Lil Miquela
Brazilian-American model Lil Miquela is taking over the fashion world, appearing in multiple magazines and becoming the face of brands like Prada. (Image via The Times)
Thoughts x
Lil Miquela

She might be a novelty, but she’s taking jobs from people who aren’t.

Lil Miquela’s life begins and ends on Instagram. She’s a CGI influencer, designed to emulate the type of online presence that skyrockets into its own distinct brand then snowballs into its own livelihood. In short, Lil Miquela was made for social media stardom. She will never succumb to the everyday pressure of making a life relentlessly open. Her skin will never show the wear of being at the blunt end of public opinion.

She’s been the face of brands like Prada and Opening Ceremony, her uncanny appearance taking over the spots normally reserved for flesh-and-blood humans. Since then, the opportunities have only multiplied. Lil Miquela is living out a classic story of the it-girl rising. Recently, she was named one of three contributing editors for the newly launched website Dazed Beauty.

The role is prestigious. Since its founding in 1992, Dazed, which began as a singular magazine and expanded into its own media empire, has become a gatekeeper for the latest in the fashion and art worlds, showcasing both established and up-and-coming models, designers and entertainers. A social media oddity and a fashion world curiosity, Lil Miquela has all eyes on her.

Her editorial appointment, however, was met with controversy. After the creation of her Instagram account in 2016, Lil Miquela’s rise to fame was swift, and she had secured the kind of role that most in the fashion industry grind out entire careers waiting for.

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Not ok

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But, the frustration wrought by Lil Miquela’s appointment goes beyond the mere fact that she’s green. Instead, the ire comes from the fact that her background isn’t nearly as simple as she presents it online. Although the dominating narrative found on her social media accounts is that she is a 19 year old sentient robot living in Southern California, there are a few facts about her reality that are easy enough for any savvy social media user to dredge up. Among the secrets uncovered is the identity of the mind behind Lil Miquela: a former DJ named Trevor McFedries.

He is the owner of Brud, the startup that allegedly created Lil Miquela as a robot. More realistically, he is the person who came up with the concept for Lil Miquela, and is now the person benefitting the most from her CGI-assisted success.

Lil Miquela’s existence is nothing more than fantasy. As alluring as it is to buy into the story created for her — that of a robot living in the human world or a young girl excelling in a world run by adults — the roots of this fiction make it difficult to celebrate her seemingly endless stream of opportunities. After all, the fashion industry is one that has historically been dominated by women and queer people, groups that have typically been the most starved for substantial media representation. The more the world sees of Lil Miquela, the less it sees of the actual human beings waiting to break through in the same way as she did.

Removed from the limitations of the human body, Lil Miquela is an unprecedented source of competition. She can be inserted into any fashion campaign quickly and easily. There’s hardly a downside to hiring a model who can be anywhere at any time and never needs to stop working. And, with every photo composed and posted, Lil Miquela’s following — already a million strong — only grows. Her fans feverishly await the next update from their favorite fictional influencer.

She may be the face of it all, but Lil Miquela is still not the one to profit. In all likelihood, there is no bank account sitting in her name. Any money she potentially receives from sponsored posts, editorial shoots, Spotify streams or brand partnerships would go to her creator. While Lil Miquela is a compelling façade, the person who receives the benefits is McFedries.

This is the essential tension of brands supporting Lil Miquela. Ultimately, she is not the fashion world underdog as her manufactured narrative often tries to push. She is, in every way, an artifice. She is a being created to always be under someone else’s control, her success always linked to that of her creator. She is a figure with no real history and, therefore, no authenticity. Lil Miquela is undeniably intriguing, but she will never be able to inspire the way a real human can.

As the fashion world continues to showcase Lil Miquela, there is a wide breadth of individuals who find their opportunity to expose themselves to a larger audience relinquished. Take her co-editors at Dazed Beauty, for example. There’s Aquaria, a 22-year-old drag queen who recently won a season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and has gone on to appear in the pages of Italian Vogue and modeled for Moschino. Rounding out the trio is Munroe Burgdorf, a model and trans activist who gained worldwide attention when she called out racism in the modeling industry and was promptly fired from a contract with L’Oreal, inciting a social media movement.

The success stories of Aquaria and Burgdorf represent the type of people who are typically sidelined by mainstream culture but have been able to thrive within the fashion industry. As publications and brands continue to feature Lil Miquela, or any other CGI models that she might inspire, instead of actual humans, it makes it even more difficult for people like her co-editors to reap the benefits of wider representation.

This is, of course, not to say the existence of Lil Miquela is not making an effective statement. The fashion industry has always been a business of otherworldliness, of creating an image of the human as more than the bare body. As dystopian as it may seem, Lil Miquela easily fits the description as a representation of the human perfected. And yet, the body she is designed after is one constantly antagonized, harassed and regulated in the present: young, female and non-white.

Lil Miquela will always lack the essential emotional connection found in the fashion world’s biggest stars. The years she’s lived before she stepped into the spotlight will always be blank and unknown. But in spite of this, she’s found success, fame and fortune, wrought from the talent of being herself. Perhaps this is the power that will carve out Lil Miquela’s spot in fashion’s future. Her past is not what matters, but instead, it’s what she has become. The ideal image of achievement, a force unstoppable, taking the form of a 19-year-old, Brazilian-American girl from Downey, California.

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