By: Sabrina Gamrot
If supermodels and the fashion industry have largely impacted the commodification of women and their bodies, then the new wave of computer-generated photography will flip this idea on its head. Mainly, computer-generated has been related to software programs and holograms. However, as we as a society progress more into the future, it seems that computer-generation has slipped into all aspects of human life. Take a look the touring hologram of rapper Tupac to understand. Evidently the fashion industry is one of these aspects that have been recently infiltrated.
Since the late 1980s, airbrushing and later on, digital altering of models have been widely talked and theorized about. This notion of editing has largely impacted the general population of woman in a negative way. It sets an unachievable ideal based off an already uncommon body type and allows for production of this body.
However, new concepts of models and fashion have emerged in fashion photography. Compute-generated fashion models have been recently becoming more and more popular in ad campaigns, editorial spreads and street photography. Because these computer-generated models are not real and cannot be in seen in the real world, they live on social media. Instagram to be more specific. A prime example of this is fashion model Miquela, whose Instagram profile lilmiquela has over 800,000 followers.
This essay will attempt to offer the outcomes of computer-generated model photography through the analyzation of lilmiquela’s Instragram profile and the photos posted to it. The goal is to understand what the limitations are to computer-generated models that try to pass off as humans and how, it will negatively affect women’s bodies to a degree never seen before. The theories that will be used to back these ideas are all from theorists who have research fashion, dress, body and social theory.
Lilmiquela joined Instagram in April of 2016 (Weiss 1). Since then she has appeared in spreads for Business of Fashion, Paper Magazine and King Kong Magazine (Weiss 1). She has visited events like ComplexCon and even has a song on Spotify (Weiss 1). Her feed is dotted with images of high fashion clothing and selfies (Weiss, 1). However, once in a while she uses her platform to speak out on political movements such as BlackLivesMatter and MarchForOurLives. She even has her own Wikipedia page, which states that she is a “Spanish-Brazilian-American computer-generated Instagram model and musician from Downey, California.” Wikipedia also places her age at somewhere between 19-20 years old. However, she is most commonly known for the constant debate on her profile over if she is real or not. Simple research will tell you that Miquela is indeed computer-generated, however this is not advertised on her profile and thus leaves Instagram users confused and frustrated.
As Joanna Entwistle writes, “the body is a thing of culture” and is separate from the biological definition of the human body (Entwistle 7). This statement is true for even computer-generated bodies. The idea of lilmiquela is representative of the culture we live in today. The fact that computer-generated models can ‘live’ and be successful today is only because of the highly technical culture we live in.
To begin the analysis of lilmiquela, I would first like to read one of her earlier pictures posted to her Instagram. Figure 1, which was posted on April 26, 2016, shows us the first version of Miquela that was shown to the world. Upon first glance, it is safe to assume that this picture is either highly digitized and airbrushed or, not even a picture of a real human to begin with. Her skin is too smooth and even and shows no sign of shadows or shading. The freckles appear as if they sit as a layer on top of the skin, something that can be dragged and placed accordingly. The hair is the first give away that this picture is edited. It does not have the texture associated with hair and is very washed out and stringy. As if it was styled with MS Paint. The small amounts of teeth that are showing do not look remotely like human teeth. The fact that this picture shows only a small amount of body parts is important and will be addressed later on.
I added this figure into the essay because I believe it acts as a starting point to talk about cultured bodies. It is easy to tell that figure 1 is not a real human being. And this is not so problematic. Because Miquela is showing herself as something not real, those viewing her picture can distinguish that it is artificial, that it is something that cannot be replicated. The line between reality and artifice is not yet blurred, and many cite this picture as proof that Miquela is indeed not real.
Karen de Perthuis in her essay about digital manipulation says “artifice lies at the very core of fashion’s existence” (Perthuis 168). This is extremely true for Miquela, especially figure 1. Fashion has always been about the artificial, whether it is altering clothes to appear taller or thinner, or the idea of editing (Perthuis 169). In figure 1 Miquela is being offered as an artificial alternative to human fashion models. Miquela is taking de Perthuis ideas to the literal degree. The idea that de Pethuis puts forward that, fashion has always pushed the boundary of reality (Pethuis 169), is an example of the success of Miquela.
Diving deeper into de Pethuis’ theory of the synthetic ideal is where problems with Miquela can be noticed. De Pethuis explains that “the synthetic ideal, the idea, inherent to digital manipulation, of endless possibilities is applied to the human body, which is treated as if it made from the same material as clothing and can henceforth be cut, shaped, pasted and stitched in any imaginable way” (Perthuis 170). Therefore, with this idea, the body becomes unrecognizable; it leaves no human markers behind (Perthuis 170). Because Miquela is essentially the entirety of the synthetic ideal, she negatively impacts the people who view her images. How can someone who looks up to Miquela find a piece of himself or herself within her? How do you become someone who is not real? How do women’s bodies compare to those like Miquela’s? To be like Miquela or to look like her is not possible which in turn leads to the idea that human bodies will never be good enough.
