Digitised Portraiture on Instagram and the Questions of Representation and Exploitation The Present

Megan Bradley

How can the examination of prominent CGI Instagram users unpack the issues of representation and exploitation of the human body on social media platforms? This research essay analyses how the key theories and debates presented in Digitized Dysmorphia and the work of Xenofeminists can address the subject of digital modification of self-representations, as well as the object rights and underlying marketing strategies of digitised social media characters acting as the mouthpiece of media corporations, and the enforcement of stereotypes and racial fetishism that arises from a white artist creating lifelike digital representations of racial minorities. By studying the growing trend of overtly digitised social media influencers in this way this paper will apply these findings back to the general practice of Instagram posts today, as a falsified presentation of user’s reality and the underlying drives behind them.


Introduction

Where does the rising trend in digital portraiture fit into the culture of identity presentation and false reality on Instagram? Digital image alteration is a commonplace practice amongst users, with CGI portraiture publication on the platform seemingly being an extension of this practice of falsification. This paper will examine the ethical debates surrounding the growing number of visually digitised users on social media, questioning what the artist producing – and the art produced – says about our modern dual existence between our virtual reality and real world truth. Is digital portrait publication on Instagram a critique of the growing immateriality of the social platform, or a highjack of the ‘user’ that has now become the ‘used’ by technology and visual branding on the social media platform?

The first chapter of this paper will be examining the artistic expression of digital self-portraiture in Instagram, how the practice has aided the navigation of social constraints to users and allowed for self-expression beyond the limitations of one’s physical form. This critique will be facilitated by the application of key theories such as Digitised Dysmorphia and Xenofeminism to the case study of digital artist Ruby Gloom’s Instagram account, and the nature of the her self-portraits as reflections of her digital/physical hybrid life.

The growing use of digital realist portraiture on social media platforms such as Instagram has expanded the possibilities for business subliminal advertising to target specific audience groups on online social spaces. The second chapter of this research paper will explore the nature of CGI personas on Instagram as a free labour tool for economic gain of organisation. Using the case study of CGI Instagram user Lil’ Miquela, theories posed in Object Oriented Feminism will be applied to the social media character’s position as tool and mouth piece to multimillion dollar media company Brud. Principles of merchandising to society presented in Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials For a Theory of the Young-Girl will also be put to the concept of corporate run digital personalities, highlighting the underlying motives behind every aspect of their identities and personas.

The final chapter of this research paper will examine the ethics of white artists producing characters of ethnic minorities, and the determining factors behind their presentation as objects of racial fetishism and reductionist views of black identity. Using the writings of Stuart Hall and Kobena Mercer the digital models of digital artist and photographer Cameron-James Wilson will be studied, illustrating how the debates surrounding white artists depicting people of colour are magnified when the artist controls every characteristic of the model’s image, as is the case in digitised portraiture.

How Digitised Self-Portraiture on Instagram can Manoeuvre the Issues of Representation on the Platform

Debates surrounding the authenticity of what we view on social media platforms such as Instagram are not unfamiliar to us. Constant upgrades and improvements to what we are able to achieve with digital photo editing software has enabled us to convincingly fabricate aspects of our lives and project it to the masses as a representation of our reality. In this way, the use of technology to digitally reimagine the female form has become common practice upon visual social media platforms such as Instagram.

‘If ‘cyberspace’ once offered the promise of escaping the structures of essentialist identity categories, the climate of contemporary social media has swung forcefully in the other direction, and has become a theatre where these prostrations to identity are performed’ (Laboria Cuboniks 2015). As a social media platform created with the intention of communicating through images with minimal written context, Instagram has become a key location of falsified digital expressions of material reality. But how can the same technological tools use to supress women’s understanding of the female form on social media be hijacked as a tool of representation of one’s digital identity rather than a distortion of material reality?

This chapter poses that although photo editing culture and social media may jointly project impossible images of the female form, they have also allowed women an escape from the pressures of the self-image regulation, creating worlds of complete abstraction of the female experience to better project their post digital identity. Through theories addressing technology, representation and identity projection presented in key readings of Digitized Dysmorphia and Xenofeminism this chapter relects upon the work of female digital web artist Ruby Gloom as a case study of how topics surrounding identity, sexuality, feminism and race in digital spaces can be navigated in a self-representation entirely of self design.

