You’ve probably seen Lil Miquela. She has brown hair, done up in two space buns, and a light dusting of freckles across the bridge of her nose. She can often be seen, in her copious Instagram posts, lounging in California burger joints and ice cream spots, posing in expensive clothes and celebrating her many accomplishments. She has 1.2 million Instagram followers.
She’s not real.
When Miquela, a digitally-created “influencer” built to garner Instagram likes and follows, first surfaced, she was seen as a curiosity. People posted the usual is she real questions, though in some shots she looks exactly like a Sim. Now, though there’s still lots of it, things seem to slowly be changing. The Instagram comments are less what is this and more wow, beautiful! You can even find Miquela in a write-up about the “Best Fashion Instagrams” by Vogue, sporting a baggy men’s suit.
Alongside other flesh and blood celebrities, Vogue writes, “It’s wasn’t all boys fashion though. Lil Miquela is turning out to be one of the most stylish CGI beings on Instagram. In the cyber-verse, the well-dressed arrangement of pixels was all-the-bit edgy in a slouchy brown suit.”
She’s on the cover of magazines. She’s posting about real-world political issues (including immigration,) posing in designer clothes with other real-life people and beefing with another made-up influencer, Bermuda. In the caption of a photo of the two of them on an escalator, she writes, “Bermuda can be straight up rude. She treats people poorly. Every post of hers I attempt to read is a straight up cringe fest. We still have a connection that is hard for me to explain. She’s lived as a robot with pride her entire life. There’s only three of us out here and while we’re not “friends,” we still have a lot to learn from each other.”
The third robot she’s referring to is Blawko, a male robot who always wears a scarf or holds something over his mouth. She’s on his Instagram, too. Together, these not-quite-people have assimilated themselves into a seemingly normal level of internet fame (where else can they go to be famous, anyway?) and have developed unique personalities.
In the comments, the reactions have been mixed. Some exalt her beauty, fire emojis and all. Others are more unsure, a little hesitant to buy into the casual acceptance. And maybe this, more than the dead eyes and the too-perfect, blemish-free skin, is what gets under the skin about Lil Miquela.
Miquela has partnered with Prada, Highsnobiety and other brands. Her creators are profiting, and it’s all taking place on a level high above the corporeal, without touching much that could be considered human. Digital people, digital fashion, digital money.
The “first digital supermodel,” Shudu, who modeled Fenty Beauty, was first thought to be real by many. An article in The New Yorker states:
“Shudu Gram has courted a different kind of controversy, one originating from the fact that, as Harper’s Bazaar revealed, earlier this year, her creator is a twenty-eight-year-old white man, the British photographer Cameron-James Wilson. “There’s a big kind of movement with dark skin models,” Wilson told the magazine. “So she represents them and is inspired by them.”’
Understandably, that was a point of contention. Wilson’s biggest influence for Shudu, he told The New Yorker, was a “Princess of South Africa Barbie doll.”
Maybe the unease comes from the idea of being sold something through visuals, something we’ve all become accustomed to, being disrupted. That the face we’re looking into isn’t the one making the money.
This is disconcerting in and of itself-- and raises questions of the inherent imperfection of humans. How are we supposed to compete with that? The CNN article continues that thought, putting forth the assertion that these digital models are simply easier to work with-- they have no backgrounds, schedules or controversy.
But maybe it’s something deeper. Maybe it’s not about the money at all, but rather the emptiness in the eyes of these “people” juxtaposed against the too-relatable comments and interactions. Maybe it’s the sentimental thoughts in the captions, describing the fake memories of a fake person trying to break through the veil of the uncanny valley and into the world of the living. Maybe we’re just a little too protective of our own humanity.
Either way, like everything else, it’s changing with the times. Is nothing sacred anymore? Doesn’t seem likely. Anyway, follow me on Instagram.