With TikTok becoming increasingly popular in people’s daily life, such global prevalence of applications that focus on instant short video feeds indicates that people’s quest for a flawless face no longer stops at still images. In response to this latest change in demand, Lightricks, the startup of Facetune 2 (a suite of popular photo editing application), launched Facetune Video in July of this year, turning retouching faces in videos into possibility. Now, the new app is unwittingly changing the social media game even further. This, however, may run counter to beauty activism that is in full swing at the moment.
Moving video is on-trend
Normally, for the majority of video editors in today’s application market, they are devoted to providing diverse colorful presets or AR face filters and effects to make the entire screen look more interesting (Brown). Nonetheless, by using a set of AI-powered tools, this particular new app’s exclusive retouching algorithm mimics some similar functions that users can experience with the original Facetune, allowing them to beautify their dynamic face features in detail. More specifically, apart from providing regular video editing tools such as adjusting brightness, contrast etc., Facetune Video also enables users to conduct some more subtle facial adjustments such as skin smoothing, teeth whitening, and facial shaping to present a more ideal image in motion. To some extent, Facetune Video combines facial feature detection with 3D facial modeling AI, and its deep neural network leverages facial feature detection and geometric analysis to ensure that every part of the user’s face is captured and retouched (Team Facetune).
Beauty activism in full swing
At the same time, beauty activism, especially for the heightened presence of body and face positivity movement, is constantly challenging the rules of the conventional game in the social media platforms in recent years. In detail, body and face positivity advocate people to confront normative narrative of the unrealistic beauty standards and encourage to embrace the society-fueled perceived “flaws” upon people in order to gain more self love (Cwynar-Horta 1; Doyle). These lead the composition of “beauty” in the online discursive community to become more inspiring and inclusive, towards a positive and non-discriminatory way to appreciating and celebrating women of all ages, sizes and supposedly flawed physical characteristics (e.g., obesity, acne, freckles, etc.). Whereas, the widespread download action of Facetune Video may further dilute the discursive power of such activism in contemporary society.
Entrenched in the interface: consolidating the hegemonic aesthetic values
On social media platforms, holding an identical consensus towards beauty contributes to acquiring a sense of belonging to the online community for netizens, and an individual image presenting with more mainstream-identified “beautiful” features is undoubtedly beneficial for it (Opitz). As technology is inherently not neutral and should be studied with the social and economic systems it embedded in (Sally). In this case, apps with the retouching features conduce to alter users’ appearance in accordance to the prevailing aesthetic values, which correspondingly reinforces the dependency of a greater number of users on such apps as well as further intensifies their confirmed consciousness toward beauty. For instance, Facetune Video’s implication of a dominant aesthetic standard is also reflected in its introductory video available in the App Store, which shows that several videos of females with conventional “facial imperfection” are in turn using the Smooth, Eyes, and Whiten features in the app’s interface in order to cover up freckles, enlarge eyes, and whiten teeth. In short, all of the facial adjustments in the video end with a ultimate look that is more in line with mainstream stereotypical aesthetic standard. This indicates that the functions set up in the Facetune Video convey an established as well as stereotypical ideals of beauty, which may subconsciously unify users’ perception of a good-looking appearance.
At first, such stereotypical perception of beauty was solely reflected in the static images in social media, where a large number of netizens resorted to various photo editing apps to make themselves look more perfect so as to gain more appreciation from others (e.g., in the form of receiving more likes or accumulating more followers). Usually, people are unable to distinguish between an unprocessed image and a retouched one. Consequently, the rationalized and frequent use of those apps, or maybe “digital version of plastic surgery”, could forge to deepen the perceptual stereotype of beauty and unrealistic body expectations (Tait). In this period, video was at least recognized as a relatively realistic platform for personal presentation considering the absence of video editing apps for retouching faces. The immaturity of such technology calms netizens down somewhat in their frenzied pursuit of the perfect personal impression online. This is considered to be more conducive to enhance the inclusiveness of beauty as well as promote related beauty activism. Since through videos, audience is able to capture the glowing look of the filmed subject that cannot be conveyed in static photographs. Thus, even though it is difficult to cover up those so-called imperfection in a person’s face in moving images, this still cannot stop viewers from generating the idea that “this is beautiful” regardless of the existence those stereotypical facial flaws. Nevertheless, the release of Facetune Video extends its face retouching function to the video field, which therefore extends the negative effect on beauty activism just like the photo editing apps used to do. This particular video editor allows users to adjust their facial features in align with the mass aesthetic, so that now, as with photos, people can acquire the same sense of satisfaction and belonging when posting refined selfie videos on short-video-based social media platforms exemplified in TikTok.
More Exposure, Greater Engagement
On the one hand, the emergence of such video-editing applications has further blurred the boundaries between virtual digital world and the reality, and the extension of facial retouching features into the video realm may reinforce users’ misconceptions about normative appearance, which may consequently place a negative effect on beauty activism. However, on the other hand, noticeably, there is a growing number of anti-filter movements in full swing on social media platforms like TikTok, indicating that Facetune Video’s perpetuation of unrealistic beauty standards is not unstoppable. To some extent, the rapid popularity of such video retouching applications has also amplified the controversial issues behind them, thus entering the public domain more frequently, which is conducive to attracting the attention of more scholars, technologists, and activists to engage in more in-depth discussions.
Figure 1: https://www.facetuneapp.com/can-you-facetune-your-videos/
Brown, Dalvin. “Retouch Your Looks Using New Facetune Video App.” USA today (Arlington, Va.) 30 July 2020: 04–. Print.
Cwynar-Horta, Jessica Cristina. “Documenting Femininity: Body-Positivity and Female Empowerment on Instagram.” YorkSpace Home, 25 Nov. 2016, yorkspace.library.yorku.ca/xmlui/handle/10315/32785.
Doyle, Annie Walton. “Face Positivity: Just As Important As Body Positivity?” Ravishly, 22 Aug. 2017, ravishly.com/face-positivity-just-important-body-positivity.
Opitz, Sophie-Charlotte. “Beauty Filters – When Beauty Is Standardised.” Beauty Filters – When Beauty Is Standardised – From Print to Pixel, From Print to Pixel, 25 May 2020, www.fromprinttopixel.ch/en/my-networked-images/beauty-filter.
Tait, Amelia. “The Facetune App Enables Us to Distort Our Selfies. Harmless Fun or the Sign of a Sick, Narcissistic Society?” New statesman (1996) 147.5413 (2018): 37–. Print.
Team Facetune. “Facetune Video? You Wanted It, You Got It!” Facetune2, 28 July 2020, www.facetuneapp.com/facetune-video-exclusive-q-and-a/.
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