 
Figure 1. untitled (rubyrubygloom 2018)

Figure 1. untitled (rubyrubygloom 2018)

 

The term Digitized Dysmorphia, coined by theorist Isabelle Coy-Dibley, refers to the post digital phenomenon of comparing one’s self to the image of others, as well as editing your own social media photographs to adhere to a perceived group aesthetic aspirations. Beyond the expectancies of the female body in material society ‘the addition of digital technology, which enables the digital modification of the image, arguably alters the already modified Western material body further’ (Coy-Dibley 2016: 8-9), if the introduction of digital modification to the process of social media practice alters the already modified western body as Coy-Dibley suggests, the resounding product of this is as much an image of social expectations of the female form as it is a photograph of one’s self. But how can these issues of digitised pressure and competition on the female form be overcome? As pictured in Figure 1, Ruby Gloom creates a cyber version of herself that is both representative of herself and her digital environment. There is no pretence of secrete modification of her material reality which would feed into the toxic culture of Digitized Dysmorphia, Gloom presents her digital self as a complete abstraction of her own material identity into the virtual world.

By projecting images that are clearly separated from the material reality the artist is capable of presenting Instagram content that is neither fed by or feeds into the negative circles within Digitized Dysmorphia, allowing for the subversive message of the image to take precedent before Gloom’s body. ‘depending on the perspective, we suffer from, or flourish through digitized dysmorphia, either to make the best of commonplace aesthetic oppression or to liberate oneself from the shackles of the physical body, enabling the individual to transcend the boundaries of their material bodies and the oppressive reality of unattainable beauty standards.’ (Coy-Dibley 2016: 9) although in this Instagram post, captioned ‘My Head’, Gloom has indeed freed herself from the social scrutiny of photographing her material body, as well as creating a the resulting image is not entirely one of freedom in the technical age. Reduced to a cable powered animatronic head Gloom’s avatar alter ego may not be burdened by the pressures of a bodily form, but she is however reliant on technology for her survival, to stay socially connected and to general revenue.

Xenofeminism is a movement seeking to liberate the marginalised by way of asserting that the materiality of one’s natural existence does not equate to righteousness and power at a time where people in society live in duality; their material self and their virtual self. Instead of suggesting how those existing outside the frame work of a social normative life should retreat from platforms such as Instagram to avoid conflict in technological society, Xenofeminism teaches is far more effective to utilise it as a stage for unity and visibility, encouraging the engagement of feminists with technology and disruptive discourses. In the words of feminist collective Laboria Cuboniks, ‘Xenofeminism is about more than digital self-defence and freedom from patriarchal networks. We want to cultivate the exercise of positive freedom – freedom-to rather than simply freedom-from – and urge feminists to equip themselves with the skills to redeploy existing technologies and invent novel cognitive and material tools in the service of common ends’ (Laboria Cuboniks 2015). Ruby Gloom’s self-portraits are precisely that, using her digital art skills and engaging with the platform she is able to create virtual worlds that commentate on expected female social media practice while projecting herself both as the physical and technological object of this critique. In this way, she has crafted a practice that enables her to engage with Instagram in a way that allows her to critique visual social media culture from within.

 
Figure 2. untitled (rubyrubygloom 2018)

Figure 2. untitled (rubyrubygloom 2018)

 

This isn’t to say that Xenofeminism declares that a completely digitally reimagined female form would be a the perfection of self, ‘rather than arguing for the primacy of the virtual over the material, or the material over the virtual, xenofeminism grasps points of power and powerlessness in both, to unfold this knowledge as effective interventions in our jointly composed reality’ (Laboria Cuboniks 2015). Likewise, Figure 2’s self-image by Gloom does not seek to create a perfected and beautified image of digitised perfection, instead she portrays the natural shape of her low hanging chest and wide hips, creating a tableaux that is both material and immaterial, under- represented reality and technological idealism. Using technology in this way –as a instrument of self expression beyond the mainstreamed alterations of moulding her natural form, Gloom hijacks it from its typical use as a tool to slim, sculpt and ‘ultimately transcend the boundaries and limitations of the physical, material body’ (Coy-Dibley 2016: 2), and presents digital practices such as hers as a method of salvation from both the boundaries of the material body and the constraints of social media expectation.

It has been long since predicted that the post digital age will bring with it the capacity for technology to evolve the beauty standards of women beyond natural expectation, in the words of Naomi Wolf ‘‘The ‘ideal’ has never been about the bodies of women, and from now on technology can allow the ‘ideal’ to do what it has always sought to do: leave the female body behind altogether to clone its mutations in space’ (Wolf 2015: 80). It is true that the concept of female beauty standards has evolved with the introduction of technology to both change the material body and to alter and create images of a material body that doesn’t align with digital beauty standards. However, our relatively new dual culture in which the natural body and the Instagram image do not necessarily align, can give way to explorations of identity removed from the pressures of presenting images of ourselves on social media for mass critique. The work of digital artists such a Ruby Gloom is testament to that, seeing the internet as ‘undoubtedly the most powerful thing in the world’ (Nunes 2017) and being inspired by it to create a representative of her digitised identity that doesn’t fully align with her material self or social media’s expectation, she has hijacked the platform of Instagram to present a creation that has become one with reality and the virtual world. Perhaps this is testament to how we can rid ourselves of the intimate issues that come with posting and interacting with the images on social media, by accepting that the identity we present to the rest of social media, and the identities other users present to us, are a hybrid of who we are and who technology enables us to be.

