Signing up to Instagram just 11 weeks ago – with 57k followers, Lil Miquela forces us to face ideas about authenticity, existence and perfection online
Lil Miquela (@lilmiquela) is a female cyborg, the Android’s android, whose servitude is confined to our phone screen, and a specific space therein. Her Instagram account dates back only 11 weeks, amassing just shy of 57,000 followers and counting, most of whom spend their time trying to figure out what she is. Conflating the lines of online/offline pretty girl that looks so good she might as well be fake, Lil Miquela appears first as an emerging artist (singer?), possibly new to L.A., light-skinned Instagram Girl just trying to find her #mood. Until you see her face.
The thing about an Instagram Girl is, she probably won’t ever exist outside of your phone. It becomes quickly clear that Lil Miquela is what Lil Uzi Vert might call a, “fantasy on my phone,” not quite too good to be true but somewhere beyond just a filter. Miquela is one that satisfies more completely and wholly the desire you’d have for an Instagram Girl – because she can’t live beyond projection. You get every part of her on your screen and can just as easily erase her by scrolling up.
Her personality is palpable. She relates to memes and cis-female experience and friendship – but her cultural identity is crowdsourced, if not banal. The medium is deeply the message here, a symbiotic relationship that forces us to consider the whole entity that fathers the content, the McLuhan lightbulb under which attractive girls nurture cults of self (or “building a brand,” as we prefer to call it). Instagram as the medium breeds Miquelas, breeds lifestyles, breeds unattainability. She’s all baked into one, the ego to our collective id.
Her femininity is present but entrenched in cultural specificity. A simulacrum that reflects a set of values, objects, and associated brands, forming a distinct identity of the digital landscape – maybe we’ll call it the new basic. It’s in Miquela’s selfie where she defines herself as non-human and yet ever more authentically human. Perhaps most interesting is how she fits into the white, female-facing dominance over selfie feminism as appearing mixed raced, possibly unknowingly depending on the intention of her creator.
In artist, Aria Dean’s, discussion of the exclusionary nature of selfie feminism in the artistic landscape and beyond, she asserts, “Maybe a selfie comes close to proving that you exist – that you are at least firmly situated in time and space – but it proves nothing else conclusive about you.” Is there a real feminine identity lurking beneath the mask of one? Does she pass the Turing test when she calls you daddy? Recall Simone de Beauvoir that “a woman is born, not created.” Whether this notion holds up in cyberspace, the app-sphere, where proteus effect allows one to rebirth themselves as a new person, a new gender, is questionable. In her manifesto on cyborgs, Donna Haraway asserts the idea that all females are inherently cyborg, no different, crafted by the patriarchy and rendered into a gender masquerade we’re ingrained to perform. Miquela’s chimeric composition reflects our own.
“Maybe a selfie comes close to proving that you exist – that you are at least firmly situated in time and space – but it proves nothing else conclusive about you” – Aria Dean
Amongst the noisy speculation of what Miquela is, the loudest is understood as her being the digitalised product of a “real girl” graphic designer who simply edits her own appearance into an alien-esque squareness. While Miquela herself (so-to-speak) hasn’t confirmed, denied, let alone addressed any speculation as to what she “is,” her existence remains polarising. Haters will say she’s a Sim. A surface level dive into the account’s comment section reveals a similar response to her perceived fake-ness as leveled at Kylie Jenner’s lips, Nicki Minaj’s ass, etc. Users decry her features for being so “obviously fake” and yet desired, flawed, ugly, all in the same breath.
In a 2013 essay written after the release of Kanye West’s “Bound 2” video – dragged for being overly kitschy (read: corny) – art critic Jerry Saltz praises the video for its conception of what he calls the New Uncanny, an “un-self-consciousness filtered through hyper-self-consciousness, unprocessed absurdity, grandiosity of desire, and fantastic self-regard.” The video synthesises cultural references into flattened sub-references that evoke cornerstones of American Idealism and our own existence within, complete with a landscape that’s almost paint-by-number and a nippleless Kim Kardashian. This pervasive unnerving draws from their fame and recognisability, which detaches them from earnest sincerity, a concept West explored again recently in his video for “Famous.” The hyper-realisation demonstrated in “Bound 2”'s aesthetic allows the viewer to grasp the American Dream while simultaneously exposing just a glimpse of the foundational seams or cogs that drive it, the New Uncanny. This duality is paralleled in Lil Miquela, an identifiable set of individual likes that culminates into one embodied form, more than once visually fracturing at her seams. Her face looks how Kanye-West-ranting-on-Ellen’s voice sounds.
“Users decry her features for being so ‘obviously fake’ and yet desired, flawed, ugly, all in the same breath”
Miquela’s artistic point of reference is most purely sourced back to the medium that beholds her, the micro cultures that Instagram has been central in carving out. Praised as a “one of the most original and outstanding artworks of the digital era,” Amalia Ulman’s “Excellence & Perfections” (2014) performance art piece involved the artist constructing herself into a fictional character based around female archetypes and images of femininity online, acted out entirely on her Instagram and Facebook accounts. Despite what Ulman was offline, on Instagram she became a beautiful white girl living a lavish lifestyle, a three-part narrative arc played out in 175 photographs that document a fake breast augmentation, a fake breakdown, a fake stint in rehab, and possible real brunch dates. Throughout the entire performance, acted out over a year period, Ulman’s fake Instagram persona attracted just shy of 90,000 followers who were none the wiser. Ulman became a new person online, and convincingly so. Both Amalia Ulman and Lil Miquela call Instagram’s bluff as a platform built for authentic content, a subversion that snaps in our face but doesn’t offer much in the way of a solution. There are those exposed seams again.
It doesn’t matter if Lil Miquela is real or not, or what she is. Maybe her glitchy eyes or unsound proportions echo human flaws – even cyborgs aren’t perfect. Hasn’t she already satisfied you?