An Asian fashion model is criticizing the use of AI filters to make her appear white in photos from a recent runway show that were shared — and then deleted — by the designer she'd walked for.
In a now-viral TikTok video, Taiwanese-American model Shereen Wu demonstrated that a photo of her walking the runway for designer Michael Costello had been running through some sort of filtering software that changes her features radically, adding heavily airbrushed-looking makeup and — yes — changed her race.
The designer went on to repost the photo — which appeared to have been run through an app similar to FaceApp, the free AI image editor responsible for all those "yassification" memes — and claimed after he deleted it that it was "fan art" that someone had sent him.
Shereen Wu, a model based in Los Angeles, is alleging that American designer and ex-Project Runway participant, Michael Costello, has used AI to change her face in a fashion show picture. This incident has sparked debates about the increasing use of AI in the fashion industry.… pic.twitter.com/TUoDX6uep2
— Hypebae (@hypebae) November 3, 2023
Wu posted a screenshot in her video of Costello's lengthy non-apology, where he said there was "nothing [he] could do" about the poorly edited image, told her he'd cast her in his show because he "liked" her, and pointedly did not apologize.
"I understand as a model, I am replaceable," Wu said in her video. "But I don't get paid to do these shows, [and] while I don't get paid, there's a tacit understanding that I'm doing this for exposure and for photographs."
In an interview with The Guardian about the debacle, the model said that because her face was essentially replaced in the edited photo, she didn't even get "paid in exposure" — which is her only way of getting her name and face out there as an independent model who isn't signed to any agency.
"I didn’t get exposure, because this is an edited photo," she told the British newspaper. "By cutting off my head, neither did the makeup artist, hairdresser or photographer. That’s what peeves me so much."
After deleting the image, Costello — who back in 2021 was threatened with legal action by supermodel Chrissy Teigen for posting allegedly doctored screenshots of her "bullying" him — posted and subsequently deleted a statement claiming that he was "moving forward with legal proceedings" against Wu, who he said made false allegations against him in her TikTok. The model reached out to an advocacy group and has been referred to a lawyer, The Guardian reports.
The saga brings to mind another incident this year in which another Asian woman ran her headshot through an AI "retouching" app that, like Wu, turned her white.
Over the summer, MIT grad student and regular AI user Rona Wang told Insider was playing around with the Playground AI image creator when she entered her headshot, which she'd planned to post to LinkedIn, and told the app to make the photo appear more "professional." The AI spat out a nearly identical photo, except her features had been changed to make her look white.
"I definitely think it's a problem," Wang said. "I hope people who are making software are aware of these biases and thinking about ways to mitigate them."
While Wang said her initial reaction to having her race changed by AI was "amusement," Wu was less cavalier.
"I hope people can understand how hurtful it is to have your work stolen from you," the model told The Guardian. "It’s very dehumanizing."
As AI becomes more and more prevalent in our lives, from image generators to hiring algorithms, the race to reduce human bias from these systems has lagged — and as the tech surges ever forward, it seems unlikely that bigotry will be eliminated from the machine anytime soon.
More on AI racism: That AI Image Generator Is Spitting Out Some Awfully Racist Stuff
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