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by Liam Spencer 11 months ago in transhumanism

How Far Would You Go to Be the Best You?

Photo by Nathan Powers on Unsplash

“Say goodbye to the ordinary you today!” exclaimed Best-U’s Kimberly enthusiastically, turning her head from left to right to show off the latest in Best-U’s line of ‘groundbreaking’ cosmetic innovation: a digitally enhancing, ‘everyday’ face mask said to be the answer to low self-esteem and insecurity. “It’s time to be who you’ve always wanted to be,” Kimberly continued, with a digital, yet lifelike confidence displayed on her Best-U face device. “So, don’t just be you. Be the best you!”

I clicked off of the RapidVideo window, abandoned my post-activity, self-evaluation exercise, and buried my face into the hotel suite’s luxury bed linen. For the first time in my modelling career, I had no idea what to make of my contributions to the brand I currently worked for, and as result, the more I watched myself in the Best-U advert, the more I detested it.

I shifted my weight and sat upright on the hotel’s king-sized bed, and looked out of the large window opposite. Due to both the location of the hotel and my being on the fifty-second floor, I had a wonderful view of the moon, which looked particularly radiant on the night. As of late, stargazing and moon watching had become a habitual event, especially given that I found it terribly difficult to sleep at night. A fact that would have been frighteningly alarming a week ago, but now seemed pointless to concern myself with at all. I had no reason to worry about the risk sleepless nights posed when no one would see the consequences of my insomnia, anyway. Apparently, the most innovative and groundbreaking beauty-based company in the industry had no need for the one thing once considered my primary selling point: my face.

I walked over to the large window and drew the massive blue velvet curtain, then returned to bed with ideas of sleep bouncing around in my over-stimulated mind. I covered myself with the duvet and reached for the bedside lamp, but stopped short when I noticed the device Best-U had left in my possession at the beginning of the month. I had managed over the weekend to push the consequence of its existence to the back of my mind, but perceiving it again reminded me of just how much I loathed it. How could I look at it with anything but disdain knowing that its very inception had singularly changed everything I had ever come to know about modelling? I wondered if the way I felt was my own fault. It was, after all, my own excitement over the occasion that had hindered my ability to think rationally on the day Best-U offered me the highest paid contract I had been offered during my professional career. I had barely listened to what the role entailed when Janine informed me I had been selected by the burgeoning company to represent its latest product, and upon seeing the ridiculous sum of money being offered by Best-U, I’m ashamed to admit, I scarcely skim read the contract before signing on the dotted line. The figure had blurred my judgement. I was too busy celebrating the brief, twenty-eight day commitment that would render me £20,000 richer to realise what I had signed myself up for.

I turned the Best-U face device over in my hands, and observed the intricate nature of its design, admiring the latticework beneath the thin, translucent, silicone-based material comprising its interior, then moved my fingers over the multiple sensors constituting the mask’s facial recognition system. Fitted between the silicone interior and the outer screen was an internal circuit board containing the device’s processing unit, and a small camera that granted the user increased visibility when wearing the device, since the mask itself offered limited scope for observation without it. While I couldn’t help but appreciate the incredible work that had gone into Best-U’s groundbreaking technology - especially after project manager, Mark Gresham’s, impressive breakdown of the device and its properties - I still found myself despising its existence.

Though the Best-U face device had the capacity to create a world where the demand for cosmetic surgery ceased to exist, it also generated a new set of expectations for what women around the world were expected to adhere to in order to fit the current beauty standard. Yet the irony was, that standard continued to reflect that which made women seek out cosmetic surgery in the first place, the only difference was the tangible element had been removed. It was no longer about how a woman herself looked, but rather how much she was willing to spend on a device that would allow her, without a physical alteration, to look like someone else entirely. Best-U didn’t like to market it that way, since it heavily implied the company relied on a woman being dissatisfied with the way she looked for the product to be considered a viable option. So, instead Best-U chose to market it as a “self-esteem booster”, designed to do for women what makeup did, except on a far greater scale. Why would a woman spend hours in front of the mirror each morning readying herself for the day ahead, when, provided she could afford it, she had the option of simply slipping on the Best-U face device to save herself the trouble? In spite of the apparent, Best-U CEO, Martin Steinberg, remained adamant that Best-U did not change the way a woman looked, but rather, like makeup, simply provided a confidence-boosting, enhancement modification to the way she saw herself. In his mind, this debunked any claims that Best-U’s perception of beauty was both “unrealistic” and “deceptive”.

I pushed my index finger into the small power button located on the right hand side of the mask, and waited a few seconds for it to power up before placing the mask down on my lap. Upon initiating the start-up, the device first displayed an image of the Best-U logo on the LCD screen, then revealed a set of basic instructions, which allowed the user to choose a default display mode to finalise the start-up. These rudimentary prompts required the user select the mood most representative of their current emotional state. The options included: ‘happy’, ‘sad’, ‘angry’, and ‘anxious’. Once selected, the chosen mood would form the preliminary visual display, before calibrating with the user’s face to display the most accurate optical output.