Company Owned Virtual Influencers, the Exploitation of Digital Objects and Human Followers

It is not unusual for high profile social media users to generate income for themselves through collaboration with brands and encouraging their audience to interact with their sponsor partner, presenting an image that has an ulterior motive to viewers beyond an aesthetic image. However the existence of a social media users digitally crafted and covertly marketed towards a specific demographic of social media users by media companies is a relatively unique circumstance, which arises with it many ethical issues concerning the rights of the portrayed character and those of the targeted audience that engage with the digitised social media personality.

Does the giving of a false life story and persona to a digitised representation of a young girl on Instagram cross lines of morality? Through the key readings of Object-Oriented Feminism and Preliminary Materials For a Theory of the Young-Girl this chapter will be examining the politics of a company controlled digitised character (not to be confused with social media users who digitise their self image as explored in Chapter One) operating on the image led social media platform Instagram. To apply key ideas presented in these texts I will be case studying Miquela Sousa, a digital social media character created by media company Brud as the central persona in a network of users who fall out, make up and present contrasting topical views with the aim of ‘fighting fake news with fake news, and using influencers to make the world a better place’ (Petrarca 2018). Exploring where object agency can be found and lost in cases of digitised social media characters, as well as how an ageless and physically and vocally malleable social presence may be utilised for marketing purposes.

Object Oriented Feminism is a line of theoretical questioning exploring the idea of object rights, and how ‘perceiving continuity with other objects in the world, not as subjects but as subject to subjects’ domination’ (Behar 2016: 7) can be applied to society and furthermore change the understanding of how ‘objects’ are used to enforce societal notions concerning human and non- human interaction. The concept of Object Oriented Feminism in itself is not a concise doctrine of theoretical approach to the concept of so called ‘objectification’, as the work of many theorists contradicts one another’s approach, this chapter’s reference to Object Oriented evaluation of the corporate use of the digitised female persona refers to the approaches taken by Irina Aristarkhova’s A Feminist Object.

 
Figure 3. untitled (lilmiquela 2018)

Figure 3. untitled (lilmiquela 2018)

 

In order to determine how cooperate run digitised social media characters such as Miquela Sousa should be viewed we must seek to establish what she is, and what the actions of tech companies to maximise the presence of such characters social media have allowed her to become. From the genesis of each image of Miquela, to the point before the image is made public to social media and given a text dialogue as a mimic a human line of thought, it is arguable to refer to her as nothing more than an object of digital art. At the moment of publication on social media a piece of art depicting a digitised female in the real world becomes a location of public discourse and is therefore an object independent from her creators. In Aristarkhova’s essay concerning feminist use of objects, she explains how objects such as Lil’ Miquela ‘stop being objects as soon as we allow them to be things, for they present themselves to us in their independence, in their ability to gather the whole world in the self contained manner, The ascendance of objects to things is what would help to treat them differently, as things-in-themselves’ (Aristarkhova 2016: 48). Through transitioning from private to public, it can be argued that Miquela has ascended to the status of ‘thing’ as a place of public commentary in social media. As seen in Figure 3, although the image is the product of corporate making, it can be argued that through the nature of social media as a platform for public user discussion Miquela is given agency through the thousands of comments and debates each image ignites that cannot be directly controlled by her creators, rising her beyond the status of ‘object’.

However, regardless to the independent agency public interaction may seem to afford digitised social media influencers, the ethics of company created of digital beings comes into question when the false projection of autonomy is considered. In the instance of Lil’ Miquela, her creators’ decision to give her a fictitious persona mimicking that of other social media users is then used to market brands and political agendas that target the millions of audience young members she has gathered. It could be suggested that collaborating with brands and social movements aimed at the young adults that view Lil’ Miquela’s social media is an act of unethical exploitation of Miquela’s object status, ‘violence and assault are the result of what today is called objectification: only thinking and presenting things for their use value, for exploitative purposes. Not being ends in themselves, but being means to achieve something else (to satisfy thirst, lust, hunger)’ (Aristarkhova 2016: 52). This utilisation of the object status of digitised characters by organisations could be considered as an act of assault in its nature of manipulating a public image for their gain. The Digital character and the fictitious life plot spun by Brud are a means of generating public attention, once this attention leads to a loyal following of Instagram admirers, the attention of the audience can be bought third parties – an exploitation of Miquela’s false autonomy. In approaching the resolution of this cycle of control begetting unethical gain, Object Oriented Feminism suggests that ‘the next logical step seems to be giving things rights, soul, feelings, consent, in order to break the logic of objectification and its violence’ (Aristarkhova 2016: 48). When applied to the scenario of implied autonomy, the application of feelings and consent to a digital character would be for them not to exist at all or given the intelligence to interact with it’s creators, the antithesis of the object characteristics that made the fictional CGI influencer so appealing to media developers in the first place.

