Not quite living dolls make us go rubbery at the knees
Digitally created supermodels are slaying on Instagram
Shudu is an African woman with impossibly high cheekbones and alluring eyes. She has 137,000 Instagram followers and great style: one day we see her in a blush pink silk gown, the next in statement gold jewellery. Her fans adore her. “That skin, oh my god,” writes one. “Beautiful and strong,” writes another.
It’s all very well, except that Shudu isn’t real. She’s the most famous creation of Cameron James Wilson, the British photographer who founded Digiital, an “Imagined Reality Modelling Agency” that represents his own CGI artworks in the same way that an agency like Storm Models would handle bookings for Cindy Crawford.
Shudu may be an alien, but she’s a highly influential one and in the age of Instagram, influence is what sells clothing. Shudu has been dubbed “the world’s first digital supermodel, while one of her US counterparts, Lil Miquela, has more than a million social media followers. Her profile: living in LA, a robot and forever 19 years old.Hiring a computer graphic to model your clothes in advertising images could be far less complicated for brands than booking a human model, where tedious things like ageing, employment laws, weight loss or gain, and ever-changing beauty standards can get in the way of a photographer’s search for perfection.
Casting directors are famously brutal in their search for the right person to walk a runway or feature in an editorial. Just last year James Scully highlighted model mistreatment at a Balenciaga casting call, and accused Lanvin of requesting that “no women of colour” be sent by agents for consideration at its show (a spokesperson said this was “completely false and baseless”).
Fashion brands and casting directors, between them, have long dictated who models clothes in the hope it will make us want to buy them. They get to choose what the women they hire look like – from their skin tone, to their weight, to the texture of their hair. For a long time the faces we have seen in a magazines have told society what beauty looks like and finally it feels like beauty ideals are changing. Will the arrival of the “unreal model” help or hinder this?Wilson has been called out for taking jobs away from real women of colour by creating his fake one. But that’s not the only issue here (Shudu hasn’t actually featured in any paid commercial campaigns yet). Many are angry that we are getting even further away from what real human beauty is; will these CGI manifestations of beauty start affecting what we think we should look like? Also Shudu is, still, an ideal. She has been dreamed up by Wilson, a British, white, male 28-year-old.
It feels particularly odd to be writing about a fake woman’s success when just two years ago Vogue put “real women” in its pages for the first time. Especially when some of the biggest names in modelling – Winnie Harlow, Adwoah Aboah, Cara Delevigne, Karlie Kloss, Jordan Dunn – are famous not just for their looks, but their personalities too. Shudu may look good, but she has nothing to say for herself.
But do the brands care, as long as their clothes are selling? We’re increasingly seeing the likes of Dolce & Gabbana eschew traditional models in favour of personalities; chef Tess Ward and royal duke's granddaughter Amelia Windsor have both worked with the brand lately.But then we have the Kardashians, the filter-happy family whose every social media post is meticulously choreographed. One haunting similarity between them and the CGI influencers that Wilson is representing, is that the real and the imaginary are incredibly intertwined. We’ve become so accustomed to scrolling down our Instagram feeds seeing snaps of Photoshopped celebrities mixed in with pictures of friends with hundreds of filters applied over their faces that it has all become a blur. Does it really matter if something is real or fake any more?
As technology leads us into this brave new world where human and machine are increasingly tangled up, it is as good a time as any to enjoy what it really means to have blood pumping through your veins. Enjoy our imperfections. Enjoy not fitting into the narrow box that says what beauty is or isn’t.Yes, fake models have the opportunity to take real jobs away from real women, perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards and make us all feel bad about ourselves. But they also give us an exciting opportunity to reflect on what it really means to be human and the unique qualities that only we have. When you put it like that, Cindy Crawford and her real life friends needn’t worry too much for now.
- © The Daily Telegraph