Courtesy of Stephen Yang '22

November 22, 2021

YANG | Yassification: Contestation of the Extremes and the Binaries

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We probably have all glowed ourselves up with some retouches on a photo editing app at some point. But have you also tried giving yourself a poreless face, a pair of smokey eyes, plumped-up lips, balayaged hair and well-defined cheekbones? In other words, have you “yassified” yourself? Or we should ask ourselves, why are we comfortable doing the former but not the latter?

The past two weeks have given birth to a sea of “yassify” (or “yassification”) memes. These memes first emerged from queer Twitter, where people began sharing heavily edited photos of public figures with the glamazon look.

The trend soon became an internet culture phenomenon when an edited scene from the A24 horror film Hereditary took off. In the clip, Toni Collette turned from screaming in terror to serving her look. After this meme went viral, no one was safe from “yassification.” From celebrities like Timothée Chalamet, politicians like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, to historical figures like Mother Teresa, everyone was turned into exemplars of our beauty ideals.

It might already sound familiar to some of you, but yassification is a derivation of the term “yaaass queen.” Originated from 1980s ballroom culture in New York City, the queer slang-turned internet culture phenomenon went mainstream in 2013 thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race and a video of a Lady Gaga fan. “Yas queen” has now become part of the everyday lexicon in youth culture that people say in response to someone fabulous.

And just like how the usage of the term “yaaass queen” has morphed and changed since its inception, the “yassification” memes have now turned to reflect on the cultural moments in which celebrities and characters went through their glow-up moments. This trend of “the original yassification” has highlighted the transformation of Velma in Scooby-Doo and Squidward in Spongebob Squarepants.

Most of the effort of “yassification” was pioneered by @YassifyBot. The Twitter account takes “yassification” requests and transforms people’s photos in the same glamorized fashion. It is revealed that all of such work is done on Faceapp, an AI-powered photo-editing app.  

Out of curiosity, I downloaded the app in an attempt to “yassify” myself. Once I uploaded my photo, the first thing I noticed was how I was gender-coded as male. Despite not indicating my gender to the app, most filtering options I was offered were tailored for making male-presenting people look more masculine. Much of this means looking hairier, more tanned and visibly older.

Before-and-After Photos as Stephen Yang ’22 Applied Masculine Filters on Faceapp

It dawned on me that I would always be stripped of most of the “yassified” features when the AI would label me as a guy. I thus came up with a two-step approach to “yassification.” First, I turned to the gender-swapping filter and selected “Female 2.” After exporting the photo, I re-uploaded the photo to Faceapp for a second round of glow-up.

After uploading the gender-swapped photo, I finally got coded as female. I thus gained access to the filtering options for long, wavy hair. I was also able to make my hair lighter. All these ways to “yassify” myself were suddenly unlocked because I now looked more feminine in my photo. 

Left: Photo of Stephen Yang ‘22 After He Applied the Gender-Swapping Filter on FaceApp
Right: Photo of Stephen Yang ‘22 After He “Yassified” Himself

This experience of “yassifying” myself made me rethink what this internet trend reveals about our culture. While playfulness is core to the “yassification” memes, there’s nonetheless an eerie feeling of revealing the uncanny valley of our reality that’s not far removed from the simulated extremes. In a sense, the “yassifying” experience on FaceApp is not different from how we subject ourselves to unrealistic beauty standards in our everyday life. We’re already seeing women channeling this glamorized style all the time. It is just that the uncanny side of our society becomes far more evident when we turn to the extremes and see the flaws in the binaries.

Stephen Yang is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]Rewiring Technoculture runs alternate Mondays this semester.