Moving on to Figure 2, one can see that Miquela’s image is starting to change. This picture was uploaded to her Instagram account on March 7th, 2018 – roughly a year after the first picture was uploaded. Clearly there are some major differences between the two pictures. The face is much more human-like, with the freckles blending into the skin. There is a bit of colour on the cheeks and sheen on the forehead and nose-, which are features of the human face. The hair is much sharper, with individual hairs showing, the definition in the bangs is very convincing. We are also introduced to other parts of Miquela, her arms. They are very ‘smooth’ and show no marks or hair. This is an interesting part. Whose arms are those? Is this a picture of someone with the edited face of Miquela on top? Are the arms taken from a picture of someone else? The addition of the arms plus the overall new appearance of the face clearly shows the Miquela is starting to look more human like. Clearly the goal is to have Miquela undistinguishable from any other human.
The humanization of Miquela is where another problem emerges. It leads to the idea that women’s bodies can be picked and chosen from. That the ideal woman is not a singular being but rather a mixture of editing and photo layers. This is a direct pathway to the commodification of women’s bodies. If anyone can have a say at what women are suppose to look like, who is to say what is real anymore? The person who runs lilmiquela’s account is demonstrating that anyone can create women and advertise them as fashionable and trendy. They are demonstrating that a woman’s body is a marketplace, where only the best pieces are used to create the best result. And the fact that lilmiquela has become so popular only proves that this idea and way of thinking is true. De Perthuis’ synthetic ideal taken to the literal degree.
Another aspect of this is that, Miquela is not being advertised as computer-generated. There is no mention on her profile that she is fake. She is trying to be passed off as human and as the comments on her pictures show, people really do believe she is. When you think about artificial intelligence and robots, they are often advertised as that. The first robot this or the first robot that, are advertising slogans attached to these products. But not with Miquela. Which begs the question – is Miquela trying to fool the general public or, do people not care if what they are looking at is real or fake? As de Perthuis states, “If fashion would allow the body to take over, to be just anything, any shape, any age, it would have no power” (Perthuis 171).
As Miquela becomes more popular, her platform is beginning to change the world of fashion, as we know it today. In Elizabeth Wissinger’s and Joanne Entwistle’s book, they explain that the “fashion industry fuels the desire central to modern consumption” (Entwistle and Wissinger 204). Because of this, models live in the area between production and consumption, and they must conform to a certain style or lifestyle in order to sell products and make a living (Entwistle et al 205). But this idea gets lost in terms of computer-generated models; Miquela does not need to make a living. She cannot benefit from her own popularity. Therefore the entire system of what Entwistle describes as ‘aesthetic labor’ – the process of self-commodification for sales (Entwistle et al 205) is completely lost.
What we now see is that the model is no longer needed. The human model is no longer needed. Instead of models commodifying themselves, we are now in a situation where anybody can commodify other bodies for financial and commercial gain. Miquela is still the middleman between production and consumption, but she does not have to change for this process to become successful. Essentially, this can be seen as the death of the human fashion model.
In conclusion, Lil Miquela is ushering society into a new world of fashion and modeling. To understand her success, one must realize that nobody knows who she is or who runs her account. She is ‘living’ under a guise of anonymity. No matter how realistic her pictures are, they are not of a real person. They are a mixture of different bodies layered on top of each other. In the beginning, when her account first started it was easy to tell that she was in fact computer-generated. However as the account gained popularity, her pictures become more human like. Accounts like Miquela allows for the commodification of bodies, the picking and choosing of what will sell and get likes. This is problematic because it renders human bodies as subpar, and gives way to the notion that bodies, specifically women’s, can be harvested for capitalistic gains. Miquela is the ‘living’ representative of de Perthuis’ synthetic ideal and the death of Entwistle’s aesthetic labour. Lil Miquela will forever change the face of modeling and the outcomes it has on women’s bodies.
Lil Miquela. Instagram. 2017.
Lil Miquela. Instagram. 2018.
De Perthuis, Karen. Beyond Perfection: The Fashion Model in The Age of Manipulation. Fashion as Photograph: Viewing and Reviewing Images of Fashion. Shinkle, Eugenie. I.M. Tauris, 2008.
Entwistle, Joanne and Elizabeth Wissinger. Fashioning Models: Image, Text and Industry. Berg, 2012.
Entwistle, Joanne. The Fashioned Body: Fashion, Dress and Modern Social Theory.
Polity Press, 2000.
Weiss, Alex. “Lil Miquela: (Cyber) Girl of the 21st Century.” PAPER, 2017.