There’s an intense pressure to look amazing in photos, especially in a culture that broadcasts every snap to the world. Do we pout, do we look desirably into the camera, wistfully squint into the distance, or go old-school with a thumbs-up and cheese? The stakes feel high as we’re constantly at risk of being tagged at a bad angle.

Being bogged down by too many choices is actually only a modern problem — for photography, among other things. When people first began getting their photos taken, there was one pose available, deadly serious. It seems odd by today’s standards not to look like you’re having the most fun, but were people back then really that miserable, or was something else going on?

When you’re posing for your Vogue spread and Annie Leibovitz is directing, you probably don’t expect to hear, “now give me ‘misery’ in three… two… one.” But if you were getting a family portrait taken in the 18th century, that direction wouldn’t be out of realm of possibility.

Vanity Fair/ Annie Leibovitz

Take a look at some old photographs, and it’s hard not to notice that no one is smiling. Sure, they didn’t have high speed internet, Vsco filters, or even running water, but was life back then really all that bad?

Photography first began in the 1820s, and along with being rare, it was extremely expensive. It makes sense then that the images were usually very formal, befitting of the high cost to create them. Still, all formalities considered, a severe expression is an odd standard to begin with.

Because of the price, early photography was exclusive to the wealthy. And even if someone was fortunate enough to have their picture taken, it was usually the singular photographic proof of their life. Which further begs the question, why weren’t they smiling?

One theory that’s been thrown around is bad teeth. These were the pre-braces days, and dental hygiene was really of no concern, so you worked with what you had. However, teeth weren’t a part of society’s conscious and didn’t factor in to beauty standards.

Sports Illustrated

Another theory is that smiling was also associated with madness, drunkenness, or lewdness. This idea seems a little loose, as it is also scientifically proven that smiling is a natural reaction to anyone experiencing joy.

The Shining

The real reason people kept their mouths shut in photos is actually far more psychological than all that. Our ancestors weren’t trying to project that their lives were grim: they were conditioned to believe that a stern mug was the way to express a posh air.

We have paintings, the predecessors of photographs, to thank for this bizarre posing trend. Similar to early photography, getting painted was reserved only for society’s elite, and it had long been the style to reveal minimal facial expression in your portrait.

This probably has something to do with the amount of time it took to create the painting. It’s far easier to hold a neutral face than a giant grin for hours on end. Although life moved slower back then, people still had lives to live.

In the early days of photography, long exposure times also had people holding poses for an extended period. Nothing comparable to modeling for a painting but certainly longer than felt natural. Fortunately, by the 1850s, technology advanced to allow photos to be captured within seconds.

But old habits die hard, and even with timing on their side, people continued to look forlornly towards the lens. Things carried on in this bleak vain until Kodak released a camera in 1888 that was actually affordable for the middle class.

AP

For the first time in history cameras become accessible to the public and photography boomed as a result. With each Kodak camera, the chemical processing was done for you, leaving amateur photographers with one simple instruction, “you press the button, we do the rest.”

Kodak

Kodak — specifically founder George Eastman — did far more than just put cameras in the hands of the people; he also lent them a new perspective. Every camera included a manual outlining what made a good picture, and it wasn’t what people were used to.

George Eastman/ Kodak

Until this point, most advertising had been fear-based. A “get this or else” kind of psychology was pervasive throughout the market, which targeted people’s emotions in a negative and aggressive way. It may have been effective, but it left consumers feeling bad.

When it came time to market their cameras, Kodak concluded what they were selling wasn’t a threat, in fact, it was quite the opposite. Photography offered the opportunity to immortalize our visions, to bookmark a honeymoon.

Kodak

As the types of people taking photographs expanded, a wider range of expressions started to emerge. Getting your picture taken was no longer a once-in-a-lifetime experience, people were at liberty to be multifaceted — and despite earlier evidence, they were. By WW II, smiles were the standard.

Smiling for the camera was never a natural instinct, it’s a relationship we’ve slowly created over time. People began to realize they could control how they were represented on film. Amateur photographers could also control how they wanted their subjects to look, much like painters.

As the medium of photography began to expand it actually came to influence painting. It wasn’t until the Edwardian Period, 1895-1914, that we started to see people smiling in paintings, which was after it had already become the trend in photographs.

Angus Trumble, the director of the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, Australia, says, “People in human history have smiled, laughed, and behaved more or less as they do today, in other words naturally and spontaneously, in the private sphere. What is radically different is public performance and public presentation.”

