Welcome to our column, "Hey, Quick Question," where we investigate seemingly random happenings in the fashion and beauty industries. Enjoy!
The concept of the Instagram model is so pervasive today that just hearing the phrase evokes a hyper-specific look. Instagram models have an immediately striking appearance: mesmerizing eyes, killer cheekbones, sometimes an ambiguous ethnic makeup and, of course, perfectly plump lips. In short, they represent the perfect storm of great genetics, fillers and filters. And because so many of them are Facetuned into representations of the same social media-bait ideal, not only do they begin to resemble one another, but they also begin to seem surreal — so perfectly airbrushed that they may as well be artificial, computer-generated images or works of art.
While these typical, human influencers are busy setting an uncannily uniform, unrealistic standard of beauty that makes the rest of us feel like we'll never measure up, a new crop of CGI influencers — models who have been created digitally for the sole purpose of amassing social followings — are arriving on the scene to do the exact same thing for the human ones. Yes, we're now living in a world in which some of the influencers we're seeing in our feeds are, in fact, artificial, computer-generated images or works of art. And they're beginning to infiltrate the beauty industry.
On Friday, Fenty Beauty re-posted a photo of an Instagram model wearing its product, a typical move for the brand. The shot, shown above, featured Shudu Gram (who can be found at the handle @shudu.gram, where she has amassed 35.6K followers to date) wearing a bright-orange lipstick with matching nails. It was a breathtakingly beautiful image and a solid case for wearing Fenty makeup, for sure. And yet, it turned out, she wasn't actually wearing any makeup at all, because model Shudu Gram does not, in fact, exist. At least not in the real, human world.
Amongst the flood of commenters leaving simply fire emojis or "wow, beautiful" notes, people also began to question whether Shudu was really a person. And then came the revelation: Nope, she exists only digitally. "Better learn to apply makeup in computer screen if you want to do this. She a fake CGI model," explained commenter @unalunacreative.
Jenna Rosenstein at Harper's Bazaar shed more light on the truth, even going so far as to track down and interview the photographer behind the account, Cameron-James Wilson, who at first was hesitant to reveal himself. "Basically Shudu is my creation, she's my art piece that I am working on at moment," he said in the interview. "She is not a real model unfortunately, but she represents a lot of the real models of today. There's a big kind of movement with dark skin models, so she represents them and is inspired by them."
According to Wilson's Bazaar interview, he uses a 3D modeling program to create the images, and the process can take several days. He cites a Barbie doll, called Princess of South Africa, as well as model Duckie Thot as inspirations for Shudu.
Another prominent CGI influencer who has been making waves in the beauty industry lately is Miquela Sousa, aka @lilmiquela, who currently boasts 564k followers on Instagram. Whomever is behind the @lilmiquela profile refuses to reveal themselves, but in addition to creating a marketable persona who has worn the likes of Chanel and Proenza Schouler — as well as become somewhat of a social activist — they have even managed to put out a single that reached number eight on Spotify Viral last August.
On Tuesday, Sousa earned a coveted beauty-industry title: Pat McGrath muse. The legendary makeup artist took to Instagram to announce that, despite not being a real, living, breathing human, the Insta-model had nonetheless become one of her newest inspirations. "So shook to debut my latest mesmerizing #McGrathMuse @lilmiquela," wrote McGrath in the caption accompanying an image of Sousa wearing a patent McGrath look (shown above).
Sousa, though not actually in existence, was elated, posting her own caption that read: "The icon herself. The mother of all motherships. The one and only @PatMcGrathReal, has honored me as her latest #McGrathMuse!! I can die now... just make sure I'm wearing my Luxe Trance lipstick at my funeral." (Get it? It's funny because she's digital and can't die!)
Business of Fashion even did a Q&A with the Sousa, despite the fact that — reminder! — she does not actually exist. "I'd like to be described as an artist or a singer or something that denotes my craft rather than focus on the superficial qualities of who I am," she "told" the publication "over chat."
Is the CGI Insta-model the new wave of beauty influencing? Personally, I sure as hell hope not. I respect both Pat McGrath and Fenty Beauty's seals of approval, but I can't be the only one who shudders with pangs of the uncanny valley once I stare at these images for a bit too long. To quote "30 Rock"'s Tracy Jordan after being shown CGI Storm Troopers or Tom Hanks in "The Polar Express": I'm scared, get me out of here!