Internet famous isn’t always all its cracked up to be, especially when it’s not by choice
For one young Taiwanese model, Heidi Yeh, the craze resulting from an ad she participated in nearly ruined her life and torpedoed her career
In 2012, Heidi went in for a job to pose as the mother of a family as part of an ad for a cosmetic surgery clinic. A male model playing the role of the father, along with three child models who posed as her children. However, the agency distributing the image, J Walter Thompson, allowed a second clinic, Simple Beauty, to also use the original image without Heidi’s approval or consultation.
It’s here that the now infamous image was born. The add has been described as funny; personally, I find it offensive as it implicitly implies some sort of features are ugly.
Apparently, the second agency changed the ad.
In the re-worked version of the ad (featured below), the three child models had their features photo-shopped into unattractive caricatures of themselves. And the ad’s tagline translates into “The only thing you’ll have to worry about is how to explain it to the kids.”
So, as I previously mentioned, it’s an offensive ad that was meant to be funny.
Now, unrelated to the ad, also in around 2012, a story about a Chinese man who had sued his beautiful wife when he discovered she had plastic surgery after their children were born with her original features, started to make its way around the internet. This rumor dates all the way back to 2004. Eventually, the reworked plastic surgery ad Heidi participated in was tagged to the story as the latter went viral.
And a lot of people simply went with it. They didn’t question whether Heidi was the woman in question from the news article or if the children in the picture were her children; they just assumed she was the wife in question. Meanwhile, the story, which is crazy in that way the internet has come to love, gained more and more traction online, transcending language barriers and time zones.
Suddenly, it-and, by extension, Heidi herself-became a meme.
There’s a stigma against plastic surgery, especially for women. Even though typically Eastern cultures are more openly accepting of doing so than Western cultures, Heidi still experienced the fall-out of being accused as “fake”.
She was publicly identified online as being the “ugly mother” from the aforementioned story as well. Clients repeatedly asked her if she had plastic surgery and, as a result, refused to book her.
Now, Heidi also began to be bombarded by friends who wanted to know if she ever had plastic surgery. Her finance’s family also began to question her. At the same time, news publications like MSN and The Irish Examiner all ran with the story.
We can wax philosophic about a woman’s right to do what she wants with her own body and the odd double standard that emerges when women are often damned for not being beautiful enough yet punished when they get plastic surgery to fix perceived shortcomings.
But those lofty philosophical ideals don’t fit into the impact that this rumor had on Heidi’s life. In short, her life was shattered because that image of her was hijacked and the fallout was extreme.
In 2015, she announced her intentions to sue the ad company for distributing the ad without her permission. The amount she was asking for was under $200,000-definitely not pocket change-but a very fair amount considering how her life and her livelihood was impacted.
All, in all, this story was is a tragedy of errors. Heidi didn’t deserve the vitriol she received and the second ad, while tongue in check, was also offensive and shouldn’t have been published without her sign off. Nobody, including the major news corporations who covered the urban legend of the man suing his made-over wife, seemed to fact check to image or cared that it wasn’t fact checked.
The result is clear: Internet fame just isn’t necessarily worth it, especially when it isn’t something you were originally searching for.