British fashion house Ralph & Russo made headlines earlier this year when they chose to present their latest couture collection using a digital avatar in place of a real model.
And while the ‘casting’ was likely influenced by the COVID-19 restrictions currently in place, forcing the fashion industry to get creative with photoshoots, the choice caused a stir among critics.
During a time when issues of diversity and BIPOC visibility are being amplified, what does it do to cast an avatar of colour when there are so many BIPOC models in need of paid work?
Similar criticisms have been cast regarding Shudu Gram—the original CGI model.
Created by UK photographer Cameron-James Wilson, Shudu is a stunning model and has even starred in campaigns for Balmain, Harper’s BAZAAR, Cosmopolitan and Vogue.
But after it was revealed that Wilson was the sole brains behind Shuda, followers were left unsettled, with many arguing that Shuda, who possesses features aligning with Eurocentric beauty standards, is a white man’s hollow projection of Black female beauty.
It’s not just in the fashion industry that CGI models are thriving either.
Sousa, AKA Lil Miquela is a digital force designed by the startup Brud with over 2.5 million followers on Instagram. Lucrative endorsement deals, music, merch and even relationships with humans have made Miquela’s founders a pretty penny. And her (or its?) success has given way to more and more CGI influencers who have amassed large followings of their own.
While most of us find their success rather alarming, it begs the question of what makes them different? There are after all, real people behind these faces, curating the content just like regular influencers. And it’s not exactly a secret that magazines and influencers photoshop images, so some may argue: what is the harm?
Are they even less at risk of controversy given that they don’t have a past? It’s not as if old tweets or discriminatory costumes are going to be dug up, and try as we may, there likely isn’t going to be the chance to catch them in a scandal.
With their followers knowing that they are not real, are they also less likely to endorse problematic beauty products such as diet teas, etc. since they can’t physically show off any “results”? And, because it’s usually a team effort behind their pages, the messaging isn’t entirely down to one person’s biases.
What can be viewed as troubling is that, for a long time now, the influencer industry has been a place where women can thrive and make their money on their own terms. So, what does it do for us as women when men can digitally create faultless bots that real women cannot compete with? With just some research, a business has created a persona that millions of people have responded to, overtaking the very people that have unknowingly influenced her brand.
One look at our Instagram feeds and it’s clear that even some of the biggest influencers in the world take note from each other. Enter, Shit Bloggers Post.
With so much going for CGI influencers, it can feel like we’re living in an episode of Black Mirror, but perhaps it speaks more to the issue of saturation and formulaic nature of influencer culture rather than technology gone wild.
If you’re not completely put off by the idea, here are some of the biggest CGI models and influencers in the game.
With very life-like posts that verge on disturbing, Miquela’s team are very commited to keeping up the bit—even going as far as to chronicle her heartbreak.
Originally created as a pro-Trump anti-Miquela account, musician and influencer Bermuda now has over 260K followers. Oh, and she and Miquela are the best of friends now.
Ronaldo Blawko just happens to be Bermuda’s “ex”. With over 150K followers, he’s not doing badly for himself.
The avatar that doesn’t really attempt to look real but has been embraced by the fashion industry, even starring in campaigns for Versace, Tommy Hilfiger, Miu Miu and KKW Beauty.