A woman who was in a Taiwanese plastic surgery ad says her life was ruined after the image went viral.
Speaking with BBC News, model Heidi Yeh spoke out about what it was like when her photo was turned into an internet joke after it was attached to a fake news story about a man suing his wife for plastic surgery.
Back in 2012, Yeh was hired to do a plastic surgery photoshoot with a handsome husband and three children who were later photoshopped to look different from their attractive parents. The tagline of the ad was, “The only thing you have to worry you about after plastic surgery is the explaining you’ll have to do to your children.”
“On the day of the photo shoot I had a rough idea of what it was about, but I was told the photo would only be used in print media and for one company,” Yeh told BBC, according to their translator. “I didn’t know that it would be used so widely on the internet and there would be so many made up stories about it.”
The ad went viral on Chinese news websites like Rocket News 24 for its tongue-in-cheek humour.
Apparently, the parents in the ad have had plastic surgery, and not surprisingly, they both look extremely attractive,” the Rocket News 24 reporter wrote [emphasis ours]. “But alas, plastic surgery, of course, does not change your genes.”
The insinuation that Yeh herself had received plastic surgery — instead of merely being a model in the ad — was then overblown to coincide with a fake, viral news story about a man suing his wife for deceit.
The hoax dates all the way to 2004, according to the myth-debunking website Snopes, when the Heilongjiang Morning Post published a story that claimed a Chinese man named Jian Feng had sued his wife successfully for bearing him ugly children.
After Yeh’s plastic surgery ad came out, suddenly the old story had new life. In 2013, the Irish Examiner, MSN, and other news outlets all ran with the story. Though there were multiple images attached to the hoax, one of them was Yeh’s plastic surgery ad.
“I thought it was rumours,” Yeh told BBC when a friend told her that her picture was going viral. “Then I realised that the whole world was spreading the story and in different languages. People actually believed it and thought it was happening to me.”
Yeh’s photo soon became an internet meme. Her family, as well as her fiancé’s family, began to ask her if she had ever had plastic surgery.
Yeh told the BBC since the photo went viral, she’s had trouble getting modelling work after previously working on big campaigns like KFC and appearing in music videos. She also said she has had trouble sleeping and and often breaks down crying.
“I keep thinking, why is this happening to me,” she told BBC. “I decided to speak out because I wanted to give myself some courage to deal with this problem.”
Yeh is now suing the ad agency J. Walter Thompson (JWT) for misuse of the photo, according to Shanhaist. She claimed the contract stated the original ad was only meant to run in print, but another cosmetic clinic began using the image in online ad campaigns.
She’s asking for 5 million NTD, or roughly $US154,000, in compensation, according to Shanghaist. JWT is countersuing for “untrue allegations.”
“I can’t bear to look at the picture,” Yeh told BBC. “I hope it will not appear anymore.”