How FaceApp Accidentally Validated my Gender

There’s this popular app doing the rounds at the moment called FaceApp that takes photos of people’s faces and, with differing levels of success, morphs them to match intriguing or amusing presets.

The app can make it look like you’re smiling in a photo where you were frowning, make you look older by adding wrinkles, make you look “hot”, or align your face more closely with a gendered stereotype.

The app makes a lot of assumptions. The hot filter edits away people’s glasses as it deems them an unattractive feature. The male filter shortens hair, adds beards and makes everything more grumpy. The female filter adds make-up, softens edges and lengthens hair.

The app makes a lot of stereotypical assumptions about things like gender, and generally exists ao that people happy with their gender identity can giggle at how silly it is to view themselves as the opposite gender. It’s not inherently a problem, but it’s based on some slightly troubling assumptions of gender validations and the humour inherent in subversion from that baseline.

As a trans woman, I was highly worried about trying the app at first, knowing that seeing myself with short hair and a beard could be distressing and Dysphoria inducing to see. I was nervous that when applying the female filter drastic changes would be made to my face, but when applying the male filter nothing would change, implying my face was male and not female based on base appearance.

I braved the app regardless, mainly out of a personal curiosity as to how close the male picture would look to pictures of myself pre transition.

As it turns out, FaceApp can’t work out how to make a male version of my face, and any attempts result in broken glitch pictures where I appear to be being consumed by the matrix. I tried this with multiple pictures, and always got the same result, a picture where my face looks like it’s about to corrupt a hole in reality.

My initial response was to enjoy this odd artefact of programming and joke about its accidental implications. Perhaps the app could simply not conceive of me as male, a masculine version of Laura the trans woman simply didn’t compute. I had ascended beyond gender.

Still, once the jokes were done, I did wonder why the app couldn’t handle my face properly. As much as I wanted to believe the app recognised me as a woman and wanted to reinforce and validate that, I suspected the app probably wasn’t that tailor made for me.

The explanation? My hair.

I have bright blue hair, and as best I can tell from Twitter research, FaceApp doesn’t know how to take long blue hair and make it shorter for its male filter.

At a guess, it recognises the shape of long hair, but does not recognise blue as a valid hair colour, so doesn’t know how to remove some of the blue and create a new natural appearing short style. My hair is what breaks the male filter rather than some magically inherent and unchangeable femininity I posses.

While FaceApp was clearly not designed with trans people in mind, and for many it may be actively upsetting to use, for me it accidentally validated a gender identity the world often wants to discredit. There is no male version of Laura. It simply can’t exist.

2 thoughts on “How FaceApp Accidentally Validated my Gender

  1. As a fellow person of colored hair, that might be why it doesn’t know what to do with my face at all. Everything I put in, the differences are incredibly minor. Seeing how the “female” version of my face barely differed from my current, which barely differed from my “male” face, was pretty affirming to my own identity.

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