 
Figure 4. untitled (lilmiquela 2018)

Figure 4. untitled (lilmiquela 2018)

 

Digitised social media characters are dangerous in their nature as physically fluid beings and therefore their potential to appeal to precise social groups by appearance. Preliminary Materials For a Theory of the Young-Girl a composition of observations surrounding the presentation of the young female ideal in capitalist western culture and its marketing published by French journal Tiqqun highlights how this ambiguity of personal and physical identity plays into the need to target precise social groups. ‘The formal domination of Capital has become more and more real. Consumer society now seeks out its best supporters from among the marginalized elements of traditional society – women and youth first, followed by homosexuals and immigrants’ (Tiqqun 2012: 15). Brud markets Miquela, operating on social media – the largest platform for unity of marginalised groups such as these – as a mixed raced, LGBTQ+ supporting young liberal American, therefore targeting all of the consumer vulnerable groups highlighted by Tiqqun. As pictured in Figure 4, this amassed support from her carefully targeted audience is then exploited by Brud to advertise partner ventures with big brands such as luxury designer Prada. Here, Miquela is portrayed in a gender nonconformist outfit, with a stance and photo viewpoint that presents her as powerful in the traditionally masculine sense, her racially ambiguous features shining from the shadowed contours of her face. Surrounded by the floating neon post-digital logos of the Prada GIFFs her image is promoting, Prada has executed a marketing deal with a prominent social media influencer that targets as many consumer groups as possible, who doesn’t possess the capacity to speak or act off brand message without their say so.

By nature as physically malleable beings, digitised characters are dangerous in that they can be morph to become what ever is most attractive, this also applies for the opinions they speak and brands they support. This ever evolving quality is what makes them such powerful tools to businesses that thrive on consumer culture, as ‘changes in the Young-Girl symmetrically follow the evolution of capitalist modes of production. Thus, over the past thirty years, we have passed, little by little, from Fordist seduction, with its designated sites and moments, its static and proto-bourgeois couple-form, to post-Fordist seduction, diffuse, flexible, precarious and deritualized, which has extended the couple factory to the entire body and the whole of social time- space. At this particularly advanced stage of Total Mobilization, each of us is called on to maintain our “seduction power,” the substitute for “labour power,” such that, on sexual marketplace, we can be fired and rehired at any moment’ (Tiqqun 2012: 134). Unlike her audience, Miquela’s appearance has changed with time, her proportions has shifted with the mode body type of her fellow influential Instagram users, her environment too has evolved to portray her at the most sought after social locations at the time of publication, chiming in with political commentary that keep her aligned with her socially conscious young audience. Focusing on the fluid nature of a digitised social media character such as Miquela’s physical appearance, it allows her to stay constantly sexually relevant in a way that no human being can expect to be able to, but capitalist society wants you to try anyway. By being a completely digitised character she has a source of “seduction power” that will keep her appealing to both businesses and consumers for as long as Brud enables her to be, making her the ideal marketing tool brands such as Prada and the ultimate symbol of the eternal Young-Girl to her global audience.

The challenging viewing of the “Lil’ Miquela” Instagram profile lies in the character’s projection of false autonomy. The lack of agency afforded to the object by Brud as a tool to be used to incite a desired outcome is encapsulated by the company’s mission statement, describing themselves as creators of ‘story worlds that can create a more tolerant world by leveraging cultural understanding and technology’ (Brud 2018). This leveraging of culture and technology referring to placing a fictional character onto Instagram who caricatures the social media users’ experience and interacts with other so- called robot characters on the platform. It is through this manipulation of the GCI model’s imposed position as an Instagram influencer for the creation of a ‘more tolerant world’ (Brud 2018) that all object agency is ultimately lost in her overriding identity as a tool in use.

Digitised Depiction of a Racial Other, the Repercussions of a White Artist’s creation of a ‘Virtual Influencer’ of Colour

Debates surrounding the implications of racial hierarches in the photographer/subject relationship of visual representations predate far beyond the genesis of CGI image drawing. However the nature of digital drawing to not necessarily need basis on one single subject leads to ethical issues surrounding the freedom of artists to compound the features of multiple figures to create the ideal model, and the implications of a white artist exercising this freedom to create CGI models of racial minorities.

