A model has gone viral for her experience of AI white-washing
With artificial intelligence on the rise, its use in the fashion world raises new moral dilemmas.
Shereen Wu is a burgeoning runway model from the US. She’s also a burgeoning influencer, sharing her career and lifestyle with several thousands of followers.
But it’s not her content creation or modelling skills that have recently thrust Wu into the limelight.
After sharing a recent incident involving designer Michael Costello, Wu has gone viral on Instagram and TikTok, and highlighted the complex issues that arise when AI, fashion, and racism cross paths.
Michael Costello gained notoriety as a designer after appearing on Project Runway, and has since amassed a huge following on social media and beyond. A-list clients and controversial business practices seem to be his bread-and-butter.
Now, Wu has publicly called Costello out for editing her appearance during a recent fashion show. The model proudly shared a photo of herself on the runway with followers, along with a vlog of her experience working with the designer.
The problem was, Costello had shared the same image of Wu…with an entirely different face.
‘That’s not me who [Costello] posted on his story’ Shereen told her followers, pointing to the photo in question.
In place of Wu, Costello had shared the highly airbrushed face of a Caucasian woman photoshopped onto the former’s body.
‘Michael’s a big designer with 1.7 million followers. Editing my face and removing my race is completely disrespectful’.
As an Asian-American woman, Wu’s edited photo raises concerns around whitewashing and racism. Whether Costello created the image himself or not, its existence is undoubtedly problematic.
Wu went on to share screenshots of a conversation she had with Costello on social media, where the designer ‘essentially…blamed the photographer’.
But Shereen didn’t stop there. After approaching the photographer, Wu confirmed he hadn’t edited the image. Rather Costello had sent and deleted numerous messages between the two, implying foul play.
‘I understand as a model, I am replaceable’ Wu told her followers. ‘But I don’t get paid to do these shows.’
Many are calling out Costello for exploiting a young model who is ultimately working for free in exchange for exposure. And models certainly won’t get exposure without their own face.
The designer reportedly told Wu that she was never meant to walk in his show, but was called on at the last minute when another model dropped out and Wu fit into the dress. He also informed her that the photo was ‘likely edited’ or was A.I generated, something he had ‘no control’ over.
Costello went on to share images from random AI fashion accounts on his story, which Wu deemed an attempt to undermine her.
‘He then posted AI [accounts and artwork] as if to imply that everyone’s doing this, so I shouldn’t be angry’, Wu said.
Costello has since taken down the edited image of Wu, but hasn’t issued an apology.
Despite facing backlash from the designer — including having her account temporarily suspended after sharing her truth — Wu is using her TikTok to unearth previous controversies involving Costello and his team.
One such incident occurred in 2021, after Costello shared screenshots implying Chrissy Teigen was bullying him on Twitter.
Despite claiming that Teigen’s alleged bullying had caused him to have ‘suicidal thoughts’, Teigan said the DMs between herself and Costello were fake and threatened to take legal action.
After the Crissy Teigan scandal, models and designers of colours were inspired to come forward with claims that Costello had in fact bullied them.
Designer Maxie James also took to Instagram to show screenshots of Michael allegedly calling one of her fans the N-word.
Costello’s decision to use AI as a scapegoat is also problematic.
Despite strides towards inclusivity and diversity, instances like these expose the deep-seated biases that still persist within the industry, and in many cases AI is only making it worse.
As technology becomes more ingrained in the creative process, there is a growing risk that AI algorithms may inadvertently contribute to discriminatory practices.
The use of AI in image editing and modelling could potentially reinforce existing beauty standards, further marginalising individuals who do not fit within these narrow parameters.
Wu’s experience highlights an ongoing issue in the fashion world, one of whitewashing and racism, that is only becoming more complex as our creative platforms shift and change.
By sharing her story, an experience she’s said was ‘terrifying’, Wu has opened the floor to discussion. The moral questions surrounding AI may be impossible to answer, but we need to start asking them.