I have AI Portraits. See how they compare to my real one.

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed one sleepless night when a post by a fellow member of a women’s business group caught my eye. She was sharing her new snaps, and it was, well, wonderful.

She looked healthy and glowing – the soft natural light illuminating her glowing skin perfectly – and she looked both professional and approachable.

I recently compared headshot packages from photographers in my area and this woman’s photos were exactly what I was looking for: polished, stylish, well composed. I decided to pin some of her photos to my Pinterest board of photos so I could show them as inspiration to my own photographer when I finally chose one.

But when I looked at her caption again, something else about it caught my eye: the price. Her gorgeous snaps – a collection of 35 unique images in total – had cost her just $25.

I definitely needed to learn more.

I clicked to expand the full text of her post and it took me a minute to actually read what she wrote. Turns out her photoshoot wasn’t a “shoot” at all. Instead, these images are generated by artificial intelligence (AI). She explained that she uploaded 20 photos of herself to a website and two days later received a link to a collection of images of her—but not of herself—in various settings and styles of clothing.

Her photographs were created in a process where real images of a subject are used to create a data set from which new images can be derived. Once this data is collected and a “model” created, which includes an infinite number of details about a person’s physical appearance, an endless series of artificial images can be created in that person’s likeness. The “person” born from this accumulation of data can then be dressed in different clothes, worn in different ways, and placed in different locations. They can also have different makeup, hair colors, jewelry and other accessories… all while maintaining the characteristics of the original theme. At least in theory.

Curious, I clicked on my Facebook contact’s profile picture to see what they usually look like. It was kind of amazing. The AI ​​photos actually looked like her – made up, well lit, well dressed and maybe a little retouched. They basically looked like her on a good day, in a great venue and with a bit of post-production magic.

Now I was really intrigued. The price of $25 was a fraction of the offers I had received from local photographers I had contacted, and while I am a big fan of shopping local and supporting other creatives, I was starting a new business and it wasn’t generating revenue. I needed stock photos to use on my website and social media feeds until I was making real money and could hire a real photographer. I decided I was willing to risk $25 and clicked on my friend’s original FB post to the website of the company that had created her photos.

Like her, and probably thousands of other people, I uploaded my own images to the site, carefully following the instructions to choose photos that show my face in good light and from multiple angles so that the AI ​​can create a model that was as detailed and realistic as possible. Once I was happy that I had given the AI ​​all the tools it needed to recreate me, I hit the submit button. Then I waited.

The company promises delivery within 48 hours. Starting around the 40 hour mark, I started refreshing my email compulsively, every 10 minutes or so, to see if the collection link had arrived when I wasn’t looking. I was so anxious to see what my new and improved would look like! Would she wear my style of clothing and how do they decide what clothes to put the ‘model’ in? Would he have my laughs or is the AI ​​processing what it sees as “flaws”? She will Really do i look like ― like, “shit-my dad looks like me”? ― or would I be disappointed and have to take a $25 loss on the cost of starting a new business? So many questions!

I had momentarily forgotten that I was expecting to meet the new me when I was half awake and clicked on my email in the middle of the night. There it was: a link to a downloadable zip file labeled “Your Gallery.” My heart raced. I couldn’t unzip the file on my phone so I got out of bed, into my robe and down to my desk to open it on my computer. There was no way I was going to wait until morning.

There, sitting at my desk at 3am, I opened the gallery and clicked on the first thumbnail.

An AI-generated photo of the author.

Courtesy of Natasha Dworkin

It was me, sort of. I wore a crisp white linen blazer and tasteful jewelry. My hair was swept into a sophisticated tousled mess. My ears were adorned with a pair of trendy, geometric earrings. My smile said “Hello. I am polite. And a professional. And also very stylish.” He was like the person I could have become if I had followed my 19-year-old self’s dream of becoming an interior designer.

I clicked on the second photo. In it, I was outdoors, looking toward the horizon with a wise, knowing gaze. I was wearing a rich floral halter dress and my tousled hair was subtly dyed burgundy. I was supple and tanned. This was me who traveled the world with just a backpack before settling in Bali as a yoga teacher.