Today, photography is perhaps more ubiquitous than ever. It continues to pull influence from paintings, cinema, society, and nature, and it inspires other mediums in turn. Yet with all the evolution, we as the subjects have stayed more or less the same, presenting posh as we know it best.

Some people argue that this has created a toxic social environment, with photo-centric media platforms consuming an average of 153 minutes of our days. With so much saturation, how can we discern what’s authentic anymore? How can we even know what’s real?

Instagram

When followers scroll through Instagram Influencer Lil Miquela’s feeds, they see a Brazilian-American beauty with Princess Leia style buns and freckles across her nose. She’s pretty cute, and her carefully curated high-quality photos explain why she has 1.5 million followers.

In her photos, Miquela shows off her travels, designer clothing, and famous friends as any other influencer would do, but something sets her apart.

Miquela may look pretty realistic in some photos, but some followers noticed other pictures in which she looks airbrushed; her freckles don’t look natural, and there is no soul in her eyes. She may remind you of a Sims game, but most people simply accept it.

Other followers suspected there was something off about Miquela’s look, but they figured she simply had plastic surgery or edited her photos like most Instagrammers tend to do. The platform, after all, is full of “contouring” videos and lip-kit advertisements. Unnatural looks are nothing new.

But the truth about Lil Miquela is far more outlandish. See, she doesn’t really live in L.A. or hang out with celebs on the regular. Miquela doesn’t exist. Some call her a robot, others call her a CGI creation, but the fact of the matter is she has no basis in reality.

Unfortunately for Miquela, her secret was bound to come out — after all, nothing remains hidden on the internet. But in the meantime, her posts are covered in comments like “I love you”, “you’re so pretty”, and “I wish I was you.” Not everyone knows.

But on April 18, 2019, just after she appeared on the cover of a streetwear blog, Miquela was hacked and “exposed” by a CGI model named Bermuda (left), who forced her to tell people who she really was. To get her Instagram page back, she had to come clean.

“It’s true,” she wrote. “I’m a robot.” She blamed Brud, the company that created her, for misleading her and all her fans. Of course, that post was created by Brud, which made people wonder what their motivation was behind the whole scheme.

One theory was that this was a promotional project to gain world-wide attention before dropping a clothing line or an album — a theory supported by the fact that Brud co-founder Trevor McFredries is a D.J. by the name of Yung Skeeter, and Miquela has already dropped 2 jams on Spotify.

He claimed his idea to create Miquela stemmed from the 2018 Gucci fall fashion show, where a handful of models strutted down the runway with a carbon copy of their own heads under their arms. Technology can make something impossible look so real.

Yes, it may be unsettling at first to realize you’ve been fooled by a robot, but it also raises a bigger issue: how is anybody supposed to feel good about themselves when there are perfect fake humans among us? Will they replace living models or actors and render thousands of people “useless”?

That may not sound very probable, but the 2002 film S1m0ne starring Al Pacino made the idea pretty realistic. In the movie, he creates a CGI actress based on the looks and voices of other actresses, which is how people think Miquela was born.

Whatever the technology may be that made Miquela happen, it has also been used to create other models like Shudu. She was inspired by supermodel Iman and the Princess of South Africa Barbie doll. Shudu’s creator, however, came under a lot of fire…

The man behind the model is a photographer named Cameron-James Wilson, a white man. Some people felt he was exploiting the image of a black woman instead of just hiring a real black woman and paying her. He, however, said he is actually advocating diversity.

Whatever the case may be, these CGInfluencers are shaking things up, both in good and bad ways. For example, Miquela urges followers to support causes like Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ movement, plus she raised funds for victims of the California wildfire.

This may have something to do with the fact that her creators, Trevor McFedries and Sara DeCou are black and Latina, respectively. They hope to use their platform for good but recently shifted their attention away from Miquela.

Why Miquela took a backseat to project robot takeover is unclear, but Brud instead began pushing her male counterpart, Blawko22. Like most men, he gets fewer followers and less engagement than women on Instagram, but he’s still growing slowly.

Miquela, meanwhile, is still up and running, living her best life. She claims that being honest about her fabrication has actually set her free, which is something that other influencers said as well. In the end, being truthful feels a lot better than living a lie.

Brud expressed similar ideas, claiming they wanted to fight fake news with fake news and “make the world a better place.” Its main goal is to expose how unrealistic the standards of social media really are these days.

No matter how we view Instagram, influencers, or inhumanity, there is no denying that Brud and Cameron-James Wilson have created something impressive that starts an important conversation about keepin’ it real.