This chapter explores the importance of understanding authorship in the reading of images of people of colour using theories concerning the fetishism of racial identity and the implications of a white artist’s external observation of the black experience. This chapter questions if the digital art portraits of people of colour made and published on Instagram by Cameron-James Wilson celebrates and boosts the visibility of a racial minority in portrait photography, or if the images publicise a white western ideal of the black form and an artist’s internalised understanding of black identity and personal aesthetic taste. As well as the ethical implications of a white man profiting, either socially or financially, from the voiceless personas of the black models he creates for use as brand marketing and aesthetic appreciation on Instagram.

 
Figure 5. untitled (koffi.gram 2018)

Figure 5. untitled (koffi.gram 2018)

 

The identity of the artist is key to its reading in digital portraiture as it informs the reader on whether the work comes for a place of internal understanding of such racial identity or and external observation of the black experience. Kobena Mercer articulates these questions surrounding the role of subjective representation of race in his critique of artist Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘"the black man is beautiful:" does the same sentence mean the same thing when uttered by a white woman, a black woman, a white man, or a black man? Does it mean the same thing whether the speaker is straight or gay? In my view, it cannot possibly have an identical meaning in each instance, because, while it retains the same denotative sense, the racial and gendered identity of the speaker inevitably "makes a difference" to the connotative value of the utterance, which thus takes on a qualitatively different "sound" in each instance’ (Mercer 1994: 204). When considering digital artist Cameron-James Wilson’s identity as a gay white male, his CGI model Koffi’s appearance and presentation to audience can be viewed as an exhibition of “the black man is beautiful” from his stance as an admirer external from the black male experience. Evidence of Wilson’s position influencing the reading of the image can be found in the analysis of Figure 5. The overhead lighting of the image of illuminates Koffi’s naked body, bright light shining from the contours of his muscles paired with the shine of lips and teeth creating an overtone of sexual suggestion. However, the lack emphasis on identifiable facial features and humanising characteristics such as the eyes by comparison means that the figure lacks identity. This observation appears to reflect the artist’s position as an outside observer of the black male experience rather than someone of internal understanding from within the racial group.

Visual depictions of racial minorities by white artists have a long-standing history of enforcing stereotypes wand distancing minority races from humankind. ‘The affirmation and denial of difference in the fetishistic structure of racial representations, is traced in racist perceptions of the black body. Blacks are looked down upon and despised as worthless, ugly and ultimately unhuman. But in the blink of an eye, whites look up to and revere black bodies’ (Mercer 1994: 201). Wilson’s CGI male model Koffi acts as an illustration of a white artist’s admiration of the black body while his identity as a black man others him from the audience. The subject’s eyes are barely visible through the lighting shadow that enhances the darkness of his skin. He is presented in the stereotyped innuendo of ‘The shining surface of black skin’ (Mercer 1994: 183) and its signifier of ‘intense sexual activity’ (Mercer 1994: 184), not a man of singular identity – Koffi is instead the epitome of the black male sexual stereotype.

 
Figure 6. untitled (koffi.gram)

Figure 6. untitled (koffi.gram)

 

By creating the idealised form of the black form, white digital artists have established the limitations of acceptability in westernised view of people of colour. Stuart Hall’s The Spectacle of the ‘Other’ demonstrates this to be a common trait of ruling racial groups beyond the parameters of art as an act of power play against minority, ‘the establishment of normalcy (i.e. what is accepted as 'normal') through social- and stereo-types is one aspect of the habit of ruling groups ... to attempt to fashion the whole of society according to their own world view, value system, sensibility and ideology’ (Hall 2003: 259). Through a white artist’s international publication of digitised black male and female forms on social media, his interpretation of the ideal racial stereotype has been broadcast to the general public. This can be seen as a member of the racial ruling group’s establishment of normalcy upon a minority by creating hierarches within the racial group; essentially signifying that the traits depicted in these digitised portraits carry greater worth to wider society. The exorcised freedom of digital artist’s to selective choose the individual characteristics of their models of minority groups is presented best in Cameron-James Wilson’s creation of his digital model prodigy Shudu, as explained in the tabloid interviews he had given ion the subject. ‘By design, Shudu takes after real-life models—her eyes “were inspired by Iman’s, with her beautiful deep sockets,” he said, referring to the Somali fashion model born Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid. But his biggest influence, he told me, was a special-edition Princess of South Africa Barbie doll, who, like Shudu, wears neck rings’ (Jackson 2018). For so much of Wilson’s art to be derived in an American toy manufacturer’s idea of South African beauty is testament to the warped ideals of black racial beauty that have been internalised by Wilson and projected through Shudu. As is visible in Figure 6, the long thin limbs and refined facial features of the female are a stark contrast to those of the her male counterpart, both extreme in their projection of aesthetic ideals.