In the third and fourth images, I am a confident, driven dominant. I look smart and strong, but emotionally intelligent, CEO of a large international conglomerate that also has a social conscience – known for its fair labor practices, sustainable product lines, and generous parental leave.

It went on like this as I continued to peruse my gallery of doppelgänger Natashas, ​​each decidedly me but also decidedly not my. It was a me I didn’t recognize, wearing clothes I’d never seen before, in places I’d never been.

In a way, it was intoxicating—35 little windows into alternate versions of my life, reflecting different choices, different turns, different worlds inhabited. She was also a bit better than me. I mean in the way we always look better in our headshots or any studio shots thanks to optimal conditions and a skilled photographer, but this person was also better better.

She didn’t just look better. She wasn’t just better dressed. He had done better in life. She’d better keep her waist down after the baby. She had followed an actual skin care routine earlier than me. She had secured the book deal and had been offered promotion and had gotten press. She had done the right things at the right times and everything had worked out for her. She was golden. Golden Me.

An AI-generated photo of the author.
An AI-generated photo of the author.

Courtesy of Natasha Dworkin

I somewhat ruefully posted one of the photos of Golden Me — the one that, at least from my perspective, looked the most realistic, the most believable, on Facebook. I didn’t say anything about it – I just benevolently changed my profile picture. I wanted to see what would happen.

Within minutes my feed was lit up. “Wonderful!” said a friend. “Look how you are!” said another. “Truly dazzling.” “You look amazing.” “Beautiful woman!” I declared friends who knew me since I was a child. My father loved the picture. Everyone thought Golden Me was actually me. Mission accomplished. Correctly?

Not so much. I began to feel strange about this other me. On the one hand, I wanted people to believe the photo was real, and it felt kind of cool when they did. On the other hand, it felt dishonest.

Each of us must wonder from time to time – especially those of us who have reached the middle years of life – what our experience might have been, what we It could have been as if we had taken a different path, stayed in a certain relationship, left another, taken up a certain hobby or followed a different career path. Surely we’ve all questioned our choices at times, had regrets, wistfully thought about the what-ifs and what-could-have-beens.

Meeting Golden Me was like looking at the digital embodiment of the answers to all these questions. All the crap that could have been, maybe should have been, and definitely isn’t.

And putting one of those photos out into the world where my friends and family could admire it was like presenting a facade to people who already love me for who I am. Why trade that love and acceptance for social media points and a few minutes of feeling like I’d somehow won the better-me lottery?

An AI-generated photo of the author.
An AI-generated photo of the author.

Courtesy of Natasha Dworkin

The fact is, all the choices I’ve made and all the paths I’ve taken may not have led me to the executive suite of a multinational corporation or a tropical Balinese yoga studio, but they have led me to the version of myself that I am today: mom at sweetest little boy ever, user of my gifts to help others, community builder, loving friend, loyal daughter, budding gardener, deep thinker.

And that And me, with her laugh lines and her amateur makeup and her postpartum body, I’m pretty golden. In our own photos—our real photos of our real selves—are our stories: captured moments in time, details of life memorized for later viewing and remembering.

What would I say when my son looks at a picture of Golden Me and asks where I was when that picture was taken, who I was looking at or what I was smiling about? What are we left with if the images, moments, memories and stories are not real?

We are left with pixels.

I quietly changed my profile picture to the real thing, a selfie taken just weeks ago in the land where I grew up, wearing my favorite warm poncho. When my son sees this photo years from now, he’ll know without even thinking it was taken in the place I love most in the world. He will see my smile and the cool forest breeze blowing my hair and he will recognize it all. He will recognize me.

I decided to express this experience not as a loss but, like many things in life, as a lesson. And $25 to discover that I like the real me, my real life, my real story – even with all the tarnished bits of it – more than I do some gilded version of fantasy is, in my opinion, money well spent.

The author, of course, with her family.
The author, of course, with her family.

Courtesy of Natasha Dworkin

Natasha Dworkin is an agency founder and strategic storyteller. For more than 20 years she has helped purpose-driven clients tell their stories, amplify their impact and change the world. Now she leverages her professional expertise with her personal experience of becoming a first-time mother at 46 to help other midlife women make changes in their lives. Connect with her at midlife.mom and on Instagram at @midlife.mama.

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