the shortlist, along with the headline sponsor being an adult platform like Fanvue, suggests that this was never really about creative talent or creating a new set of global activists. This pageant was always about escapism, objectification, and co-opting women’s interests to earn creators money.

“An AI model is a distillation of data based on whatever the inputs of that developer in the model might be, and the limits of that language model is only as good as the conscious and unconscious biases of the people that have developed it,” says Frankel. “My big concern about this kind of production process, whether it’s a design competition or a product placement idea, is that in pursuit of perfection, you instead get a whole series of fantasies and hallucinations which are based on the AI developers’ grasp of the world and not necessarily reality.”

Sally-Ann Fawcett, one of the Miss AI judges and author of Misdemeanours: Beauty Queen Scandals tells Fast Company that “95% of pageants are run by women for women and those who take part talk of the empowerment, challenge and camaraderie that attracts them. It may not be possible yet to transfer these attributes to AI pageants.”

There’s a distinctly adult undertone here—one that speaks of fetishization and control. Where traditional pageants have been able to move away from sexualization, Miss AI seems to openly embrace it. For an event that markets itself as hyper modern, revolutionary even, this seems bizarre. Of course, all women have the right to choose what to do with their own bodies, but in this instance, these aren’t women, they’re avatars, controlled—and monetized—by their creators.