The semiotic implications of the context in which these digitised characters are presented carries great importance when observing the work of artist presenting races foreign to their own. When an artist of perceived higher racial status creates visual depictions of others ‘what is visually produced, by the practices of representation, is only half the story. The other half - the deeper meaning - lies in what is not being said, but is being fantasized, what is implied but cannot be shown’ (Hall 2003: 263). Much of the power in the work of artists such Wilson is found in the subtext of the images created for expression of personal creativity rather than brand collaboration. As seen in Figure 6, the angle of light upon the subjects puts all but their eyes into shadowed obscurity, the eyes in the dark seemingly comparable with feline eyes in the darkness and enforced by Shudu’s animalistic possessive stretch over Koffi. The animalistic sexual undertone of the image is further implied by the stark contrast in characteristics between the two figures; Shudu’s long refined body juxtaposed by the strong features and large muscles of the man beside her, ‘the mythological figure of “the Negro,” who was always excluded from the good, the true and the beautiful in Western aesthetics on account of his otherness, now comes to embody the image of physical perfection and aesthetic idealization in which Western culture constructed its own self-image’ (Mercer 1994: 200). Stripping the figures bare, Wilson has exposed his internalised vision of the mythological black model.

To fully comprehend the implied identity of CGI model characters presented on Instagram by artists such as Wilson, the identity of the artist in relation to the work must be considered. As the characteristics of CGI realism models are the product of the artist’s creativity, motivating factors such as the South African Barbie doll in Wilson’s creation Shudu should be considered to understand why his notion that this is ‘what the most beautiful woman in the world would look like’ (Rosenstein 2018) is flawed by the artist’s internal bias towards Mattel’s projection of a racial ideal. Although the social interest over hyperrealist CGI portraiture has led to the digitised bodies of racial minorities Shudu and Koffi to be featured in international publications, increasing racial representation, it can be argued that these figures still stand as reflections of a white artist’s projection of racial idealism and fetishized portrait of a racial minority.

Final Conclusion

Universally, the identities projected for social approval on the platform are less a projection of our true-life self, and more of a display of a virtual social self. Image based social media platforms such as Instagram are unique in their ability to allow for a virtual self-expression of identity that does not necessarily need real world basis, with digitised portraiture on Instagram acting as an extreme demonstration of exercising the capability to adapt one’s identity to the context of its display. Although the work of theorists such a Coy-Dibley evidences how ‘image technology has firstly facilitated the shaping of an “ideal” beauty standard (creating the problem and the demand) and then provided the templates and tools for the general public to gain such standards (providing the solution and the supply)’ (Coy-Dibley 2016: 5), however, it could be argued that by presenting the human form in the digital space the body is now a digital object and the image’s ties to its real life counterpart are no longer of consequence to its virtual viewership. In self-representation through digital art the false-truth culture of Instagram is embraced by the artist and used to create an image that is as much a portrait of the social media platform as it is a depiction of self.

Although the real world basis of influencer identity has been shown to be inconsequential, the popularity of fictional CGI social media influencers such as Miquela Sousa can be held as an example of how a lack of human identity behind the digital face can be prone to exploitation. This case study is an example of how technology and social media can be utilised in media and marketing business for positioning a public figure with the potential to relate as many users vulnerable to consumerist advertising by creating a figure that contains elements of ‘the marginalised elements of traditional society’ (Tiqqun 2012: 15). The study of Young-Girl theory’s application to the case of Lil’ Miquela leads to the question of how does this then apply to humanoid Instagram influencers? Tiqqun’s theory demonstrates how, digitised or otherwise, we are urged to take interest in specific figures of admiration, for those figures to then take on the role of mouthpiece to brands targeting the influencer’s specific demographic. Hence why the study of CGI caricatures of the social media influencer lifestyle are so vital to the understanding of the role all high profile Instagram users play in bringing t consumerist marketing to the world of social interaction.

The ethics of a white artist profiting from the image of people of colour comes into question when considered in the context of digital portraiture. Cameron- James Wilson’s controversial CGI models are demonstrations of this, with the model Shudu’s characteristics compiled together from multiple women of colour, and mainly influenced by Mattel’s South African Barbie (a western company’s reductionist interpretation of beauty in people of colour). Although by Wilson she may be ‘idolized as the embodiment of its aesthetic ideal’ (Mercer 1994: 201), the model’s genesis as patchwork of a white man’s imagining of black beauty undermines the racial representation in fashion and social media the artist claims to have achieved. The actions of the artist to gain social following too show a lack of cultural understanding of the black female experience in social media, using hashtags such as ‘#blackisbeautiful, #melanin, and #blackgirlsrock’ (Jackson 2018), hijacking digital spaces for black women to celebrate their identity as means to increase the reach of his art.

