Remember when having imaginary friends made you a weirdo? Try telling that to Lil Miquela's 1.5 million Instagram followers…
By Annie Brookstone
She's been featured in Vogue and V Magazine, graced the cover of Wonderland as well as titans of cool Highsnobiety's print offering, done a Milan Fashion Week Instagram takeover for Prada and put out a single with world-renowned EDM producer Baauer. Not to sound like totally jealous or anything but when I heard about rising Instagram model Lil Miquela, my first thought was, 'Yeah, I've seen this movie and it does not end well for mankind.'
See, 19-year-old Brazilian-American Miquela Sousa is the embodiment of what we all long to be: flawlessly beautiful, young, hip, successful, perpetually surrounded by famous friends and hashtag-living-her-best-life – except she's not the embodiment of anything, not really. In a world where reality has become increasingly malleable, of fake news, and where seeing no longer means believing, Miquela – who started 'life' as a digital art project created by Trevor McFedries and Sara Decou – is the freckled-just-so poster girl for a new wave of CGI… where the 'I' stands for 'influencer'.
Thought no. 2 about the highly stylised and designer wear-clad computer generated phenomenon was this: how the actual <bleep> does Lil Miquela have 1.5 million followers? She's not 19; she's two. Two-and-a-half, if you want to get specific. She didn't work her way up from an Instagram zero with just her BFFs, mom and some old high school friends following her. She's not a blogger. She doesn't hang out in Braamfontein. She didn't make a sex tape with Ray J. However, after amassing enough confusion, controversy (including having to "come out" as a digital creation after a rival bot threatened to expose her – I want to say you can't make this s**t up but certainly, you can only make this s**t up) and captivation, to say this not-entirely-convincing 3D rendering is not a valid influencer seems almost more false than calling her real.
Of course though, she's not real. But who is? Social media is still somehow considered to be a document of reality but c'mon? Even if you're not big on editing, airbrushing and filters, there's no social media user who can say that they aren't curating their lives for the feed. Trust me, I'm not naked nearly as much as Insta would have you believe. It's a moot point though – we no longer expect authenticity, so who's to say that any human social media user's claim to your 'likes' and follows is more valid than Lil Miquela's? If anything, it's our last remaining shreds of credulousness that 'real' influencers prey on – the people who make us think that we could be as fabulous, happy, self-assured or cool as they are, if we just wear that brand or buy that thing.
This new breed of digital models like Lil Miquela, though, they don't have to pretend. And I think this goes a long, long way towards explaining the appeal of CGI influencers. Yes, there might be a team of artists behind them, but there's no normal flawed human being who's going to let us down when it turns out that they're also just working their angles, minimising their blackheads and taking 300 selfies to get one worth publishing. No one needs to hand custodianship for their brand to some pop star who might be the flavour of the week today but caught on camera making inappropriate slurs or puking outside the club tomorrow. Nor is there someone making us feel rubbish for being 'not good enough', because let's face it, we'll never be that good.
Lil Miquela is neither the only nor the first of her ilk. Take Shudu, for example, another flawless arrangement of pixels and social projection, dubbed the world's first digital supermodel. The creation of British photographer Cameron-James Wilson, she shot to fame when Rihanna reblogged a photo of her 'wearing' Fenty's eye-catching orange lipstick. Last time I played The Sims, my character died because I forgot to build a door to the toilet. It's fair to say that our digital avatars have come a long way…
Like everything else in our modern lives, the old maxim of 'fake it until you make it' seems to need an update. Fake it until you are it? Perhaps Chuck Palahniuk hit the nail on the head with Fight Club's Tyler Durden, one of fiction's most idolised imaginary friends. As Durden famously says to the ever-nameless narrator, "All the ways you wish you could be, that's me. I look like you wanna look, I f*ck like you wanna f*ck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not."