This advertisement for the Simple Beauty Cosmetic Surgery clinic in Taipei became a meme. Photo / supplied
This advertisement for the Simple Beauty Cosmetic Surgery clinic in Taipei became a meme. Photo / supplied

How a meme ruined a model's life

YOU may recall the story of a husband suing his wife for failing to declare she had had plastic surgery after their children turned out "ugly".

The story was actually a fabrication which a Chinese tabloid attached to the above image. And it's the image Heidi Yeh says ruined her life.

Yeh was an aspiring model when she posed for the photo for a cosmetic surgery company in 2012.

She was positioned in the family portrait style shot alongside a male model and three children whose faces were photoshopped to be given unflattering features.

The caption that accompanied the advertisement read: "The only thing you'll ever have to worry about is how to explain it to the kids."

Yeh signed a contract which stated the ad would run in local newspapers and magazines. But the agency, J Walter Thompson (JWT), later allowed another plastic surgery clinic to use it on its website and Facebook page.

It didn't take long for the image to take on a life of its own with a tweak of the caption to: "Plastic surgery: You can't hide it forever."

The meme that has caused Yeh so much grief.
The meme that has caused Yeh so much grief.

A Chinese tabloid picked up the image and attached it to a fake story about a husband who sued his wife when he found out she had plastic surgery before they met.

Yeh told the BBC she first heard about it from a friend, and considered it "a one-off rumour."

"Then I realised the whole world was spreading it and in different languages. People actually thought it was real. Even my then-boyfriend's friends would ask about it."

The picture and accompanying stories appeared in Google searches in several languages including Arabic, English and Japanese.

In her tearful interview, Yeh said the meme going viral is to blame for everything that happened next: She was dumped by her embarrassed boyfriend, her career was ruined, and she has become a global laughing stock and the subject of nasty gossip.

She had previously shot TV commercials and ads for Japanese beauty products and major companies such as KFC. But the work dried up.

"People refused to believe that I had never had plastic surgery. Clients would ask me if I was the woman in the picture. After this, I only got small roles in advertisements."

Three years on, Yeh is threatening to sue the agency and cosmetic clinic. She estimates a loss of $4 million new Taiwan dollars ($NZ185,000) in potential earnings.

She says her end game is not about the money, rather the clarification that none of the stories attached to the image are true.

She also wants the companies to own up to their role in the misuse of her image.

It wasn't until she held a press conference where she made her threat to sue that the clinic and agency removed the picture from their sites.

"No one controls the internet"

JWT made a statement to the BBC saying the campaign "was created to promote plastic surgery services in a humorous manner". It also said the agency has the right to edit, modify and use the image.

But Yeh's lawyer disagreed stating while the agency had the copyright and right to edit the image, they were not at liberty to let another company use it or use it online.

JWT's response was: "As we all know, no one controls the internet... We can't anticipate what degree of an impact it will have, how people will view it, and what they will do with it."

The agency and clinic are threatening to sue Yeh in turn for damaging their images.

Yeh says she has become a victim of cyber-bullying and decided to speak out to give herself courage.