It’s official. An avatar has surpassed me in coolness. No, that’s an understatement actually. An avatar is so far past me in coolness I feel like I need to re-evaluate everything I’ve ever done in this lifetime. The Internet’s latest “it girl” is the 20-year-old Los Angeles-based, Brazilian/Spanish influencer and musician Miquela Sousa, better known as her Instagram handle Lil Miquela. There’s just one thing: she’s not real. Or at least not what we used to call real.
Sure, blood running through your veins might come in handy every once in a while, but as it turns out, it’s not a deal breaker if you want to become famous. At a time when Internet notoriety is the heaviest currency of them all, what does a beating heart have against 850k Instagram followers? Apparently, for Miquela Sousa, nothing. Feeling confused? Yeah, me too. Let’s break it down, shall we?
A quick glance at Lil Miquela’s social media outlets and you’d think she’s your average, run-of-the- mill digital influencer. Sporting the trendiest fits from Chanel, Supreme and Fendi, posing with real celebrities at parties and events, sharing relatable memes, and using her platform to support social causes such as Black Lives Matter and transgender rights. In August 2017, Miquela became a signed music artist and released her first single “Not Mine”, which quickly reached number eight on Spotify Viral that same month. She has collaborated with brands such as Prada, posed nude for a spread in Paper Magazine, and a few weeks ago she was announced as Pat McGrath’s latest muse. Zoom a little closer and you’ll notice that her bangs are a little too blunt, her eyes a little too empty and her skin a little too blended. Miquela might be verified on Instagram and Twitter, but IRL, she’s a digital simulation. An avatar, if you will.
So is Lil Miquela a scammer, hoax, art project or marketing scheme? ”I’d like to be described as an artist or a singer or something that denotes my craft rather than focuses on the superficial qualities of who I am,” Miquela (or at least the admin of Miquela’s accounts) tells Business of Fashion over chat. It’s safe to say that Miquela raises interesting questions about what it means to be real on the Internet. Have we come so far that the physical form in which we exist no longer is of importance? Am I being banal for wanting to know to what extent Miquela is real? “I’ve found so much compassion in my followers, and it’s made me feel comfortable opening up and sharing my creativity with them. To me, that’s what being real is”, she tells Paper Magazine… which doesn’t really answer my question though, now does it?
I guess we will never know what’s real or not. That’s how you have to approach social media (and oftentimes even news reporting) these days. Celebrities and influencers have a major impact on our societal norms, thoughts and opinions. Even though their pictures are edited and only show a censored fraction of their lives, we look to these fabrications as something attainable. So is there really a difference between somebody whose appearance was designed by a digital artist, versus somebody whose appearance was designed by Dr Simon Ourian (no offence, Kim)? It’s an interesting issue that serves as millennial food for thought.
With an Instagram following count closing in on 900 000, Miquela uses her platform in the most purposeful way possible. She has taken a strong stance regarding gun control, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and Planned Parenthood. She raised substantial amounts of money for multiple organisations working to benefit different marginalised communities. She uses her influence to highlight young, up-and-coming artists and designers who struggle to make a name for themselves. In an interview with Nylon Magazine, Miquela shared that “there are so many people who need help, and I’m trying to use my platform to do that.” A beating heart or not, this type of authenticity is hard to come by in today’s oversaturated era of pretty faces and sponsored posts. So at a time when the realness of online alter egos is repeatedly being called into question, perhaps the realest of them all is, in fact, fictitious?