If you spent so long layering on cosmetics that you've forgotten what your face actually looks like, boy, do I have some good news for you! There's an app that shows how women look without makeup, and it was created — you guessed it — by a man. What would we do without them? Maybe go about our days unbothered by weirdly intrusive software that purports to strip away our deceitful mascara and show our true forms to anyone who has 99 cents to burn? Imagine that!
So what possible purpose could "MakeApp" serve, other than to punish sneaky women for pretending to be hotter than they really are? According to its creator, Ashot Gabrelyanov, he's actually trying to help women, not harm them. In an email to Romper, he says that he hopes that it could be used to identify victims of human trafficking. "When security services show an image and say 'Is this your daughter?' heavily applied permanent makeup often makes the identification process quite difficult. We hope our technology may help families and authorities identify victims for rescue." OK, but if that's the case, why does he keep tweeting this doctored video of Angelina Jolie? Pretty sure she hasn't been abducted. Romper requested additional comment regarding Gabrelyanov's use of Jolie's likeness in the doctored video. In response to criticisms that the app is sexist, Gabrelyanov wrote in an email:
To date, we've received no sexist related criticism from our users. We've only seen this complaint from a small small handful US [sic] based journalists — each recycling the original article's content. Our app became viral in Asia and Europe and the journalists and users there welcomed our tech positively. Take a look on this popular TV show in Japan that shows our app in a positive way.
In a curious wrinkle to the story, before he was a Brooklyn-based app developer, Gabrelyanov had a career that many would call problematic: Mashable reported that he and his father, Aram, founded LifeNews, a Russian media website and now-defunct TV channel that was banned in Ukraine for broadcasting "war propaganda," according to Reuters. Gabrelyanov has denied that label.
"MakeApp" is the third app from Gabrelyanov's Magic Unicorn, Inc. Another, "Borsch," generates custom restaurant recommendations based on neural network analysis of pictures of food. The third, "Magic: Play, Record, Share," uses artificial intelligence to detect human emotion based on facial expressions, which somehow ties into a game of defending innocent "Plums" from the evil "Glors," and definitely doesn't have more sinister applications. Oh, and it also tracks and stores users' geographic location and may share it with third parties, no big deal.
But back to "MakeApp": It, too, supposedly uses a neural network to magically remove eyeshadow, but in practice, it looks like all it really does is give women blotchy skin and sparse eyebrows, whether they actually look that way beneath their deceptive beauty products or not. Business Insider ran a photo of Serena Williams, whose no-makeup look is well-documented, through the app, and the result was not only inaccurate, but honestly, just plain spiteful. If this is true artificial intelligence, then it seems like it's been taught to hate women.
On Twitter, MakeApp is being used predominantly by trolls who are editing and ridiculing images of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and The Young Turks' host Ana Kasparian, to name a few. Many are also using the common sexist and objectifying criticism that "real women don't need makeup." So even if the app wasn't intended to be sexist, it's being used predominantly by men in an attempt to humiliate and degrade women.
If this software was truly developed for law enforcement, then why is it available in the app store, and why is its creator marketing it on Twitter with images of celebrities? If a woman walks down the street with or without makeup, it's because that's how she's chosen to present herself, and nobody has the right to digitally alter her image to suit their whims. I can't say where, precisely, MakeApp falls between telling a woman to smile and Photoshopping her face into porn, but it's definitely on the spectrum. Some women say it might be useful for editing selfies, but that's not what most of Twitter is using it for, unfortunately. An app that allows people to take images of women, without their permission, and dress them up or down is problematic at best, but to many women it feels dehumanizing.