Fashion & Feminism

More Than A Woman: Unveiling the Commercialization of Female Characters in Fashion

From the CGI-born Lil Miquela to the iconic Barbie, female characters in popular culture possess substantial influence over up-and-coming trends and the fashion industry. However, their captivating looks hold complex nuances that aid corporate goals, political campaigning, and the commodification of female identity.
Unmade Unmade CollectionCourtesy of Alena Stepanova


Miquela Sousa, aka Lil Miquela, represents an epitome of the modern-day successful female: a 19-year-old model and influencer with 2.6 million Instagram followers and over 67 million Spotify streams on a single track. Sponsored by brands like Calvin Klein, Chanel and Prada she graces editorials, major fashion publications, and virtually interacts with celebrities worldwide. Her estimated net worth of $125 million dollars, however, reflects her value to Brud, a Los Angeles startup company under Sequoia Capital. Initially introduced by Brud via an Instagram profile, Miquela's rise to fame coincided with the emergence of two supporting avatars: Blawko, portrayed as her close friend, and rival Bermuda who is Blawko's ex-girlfriend. Miquela and Bermuda represent polarizing opinions, with Bermuda having politically conservative views, while Miquela openly supports causes like Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights. Despite her non-suggestive appearance, her previous interactions with indie musician Noah Gersh and Blawko perpetuate heteronormative suggestions.

Furthermore, Brud’s political agenda is revealed when they start guiding Miquela on a journey of ‘post-woke’ self-discovery. In a caption on Miquela’s Instagram, Brud had her post: “I’m not sure I can comfortably identify as a woman of color. ‘Brown’ was a choice made by a corporation. ‘Woman’ was an option on a computer screen. My identity was a choice Brud made in order to sell me to brands, to appear ‘woke.’ I will never forgive them. I don’t know if I will ever forgive myself.” Brud's ironic introspection, though failing to clarify Miquela’s or its own political stance, has attracted attention and influence, positioning itself with alt-right strategies to obfuscate their actual agenda within Miquela's digital voice, backed by a venture-capitalist firm. Rather than expressing her personal ideas, Miquela talks in prescribed politics - presenting it as her personal voice and undermining the radical potential of digital female avatars. Her concept of an avataristic self has fueled ideas of fluid identity and cyber-feminist movements, but also authorized malicious hate mobs. Miquela’s digital identity aligns not with fluidity but with an orchestrated branded self, devoid of complexities that come with being a woman. Her example has inspired other companies to develop similar digital clients, operated entirely as manipulated puppets that lack agency but drive marketing KPIs. For investors, digital women promise fame without the ‘real’ drama, contriving politically scripted affairs that serve the private equity agenda of influence acquisition.


Ulrica Huang CollectionCourtesy of Ulrica Huang


As we navigate the complexities of female identity in the digital age, embracing disturbance rather than co-option may result in more authentic expressions of self. Consider Barbie: the revival of this beloved childhood toy has created a phenomenon known as “Barbiecore”; a fashion trend that goes beyond mere obsession with the color pink and bows. Barbiecore ironically implies a shift in societal structures, portrayed by its colorful in-your-face attitude and ultra-feminine aesthetic combined with the rise of femininity as an overall fashion moment, Barbiecore is seen as a sort of escapism from the problems of the real world. Although, the true meaning behind the trend lies between the lines. In a society where women still face oppression, Barbie has historically represented a stereotypical and overly sexualized image of a woman. Her body and fashion choices were meticulously crafted and controlled by men, dictating to young girls what they should aspire to be and look like. The resurgence of a new, “reformed Barbie” symbolizes a significant societal shift, challenging traditional notions of femininity. Therefore, this trend can be interpreted as a rebellion against gender norms, with women reclaiming a style traditionally associated with girlhood and transforming it into their personal tool for expression. Seen on Instagram are an infinite amount of videos of women giving out styling tips on how to style bows and corsets, the color pink and everything cute in a more non-conventional manner. By oftentimes adding androgynous elements, tomboy accessories and militaristic cargo pants, this ultra-feminine style has certainly been shifting and evolving outside of its traditional box. This movement boldly celebrates what has traditionally been dismissed as girly, offering a defiant response to societal expectations and adding depth to the Barbiecore phenomenon.


Ate Too Many Mushrooms CollectionCourtesy of Lucia St. Giles


Amidst the intricacies of understanding female identity in the modern age, and the ever changing industry of fashion, it becomes evident that the influence of personas like Lil Miquela and Barbie extends beyond fashion trends, and embodies bigger sociopolitical implications. While their premeditated actions and speech may aim for general appeal, their legacy can perpetuate harmful ideals. In a society struggling with body dysmorphia, artificially made female avatars reflect a deeper societal obsession with physical perfection and its normalization through digital manipulation. The constant exposure to manipulated models of women and enhanced content fosters unrealistic expectations and fuels a culture of comparison and insecurity. In the face of an increasingly virtualized world it is becoming more and more challenging to advocate for authenticity, free from the pressures of digital enhancement and societal expectations, while self-acceptance and individuality are becoming the main trading cards for 21st century women.


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