I elected the ‘sad’ option, and waited for the device to respond, then brought up the Best-U app on my phone, which allowed the user to connect their phone to the device’s camera for heightened visibility. Martin Steinberg had gone on record to say that the Best-U device and smartphones made for a felicitous pairing considering that society had already grown accustomed to looking at their phones for prolonged durations while commuting (he made sure to exclude those driving their own vehicles). As the device finished loading, I found myself pondering over what Mark and I had discussed the last time we were together.

“Why did Best-U choose me?” I asked, placing the Best-U mask onto the mannequin bust on top of the dressing room table. “What was it about me specifically that made Best-U decide I was best for this role?” I continued, and turned to Mark as he flicked through the pages of the little black notebook he once informed me he used to take notes on a vast array of pertinent Best-U matters.

“Stop being so damn modest, Kim,” he said, closing the notebook, and slipping it into the back pocket of his skinny jeans. “There wasn’t a single person who didn’t think you were the perfect person to unveil the Best-U with. We looked at a lot, and I mean a lot, of candidates, but none of them caught our eye the way you did. Martin himself felt that you would be the perfect face for the company and---” I didn’t let him finish.

“But I’m not really the face of anything, though, Mark, am I? I’m just the person wearing the face Best-U created for me,” I said, noticing the disappointment present on his face. “I admit, I’m grateful there was an attempt on Best-U’s behalf to align that face with my own, but the fact remains, it isn’t me. It’s the perception of me you and everyone else have deemed most appropriate.”

“Look,” he said, closing the distance between us. “We chose you because you were the best person for the role. We needed someone that would represent what Best-U is all about, what we embody as both a brand and a company.”

“And what exactly is that?” I inquired. “Diversity and inclusion; it’s at the heart of everything we stand for here at Best-U.”

“How can that be true when the women that wear those masks aren’t seen for who they are, they’re seen as the ideal representation of what Best-U considers beautiful? That, regardless of where the person wearing it originates from, is not diversity. It’s a lie.”

The Best-U lit up around its edges to indicate that the connection was complete. It now displayed the digitally perfect face of ‘Best-U’s Kimberly’, a face designed specifically for me, entirely separate from the company’s incredibly large ‘Upgrade’ database created for its consumers, which allowed them to choose from a multitude of pre-designed face models developed off of research conducted through social media, online polls, and magazine surveys highlighting popular perceptions of beauty. Consumers also had the option of paying an additional fee to have models tweaked or reworked to reflect their more personalised demands.

I got up from the bed and headed for the bathroom seeking out the luxury suite's largest mirror . I took the mask and placed the strap over my head, then pulled it down to conceal my face. I watched as the sensors finished calibrating, and I became the Kimberly Best-U believed best to represent its brand. Though we shared some similarities, the face, as adjudged by the company’s representatives, was an improvement of my own. Best-U’s Kimberly had fuller lips, longer eyelashes, higher cheekbones and hazel eyes, which, in spite of their digital origins, looked incredibly life-like whenever I put the mask on. As I watched the Best-U device mimic my expressions, I couldn’t help but wonder if Best-U’s decision to hire a Filipino model over a Caucasian one had more to do with their internal perception of beauty than it did diversity. Best-U couldn’t afford to give the impression that the white face needed an “upgrade”, so they chose a fair one from another region instead.

All at once, I felt my frustrations boil over. I let out a primal scream then ripped off the device and slammed it several times against the marble surface top, watching as fragments of glass crumbled to the floor below. It took me a moment to realise that a piece of the glass had lodged itself into my right hand. I felt the area become warm as blood trickled from the small gash down my fingers and onto the broken mask. I lifted the mask towards me and scrutinised the damage, aware that my actions had just severed any working relationship I had with Best-U. As I stood staring at the malfunctioning mask, and the scattered image of the woman I had been expected to become, it suddenly dawned on me: Best-U hadn’t offered me £20,000 that day because I was the best person for the job, they offered me that sum because they knew that in agreeing to it, I was effectively severing any opportunity I had to secure modelling work elsewhere. Who would hire the woman responsible for ushering in the age of digital modelling? I thought, then dropped the mask, and propped myself down on the floor beside it. The screen stopped flickering and went completely black, and in that moment I realised, Mark was right, Best-U would change my life forever, just not in a way I could have ever imagined.


Liam Spencer

Spoken word artist, screenwriter, writer, aspiring filmmaker and visionary from south London! Founder of poetry-based company 'Just Rhyme', and host of 'The Outspoken Podcast'.

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