Through examining the practice of digitised portraiture on Instagram this paper has uncovered how the practice serves as a literal representation of what we already know to be true of Instagram culture. Comparable the practice of photo editing on Instagram, CGI portraiture of the human form is not inherently good or bad in its nature. Instead it could be argued that the art form acts as a mirror to how images of the human form on Instagram are seen, used and read by others. Although created to reflect and present the lives of its users, the social media site has taken on an identity of its own as a world of immateriality, false representation and consumerism, with technology being the facilitator for all of this. This paper argues that the rise of CGI representation of human life is a product and symbol of this virtual reality, the digital portrait on social media acting as a testament to what it means for human body to see, be seen and be used in the social media era.


List of Figures

Figure 1, Gloom, R. (2018) Instagram Update. 3 September. available from<https://www.instagram.com/p/BnQ1DDCB360/> [17 November 2018]

Figure 2, Gloom, R. (2018) Instagram Update. 21 October. available from<https://www.instagram.com/p/BpNQgGGlQiH/> [17 November 2018]

Figure 3, Brud (2018) Instagram Update. 21 February. available from<https://www.instagram.com/stories/highlights/17906522983170585/> [20 December 2018]

Figure 4, Brud (2018) Instagram Update. 24 November. available from<https://www.instagram.com/p/Bqi2nX2nWjj/> [20 December 2018]

Figure 5, Wilson, CJ. (2019) Instagram Update. 4 January. available from<https://www.instagram.com/p/BsOORziHvaa/> [4 January 2018]

Figure 6, Wilson, CJ (2019) Instagram Update. 1 January. available from <https://www.instagram.com/p/BsGgFdRnGkf/> [4 January 2018]

List of References

Aristarkhova, I. (2016) Object – Oriented Feminism. Ed. By Behar. K.Minneapolis: University on Minnesota Press

Behar, B. (2016) Object – Oriented Feminism. Ed. By Behar. K. Minneapolis:University on Minnesota Press

Brud (2018) website_copy_wip_for_all_my_qtz [online] available from <https://docs.google.com/document/d/1V5N5tcfm7wBuUshgrmIOz9ijAO-VRqvkUbGRu0uKdI8/edit> [15 December 2018]

Coy-Dibley, I. (2016) ‘“Digitized Dysmorphia” of the female body: there/disfigurement of the image’ Palgrave Communications [online] 2 (1), 1-9.Available from<https://search.proquest.com/docview/2090652908?accountid=10286&rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo> [1 November 2018]

Hall, S. (2003) Representation: Cultural Representations and SignifyingPractices. London SAGE Publications

Jackson, L M. (2018) ‘Shudu Gram Is a White Man’s Digital Projection of Real-Life Black Womanhood’. The New Yorker [online] 4 May. available from <https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/shudu-gram-is-a-white-mans-digital-projection-of-real-life-black-womanhood> [29 December 2018]

Laboria Cuboniks (2015) Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation [online] available from <http://www.laboriacuboniks.net/qx8bq.txt> [18 November 2018]

Mercer, K. (1994) Welcome to the Jungle. [online] New York: Routledge.available from <https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781135204778> [23 December 2018]

Nunes, A. (2017) ‘The Neon Art of Ruby Gloom is a 3D, Cyber-Feminist Paradise’. VICE [online] 12 February. available from <https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qkxdbv/the-neon-art-of-ruby-gloom-is-a- 3d-cyber-feminist-paradise> [15 November 2018]

Petrarca, E. (2018) ‘Lil Miquela’s Body Con Job’. The Cut [online] 14 May. available from <https://medium.com/the-cut/lil-miquelas-body-con-job-cddec12f25d5> [25 October 2018]

Rosenstein, J. (2018) ‘People Can’t Tell If This Fenty Model Is Real Or Fake’. Harpers Bazaar [online] 9 February. available from <https://www.harpersbazaar.com/beauty/makeup/a16810663/shudu-gram-fenty-model-fake/> [25 October 2018]

Tiqqun. (2012) Preliminary Materials For a Theory of the Young-Girl. Trans.By Reines, A. South Pasadena: Semiotext(e)

Wolf, Naomi. (2015) The Beauty Myth. Great Britain: Vintage Classics

Reading List

Aristarkhova, I. (2016) Object – Oriented Feminism. Ed. By Behar. K.Minneapolis: University on Minnesota Press

Behar, B. (2016) Object – Oriented Feminism. Ed. By Behar. K. Minneapolis:University on Minnesota Press

