The New Face of PacSun Is a Virtual Woman, Because Real Ones Just Won’t Do

The store has teamed up with Lil Miquela, an AI influencer, and honestly, the more photos of her I look at, the less I understand.

The New Face of PacSun Is a Virtual Woman, Because Real Ones Just Won’t Do
Photo:Lil Mequila (Instagram)/Araya Doheny (Getty Images)

We appear to have reached a new, more advanced tier of the metaverse, in which the powers that be (aka PacSun marketing execs) have decided that us lowly human beings should take fashion advice from someone (something?) that doesn’t actually exist. The storied leisurewear store has announced that its newest spokes-thing will be Miquela (aka Lil Miquela), a perpetually 19-year-old “virtual influencer” who only exists online.

Miquela, who will primarily be collaborating with the brand on back-to-school and holiday campaigns, was one of Time’s “Most Influential People on the Internet” way back in 2018. Her staying power—and her 3 million Instagram followers—are likely what PacSun was after. She was invented (created?) in 2016 by the Los Angeles-based computer software firm Brud, and was collaborating with brands as big as Prada by 2018. She also appeared in ads for Calvin Klein (where her lip lock with model Gigi Hadid caused backlash for its “queerbaiting”) and Dior. According to Input, among Miquela’s biggest appeals are that “she’ll never age, clothes will always fit her perfectly in advertisements, and she’ll always do exactly what you ask of her.” Super! We’re back to wishing women were brainless and blindly obedient—but this time, there’s a dark 21st century twist.

If your brain is still glitching about trying to understand this, you’re not alone. I, for one, have a few questions: How can a robot who only exists on the internet be any years old? Who is actually speaking when she posts online? How can she call herself an “LA native” when she doesn’t actually live anywhere? How is she taking pictures with (famous) human beings (and don’t said humans feel kind of silly posing for it)? And most of all: Why on earth are we taking advice from someone who doesn’t actually, materially, in a fleshly human way, exist!?

The disconnect between Miquela and her human followers is vast: In an Instagram post promoting her PacSun sponsorship, she (or her handlers?) write, “I’ve never been to school (robot things) but I know y’all need some cute fits before going back!” Yup, this makes total sense, PacSun: It’s like taking medical advice from someone who not only didn’t go to med school, but has never seen a human body before. But a quick scroll through her Instagram shows that literal millions of other people don’t share my reservations.

I, on the other hand, am worried about Miquela’s role in promoting ever-more unrealistic beauty standards. As someone who’s chugging venti-sized lattes from the River Lethe (cue “Forever Young” by Jay-Z feat. Michael Hudson), Miquela’s cute freckles, thin torso, and lack of any sort of skin imperfections can dredge up all sorts of insecurities—some of which may be fixed with a quick trip to PacSun, but most of which we have absolutely no control over.

But apparently, PacSun’s decision to hire Miquela is more than skin—or uh, pixel—deep. As president of Pacsun Brieane Olson said in a press release, the “digital muse…aligns with our core brand values and vision…speaking out on important social issues like BLM and Rally The Vote, as well as achieving inroads into metaverse fashion and culture.” Miqeula’s politics put her in stark opposition to Bermuda, a right-wing, pro-Trump virtual influencer who was also created by Brud and who “hacked” Miquela’s Instagram in 2018. Maybe Olson has a point: Why try to make ourselves better human beings when we can project our political ideals on virtual avatars who can make us feel better but have no civic duty to affect real change?

And in case she decides that being a fake model for a real brand isn’t for her? Miquela released a single called “MASTERPIECE” in May, explaining that “The last year has been filled with lots of ups and downs. Losing myself, then finding myself… but I’m back to doing what makes me happiest: MAKING ART!”

At this point, I’ll just nod and accept this as reality.

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