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Lil Miquela: challenging perceptions of reality on Instagram

ByOlivia McMahon

Sep 28, 2016

‘Fake it till you make it’ is a phrase we’ve all heard time and time again. What was once an offhand remark, treated with sardonic sarcasm rather than heartfelt conviction, has apparently become a philosophy woven into the very fabric of our prolific social media use. The fear that our generation might disconnect with our actual selves in favour of a detached, virtual persona, boosted by hashtags and filters to Insta-fame, has never been quite so popular. Instagram is the app that launched a thousand fresh fads and welcomed in over 500 million users earlier this year, the majority of whom use it daily. Of the lucky few who make it onto its Explore page, rubbing shoulders with Kris Jenner memes, the typically white, blonde, impeccably beautified Instagram it-girl will frequently feature.

In contrast, ‘when your sim goes rogue’ is how Lil Miquela, the latest and strangest addition to this phenomenon, is described by her adoring fans. She pointedly stands out from the crowd with a face that says Sim, rather than Victoria’s Secret model in-the-making. With a highly digitalised appearance amassing almost 100,000 followers, the account invites constant debate over exactly who she is – namely, is she real or ‘fake’?

A multitude of theories circulate around the subject of Lil Miquela’s creation. Some argue she’s purely a computer-generated avatar, a Sim character proving the gaming franchise to be getting scarily close to reality. Others follow expert assertions that her inventor likely subjects her own images/selfies to heavy Photoshop editing to intentionally attract controversy for artistic means. The mystery surrounding Lil Miquela only fuels the ongoing hype; placing herself firmly on the celebrity circuit, she poses with stars such as Kreayshawn at album launches, exhibitions and high-end bars, but remains largely unreachable publicly. Donned in ‘fresh off the runway’ looks by Vetements and Hood by Air, proclaiming her love for Stranger Things’s Eleven and Pokemon Go, Miquela’s personality palpably feeds off a thriving, popular digital culture and engages with it. Yet, there seems to be something about the literal, visually jarring blend of the real and the unreal in Miquela that both fascinates and unnerves digital natives like ourselves. The account’s comment section is full of a deep probing of her authenticity – ‘are you or are you not a Sim??’ – while haters gleefully point out the (fairly stark) lack of it, shouting “YOU’RE FAKE!” from the sidelines. Debatably, the hype surrounding Lil Miquela perhaps illuminates how social media’s ever-increasing popularity has rapidly proliferated an obsession with what is or isn’t real. As she joins the ranks of female celebrities like Kylie Jenner, Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian – women regularly panned in mainstream media and online for their ‘fake’ body parts – the question arises as to why Western society is so concerned with falseness.

The world we now live in claims to offer us ever-diversifying ways of visually representing ourselves. However, a prominent eagerness to identify falseness infiltrates social media and its supposedly celebratory tone. Our love of Instagram, many Westerners would argue, stems from our ability to represent our lives exactly as we wish to, selectively skimming over the not-so-cool bits. But does Instagram actually deliver on its assertions of ‘openness’, and a chance to ‘broaden perspectives’, or merely project a pretty picture of authenticity?

Unlike the usual Instagram it-girl, Lil Miquela shakes us of the assumption of reality we bring to Instagram images – she seems human, but not quite enough to absorb at face-value and flick past. By exemplifying in such an unsettling manner just how little separates the real from the fake in today’s social world, is her greater achievement and true purpose to confront our discomfort in looking at inauthentic images that mirror our own? It is this avatar-like exterior that almost has us questioning whether we live in our own augmented reality.

Image: Lil Miquela, Instagram

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