What Does It Mean to ‘Yassify’ Anything?
“Girl With a Pearl Earring” in a full face of makeup. The first Queen Elizabeth contoured from her neck ruff up. Severus Snape with jet-black hair extensions. Sasquatch sporting a smoky eye.
These are just a few of the altered images that have been shared by YassifyBot, a Twitter account that started popping up in people’s feeds this month.
To “yassify” something, in the account’s parlance, is to apply several beauty filters to a picture using FaceApp, an A.I. photo-editing application, until its subject — be that a celebrity, a historical figure, a fictional character or a work of fine art — becomes almost unrecognizably made up.
Since YassifyBot’s account was activated on Nov. 13, it has tweeted hundreds of photographs in which subjects’ lashes appear thick and spidery; their eyebrows look as though they’ve seen the business end of a pencil; their hair has been lengthened and, often, colored; and their cheekbones and nose are sharply contoured.
It should be noted that YassifyBot is not actually a bot. Its tweets aren’t generated by software. The account is run by a 22-year-old college student in Omaha who makes art under the name Denver Adams and asked that The Times not reveal their legal name.
The process for making each image is simple: Take a face, run it through FaceApp until it looks generically or grotesquely sexy, post, repeat. Mr. Adams said in a Zoom interview that each image takes only a few minutes to create.
The timing of the account’s popularity is a bit puzzling. Easy-to-use photo-retouching apps aren’t new. FaceApp specifically has been the subject of news articles about privacy issues and its “hot” filter, which was decried as racist for lightening users’ skin tones. (In 2017, The Guardian reported that FaceApp’s founder, Yaroslav Goncharov, apologized for the filter, blaming the skin lightening on bias the A.I. software had picked up in its training.)
The word “yass” — which can also be spelled “yas,” “yaas” or with any number of A’s and S’s for emphasis — has been circulating in L.G.B.T.Q. vernacular for more than a decade. The word was further popularized by a 2013 video of a fan admiring Lady Gaga. The Comedy Central show “Broad City,” in which Ilana Glazer’s character frequently deploys the phrase “yas queen,” also helped to bring the word into wider use.
According to KnowYourMeme.com, the word “yassification” first appeared on Twitter in 2020. As it spread, so did memes of celebrities being digitally made over, including one that depicted the actress Toni Collette screaming in the horror film “Hereditary,” her face suddenly settling into an artificial glamorized version of itself.
“I didn’t create the joke,” Mr. Adams said, citing the meme of Ms. Collette as inspiration. “I just ruined it.”
But what, exactly, is the joke?
Mr. Adams chalks it up to the sheer ridiculousness of the images, saying that the more absurd they appear, the funnier they become.
Like many internet jokes, the line between mocking and celebration is murky.
Rusty Barrett, a professor of linguistics at the University of Kentucky who has researched language in gay subcultures, sees a link between the images disseminated by YassifyBot and the culture of drag.
“It evokes drag in that drag queens sometimes look plastic and way overdone,” Prof. Barrett said in a phone interview.
“Part of it is that it looks good, but it clearly looks fake,” Prof. Barrett said. “That positive view of artifice is something that is common across gay culture.”
The “yassify” memes also share some DNA with the internet subculture of “bimbofication,” which valorizes a vapid and surgically enhanced brand of femininity.
Most bimbofication memes are just internet jokes about gender performativity, but some hard-core devotees have taken to Reddit to document their real-life transformations, including self-hypnosis to become more “smooth-brained.”
In the same way, yassifying is funny until it’s not. It’s a joy to see Harry Potter’s Dobby or Bernie Sanders looking like a digital glam squad had gotten them ready for the red carpet. But it’s a horror to think that we’re so susceptible to this level of shallowness.
All memes have a shelf life, and yassification fatigue has already set in. On the day the YassifyBot joined Twitter, one user tweeted: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by yassification.”
It was only a matter of time before brands caught on to the trend. Last week, for instance, Amtrak promoted the “yassification” of one its trains in 2022 on TikTok, using the hashtags #Yassify, #Slay and #rupaulsdragrace.
Could it be the death knell of the yassify meme?
“If I wasn’t the one running the account, I would have already blocked the account,” Mr. Adams said. “Fully.”
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