Restyle app used to make you look like Barbie doll ‘whitewashing’ people of colour

Getty/Restyle app
Users discover issue with Restyle app’s AI algorithm that sees people of colour whitewashed.

An app cashing in on the current Barbie-mania has been branded as contributing to “a system that tells you it’s wrong” to love yourself after it was discovered to be turning the faces of people of colour, white.

In the midst of Barbie-mania, the ‘Restyle’ app offers a feature promising to turn a picture of the user into a ‘doll’ version. Barbie and doll-makers Mattel are in no way associated with the app, however, the images closely resemble the lead characters of Barbie and Ken from the hit Greta Gerwig movie.

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Despite the app’s promises though, when NationalWorld attempted to see what some celebrities and politicians might look like in doll form, the AI technology threw up some disturbing results. Famous faces such as Beyonce, Barack Obama and Rishi Sunak all came out with white skin, blue eyes and blonde hair.

The results were particularly disappointing when the film, which hit £700 million at the box office a day sooner than expected, cast a person of colour - actress, writer, and producer Issa Rae - as President Barbie. Mattel has also made strides in diversifying their range in recent years which makes the app’s lack of representation even more surprising.

Getty/Restyle App

As the app continues to grow in popularity, concern over what message this is sending to adults and children using the product has risen. Mazzy Dee, intersectional activist educator, said: “This app shows an underlying problem that still hasn’t been tackled which is biases that ai Models and algorithms hold even in apps such as this.

They added: “In this case people with melanin have been whitewashed even though the journey to love the melanin in your skin can be a challenge in a system that tells you it’s wrong (in the UK different studies have come out showing how racism affects daily life in education, the medical field, policing and more). This can leave lasting effects especially on younger people of the global majority that something is wrong with their skin instead of how something was programmed. This barbie says "It’s time these apps start representing every shade, every vibe, and beautiful melanin too.””

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Speaking to NationalWorld, a spokesperson for the Restyle app said they felt "frustration" at the results generated when using the app calling it "a huge disappointment for us as a product owner".

They said: "Restyle is a new AI generation tool that still requires improvements to consistently adhere to universal ethical standards of the technology.

"The ‘Doll’ feature, like all aspects of the app, uses open-source and AI algorithms to create artistic renditions of input images. Its purpose is to transform images in a stylized manner and not to discriminate, marginalise, or promote a specific skin tone.

"We take feedback seriously and recognize that the output may unintentionally lead to the whitewashing of people of colour. This was not the intended consequence of the application’s design. We treat this case as a personal challenge and are working diligently to adjust the AI algorithm to reflect a more accurate and respectful representation of all skin tones."

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