None of these people are gay icons, but all have been the subject of a new online trend that sits at the intersection of influencer and queer cultures.
The yassify (or yassification) meme involves editing photos of figures from pop culture, history, or politics to resemble glamazons with smoky eyes and fabulous hair.
The meme has been applied to everyone from current and former presidents (“Slaybraham Lincoln”) to the red light/green light killer doll from Squid Game.
Things really picked up last week when a disturbing scene from the 2018 horror film Hereditary was edited so that star Toni Collette’s face suddenly morphed from a scream into a stunning front-page model.
“It’s about ‘Yassification’ edits [people] have been doing to various people for a few weeks now,” explained one Twitter user. “This one went viral cuz of the juxtaposition of this with the emotional scene.”
Increasingly, though, the Toni Collette photos were yassified to the point of ridiculousness.
Most of the heavy lifting on Twitter this past weekend was done by @YassifyBot, an increasingly popular account that is not actually a bot, as the name suggests, but rather the work of 22-year-old Denver Adams, an art student in Nebraska.
Adams receives requests via Twitter DMs — thousands so far, they said — then gets to work using the photo editing filters in FaceApp.
The app will default to lightening skin tones, which Adams said they feel is a problematic example of underlying techno-racism, so they are careful to make sure people of color are not made to look Caucasian.
“I go in and apply all the craziest makeup and glamour edits,” Adams said. “If they’re male-presenting, I use the gender swap feature.”
If all of this sounds absurd to you by now, that’s kind of the point.
With lips plumper than a Kardashian, contouring better than Adele’s, and a complexion that has been smoothed over more than Calista Gingrich’s on FaceTune, each yassify photo looks cartoonishly ridiculous — but also strangely familiar.
We’re used to seeing women channeling this overstylized glamor on magazine covers and in Instagram influencer posts. Here, the FaceApp has just turned the volume up to 100 so the subjects now sit in a sort of social media uncanny valley.
“This app is genuinely used by people. I think there’s a conversation to be had about how unhealthy that culture is,” said Adams. “Technology like this has a creepy way of making it so uncannily realistic that it makes people uncomfortable. It’s making light of that problem.”
“The bottom line is it’s a satire of this ageist technology and insane beauty standards through these artificial intelligence apps,” they said.
But the meme’s embrace of both camp ridiculousness and vapid emptiness feels reminiscent of the ways parts of queer culture celebrate a sort-of performance of extremes, whether it be over-the-top drag, reclaimed limp wrists, or even language.
Crucially, most of the fun for the LGBTQ community involves being aware of the artifice of this performance, as well as the extent to which outsiders — from straight people to corporate brands on social media — then try to participate.
Even the word “yassify” — a derivation of the term “yaaass queen,” which has roots in 1980s ball culture but went mainstream in 2013 thanks to Broad City and a video of a Lady Gaga fan — is an example of this: something that started as slang but has since morphed into popular nonsense that many queer people would now probably never say in real life.
Think of comedian Meg Stalter’s extremely viral video from June in which she pretended to be a butter company spokesperson who was uncomfortable with queer slang. “Hi, gay!” Stalter said vacantly in a phrase that has since been embraced by the LGBTQ community. “Happy Pride month! We are sashaying away with deals!”
This concept was the subject of a viral TikTok video made last week by Jacob Gallegos, a 24-year-old gay man in Arizona, that has been viewed more than 1.2 million times.
“Hey, guy queen man bussy,” Gallegos says in the video, using a random mix of slang that seems to lose even more meaning as he jumbles it together. “Your outfit is bootsing enema-core. It’s giving fun gay slur. Don’t forget to wig for the holi-slay!”
Gallegos told BuzzFeed News that his video was inspired by some audio he had heard in which someone said, “Wow, queen, you look so vagina slay.”
“It felt like a corporation trying to communicate with a queer person,” said Gallegos, “or maybe an overly-enthusiastic ally trying to seem non-threatening, or even a white person misusing AAVE (and I think it’s important to acknowledge that many of the words the queer community uses comes from ballroom culture and black queer people).”
As Gallegos’s video makes clear, when this slang gets layered on top of one another and spoken again and again, it loses any semblance of reality — much like semantic satiation or the FaceApp filters.
“It’s just so much fun, and I think a natural part of how humor can devolve to meaningless words that are only funny because of the process it took to get there,” Gallegos said. “The yassification of language, if you will.”
Adams, the Nebraska art student behind @YassifyBot, says they hope the memes entertain people — at least for a few more weeks, as they warn they won’t be paying another $4.99 for another month of the FaceApp subscription.
Still, they hope the yassify meme, as ridiculous as it may be, ends up being a force for good.
“Sometimes everything we see isn’t necessarily the truth. Beauty looks a lot of different ways,” Adams said.
This story has been updated to include Denver Adams' thoughts on techno-racism and describe how they edit photos of people of color.