Alright, we're just going to come out with it: Have you heard of Lil Miquela? Yay? Nay? Well, if for some reason you haven’t, she’s a 19-year-old Brazilian-American Instagram “influencer,” model, and occasional pop singer. She often posts pictures of herself in designer gear, from Chanel to Prada, Vetements to Supreme, and she regularly uploads selfies with other models, artists, and musicians like Samantha Urbani and Jesse Jo Stark. So far, she’s amassed around 916,000 followers, though that number is always rising.
She’s also not even slightly real. In fact, she's not real at all. She’s a computer-generated cyborg and no one seems entirely sure who exactly is behind the account.
Despite the fact Miquela looks like a lost Kardashian sister who has been scanned and uploaded to The Sims, people on Instagram still seem confused about her visual authenticity, with all-caps comments like “ARE YOU A ROBOT?” peppered below her perfectly constructed posts. Among those comments, though, are just as many lauding her style and engaging with her as if she’s fully real.
“Why is your hair the same in every photo 🙄 ?” asks one user beneath a pic of her in a monochrome tracksuit at the airport. “Slay!” posts another underneath a snap of her wearing some Napapijri dungarees and tiny sunglasses. Others simply write: “Omg follow me queen!” It’s not that these users don’t know her image is computer-generated, per se — it’s more that they don’t really care. But when everybody’s Instagram feeds are just as curated as this flawless cyborg, who can blame them?
It's no secret that what goes on Instagram isn't always reflective of what happens in real life. In fact, most of the time, it's impossible to glean any truth from the app at all. To say one's online self is curated would be an understatement; it's not real life.
Again, none of this is new. But it’s also far too simplistic to point to this as a bad thing. The effects of social media are multifaceted and hard to quantify, so it feels pointless demanding more authenticity from something that doesn’t necessarily require it. Why should people see life's more imperfect moments when they may not want them to? When it comes to Lil Miquela as a phenomenon, though, the whole thing outlines how — online at least — aesthetics are valued way above authenticity — and that alone is interesting enough.
Sure, there are probably a lot of users who follow her because of a sheer fascination with something so strange. But that doesn’t take away from the fact she has close to a million fans, with streams of likes and comments on all of her posts. And it doesn’t take away from the fact that some of the biggest names in fashion are lining up to get her to “model” their clothes.
Lil Miquela is essentially an embodiment of what we all engage in — highly stylized content masquerading as a documentation of reality — the only difference is that she doesn’t even resemble a real human being. But then again, how much do we? Our faces are also pushed through filters, our angles made just so, our skin airbrushed so that we don’t show the blackheads on our nose or the tired bags under our eyes. And when it comes to social media influencers in particular, their sole job is to look good. Their top focus is to appear cool and interesting, so that the brands they wear seem cool and interesting by extension. The person behind the image, the one sat at home on their phone, is borderline irrelevant.
If that sounds depressing, you could apply this logic to every single public-facing facet of our lives: your professional self, your dating self, the self you present to extended family members at Christmas, and the Polaroids you decide to stick to your bedroom wall so that people can see them. Because when we start thinking about social realities as a wider concept, it soon becomes clear that authenticity is a shaky notion anyway. Without sounding too much like someone’s stoner brother round a campfire, no image we choose to put out into the world is truly real. It’s just an image — cyborg or not.