Berger, J. (2008) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Group

Brud (2018) website_copy_wip_for_all_my_qtz [online] available from <https://docs.google.com/document/d/1V5N5tcfm7wBuUshgrmIOz9ijAO-

VRqvkUbGRu0uKdI8/edit> [15 December 2018]

Coy-Dibley, I. (2016) ‘“Digitized Dysmorphia” of the female body: the re/disfigurement of the image’ Palgrave Communications [online] 2 (1), 1-9.

available from <https://search.proquest.com/docview/2090652908?accountid=10286&rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo> [1 November 2018]

Credos (2011) Pretty as a Picture [online] available from <https://www.adassoc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Pretty-as-a-picture.pdf> [30 August 2018]

De Beauvoir, S. (2015) The Second Sex. Great Britain: Vintage Classics

Evans, A. (2015) ‘Diversity in gender and visual representation: a commentary’. Journal of Gender Studies [online] 24 (4), 473-479. available from <https://cumoodle.coventry.ac.uk/pluginfile.php/1256539/mod_resource/content/0/Diversity%20in%20gender%20and%20visual%20representation%20a%20commentary.pdf> [14 August 2018]

Evans, J. (1998) Feminist Theory Today. London: SAGE Publications

Freud, S. (2003) The Uncanny. London: Penguin Classics

Friedan, B. (2010) The Feminine Mystique. London: Penguin Group

Gill, R. (2009) ‘Mediated intimacy, and postfeminism: a discourse in analytic examination of sex and relationships advice in a women’s magazine’ Discourse & Communication [online] 3 (4), 345-369. available from <https://cumoodle.coventry.ac.uk/pluginfile.php/1256538/mod_resource/content/0/mediated%20intimacies.pdf> [14 August 2018]

Greer, G. (2012) The Female Eunuch. London: Fourth Estate

Greer, G. (2007) The Whole Woman. London: Black Swan

Gregg, M. (2011) ‘The Break-Up: Hardt and Negri’s Politics of Love’ Journal ofCommunication Inquiry [online] 35 (4), 395-402. available from<https://cumoodle.coventry.ac.uk/pluginfile.php/1256537/mod_resource/content/0/The%20break%20up.pdf> [14 August 2018]

Hall, S. (2003) Representation: Cultural Representations and SignifyingPractices. London SAGE Publications

Haraway, D. (1991) Simians, Cyborgs, and Women the Reinvention ofNature. New York: Routledge

Haraway, D. (1988) ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question inFeminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective’ Feminist Studies [online] 14(3), 575-599. available from<https://www.jstor.org/stable/3178066?sid=primo&origin=crossref&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents> [22 November 2018]

Harman, G. (2018) Object Oriented Ontology. London: Penguin Random House

Hester, H. (2018) Xenofeminism. [online] London: Times Higher Education.available from<https://search.proquest.com/docview/2064292615?accountid=10286&rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo> [15 November 2018]

Jackson, L M. (2018) ‘Shudu Gram Is a White Man’s Digital Projection of Real-Life Black Womanhood’. The New Yorker [online] 4 May. available from <https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/shudu-gram-is-a-white-mans-digital-projection-of-real-life-black-womanhood> [29 December 2018]

Laboria Cuboniks (2015) Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation [online]available from < http://www.laboriacuboniks.net/qx8bq.txt> [18 November2018]

Mercer, K. (1994) Welcome to the Jungle. [online] New York: Routledge.available from <https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781135204778> [23December 2018]

Mirzoeff, N. (2013) The Visual Culture Reader. Oxon: Routledge

Nunes, A. (2017) ‘The Neon Art of Ruby Gloom is a 3D, Cyber-Feminist Paradise’. VICE [online] 12 February. available from <https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qkxdbv/the-neon-art-of-ruby-gloom-is-a-3d-cyber-feminist-paradise> [15 November 2018]

Petrarca, E. (2018) ‘Lil Miquela’s Body Con Job’. The Cut [online] 14 May. available from <https://medium.com/the-cut/lil-miquelas-body-con-job- cddec12f25d5> [25 October 2018]

Rosenstein, J. (2018) ‘People Can’t Tell If This Fenty Model Is Real Or Fake’. Harpers Bazaar [online] 9 February. available from <https://www.harpersbazaar.com/beauty/makeup/a16810663/shudu-gram-fenty-model-fake/> [25 October 2018]

Shilling, C. (2005) The Body and Social Theory. London: SAGE Publications

Spence, J. (1995) Cultural Sniping. London: Routledge

Walters, N. (2011) Living Dolls The Return of Sexism. London: Virago Press

Wolf, N. (2015) The Beauty Myth. Great Britain: Vintage Classics

Wolf, N. (2012) Vagina A New Biography. London: Virago