Fish Lens: As Southeast Asian, I don’t expect Korea’s Snow AI to conform to my beauty standards

But it leaves you with a warped perception of yourself.

Fasiha Nazren |
June 22, 2023, 11:18 am

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Fish Lens is where we magnify issues and put them up for discussion. Basically op-eds, but with a fancy name.

I’m chronically online, but every new revolutionary TikTok or Instagram filter still keeps me in awe.

One that recently blew the minds of everybody on the internet is the Korean AI profile picture generator on the Snow app.

What’s Snow?

Snow is a South Korean multimedia app that features virtual stickers using augmented reality (AR) and photographic filters. Think of it as an app just with cute and beautifying TikTok/Instagram filters.

The app’s latest feature is the AI profile picture generator.

What it does, essentially, is generate LinkedIn-worthy, studio-quality photos without the hassle of putting on makeup, styling your hair or actually stepping into a photo studio.

The time taken for the photos to process depends on the different packages.

  • Standard: 30 profile images that will be ready in 24 hours
  • Express: 30 profile images that will be ready in an hour

All you have to do is upload 10 to 20 selfies of yourself so that the AI can create 30 profile shots, all for a grand total of S$7.

Since Snow’s AI Profile went viral, the packages have sold out several times due to the overwhelming demand.

The app mentioned that AI Profile function is a paid service as AI profiles “cost a lot of money”, but hopes to provide it as a “reasonable service”.

It sounds too good to be true…

… because it probably is.

You see, beauty filters tend to conform to certain beauty standards.

Take the “Bold Glamour” filter on TikTok, for example.

The filter is so seamless, putting your hand over your face with the filter on does not distort the face-tuned features at all.

But while it looks naturally great on most European-featured faces…

@tracy_new21 These filters are getting crazy so guys watch out! All in good fun but girls remember to love yourselves too. #fyp #ttbantergroup #boldglamourfilter #filterscam #over40 #over50 #over50club #over50women #over50ontiktok #geordie #geordieaccent #allingoodfun ♬ som original – Traduções Fodas

It makes me, a Southeast Asian person look, well, like this.

This should be renamed the Handsome Squidward filter.

It made me feel slightly better to see other Asian TikTok users echoing similar sentiments—that they look neither bold nor glamorous with the “Bold Glamour” filter on.

@booksbystefany I have yet to see an Asian who looks good with that Bold Glamour filter. By good, I mean they still look like themselves and not like an unrecognizable cartoon. #asiangirl #wasian #boldglamour #jellyfilter #asiancheck ♬ Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2 – PinkPantheress & Ice Spice

@katchaomeow #stitch with @ivy_joi i look like an asian james charles. this filter is not for asian ppl lol #boldglamourfiltermakeup ♬ original sound – Kat

The filter favours Western beauty ideals, which lauds having a small nose, large eyes, arched eyebrows, thick lips, and high cheekbones.

And that’s why, unfortunately, the filter doesn’t bode well on someone like me who has primarily Southeast Asian features.

Am I surprised? Not really.

You see, I personally think you shouldn’t have high hopes for such superficial things.

Low expectations, less disappointments

Ok yeah, Snow’s AI Profile is ~aDvAnCeD~ and ~rEvOlUtIoNaRy~, I’ll give it that.

But I wasn’t keen to try it, especially after seeing how tragic the Bold Glamour filter turned out for me.

For research purposes (read: curiosity just got the better of me), however, I spent S$7 to find out if it’d do my face justice.

This is what I usually look like (after spending 15 minutes on make-up):

And here’s the (entirely made-up) Korean characters the Snow app morphed me into:

Kim Se-ha, a budding actress whose biggest role is Zombie #3847362 in Train to Busan.

Choi Min-ha, a musical actress formerly from a popular K-pop group.

Lee Hwa-sa, a Samsung office worker. She orders iced americano every morning before going to work.

Shin Seul-ha, a classical music major who recently auditioned for Singles Inferno 3.

Kim Byul-lee, a star lawyer who’s about to own Woo Young-woo in court.

AI Profile was created by a company in South Korea, a country which has its own set of beauty standards.

And especially since it’s a monoethnic country, I’m not expecting their AI database to be diverse.

So of course, the paid service is going to make me have wispier eyebrows, a smaller nose and fairer skin.

Am I offended by it? Not really, since I did it for fun…

… and so did these people:


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A post shared by JJ Lin (@jjlin)

@xixilim #stitch with @noturbabe THE PROBLEM IS MY FACE 😩🥺 #fyp ♬ original sound – Xi Xi

@thejianhaotan Thats enough ai for awhile #snowaiprofile #snowai ♬ girls like me don’t cry (sped up) – thuy

Honestly, the true crime here is me paying S$7 for it when there are probably other apps that provide this service for free. Tsk.

Does augmented reality make beauty standards even higher?

All jokes aside, while the advancement in technology is fascinating, it could also be a growing cause for concern.

To put it simply, AI works by taking in large amounts of data made by humans, and using it to produce desired outcomes. In the case of Snow’s AI Profile, it uses its database to produce the most presentable profile pictures.

Evidently, from the pictures that I received, what’s perceived as “presentable” or “pleasant-looking” by the AI varies drastically from my unfiltered, original self.

Unfortunately, this could inadvertently set higher beauty standards, especially for adolescents.

According to a report by MIT Technology Review, a researcher who studied the behaviour of preteens on social media noticed that while young boys used filters and augmented reality for comical effect, girls used it to beautify themselves.

“[The girls] were all saying things like, ‘I put this filter on because I have flawless skin. It takes away my scars and spots.’ And these were children of 10 and 11.”

I’m a fully grown adult who, at most times, is confident in her own skin.

Yet, I won’t deny that seeing the 30 AI-processed photos of me (and yet, not me) did make me question for a minute if that’s what I should look like.

A cause for concern?

Face-altering functions like AI profiles and beauty filters are commonplace online.

Funnily enough, we’re also living in the same era that encourages self-love and body positivity, buzzwords that are all the rage on the internet.

And perhaps it’s not just AI or augmented reality that should be blamed for narrowing beauty standards.

To a certain extent, beauty influencers (especially those who put on blurring filters when filming close-ups, we see you) and social media—what with the normalisation of things like photoshop and plastic surgery—play a part in enforcing such pressures as well.

It’s hard with all the mindless scrolling, but we should probably be a little more mindful of what we’re consuming online, and make a conscious effort to recognise that almost everything is filtered—literally or otherwise.

Top image by Fasiha Nazren.

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