Taiwanese Model Says Dumb Plastic Surgery Meme Ruined Her Life

You know that urban legend about the Chinese woman who got sued by her husband for fraud after their kids’ appearance clued him into the fact that she’d “lied” to him about whether or not she’d had plastic surgery? It’s been going around since at least 2004.

How about the widely reblogged meme with the picture of “attractive” parents and “ugly” kids that takes pleasure in unmasking the “dishonesty” of surgically altering your appearance?

As it turns out, those beloved bits of internet-alia are both tied to a 2012 plastic surgery ad, one that’s been haunting its leading lady ever since.

In a recent interview with the BBC, Taiwanese model Heidi Yeh opened up about the truth behind the photo and the havoc it’s wreaked on her life. When Yeh first agreed to appear in the image (caption: “the only thing you’ll ever have to worry about is how to explain it to the kids”), she knew its premise, but thought its nastiness would be contained to a single print ad:

“At the time of the photoshoot, I had a rough idea of what it was about, but I was told that it would only be used in print media and for one company,” she explained. “I didn’t know it would be used so widely on the internet and there would be so many made up stories about it.”

She says the children were Photoshopped to make their eyes look smaller and their noses flatter. (In Taiwan, large eyes, pale skin and narrow, defined noses are seen as the ideal.)

According to Yeh, the ad agency went back on their agreement and let multiple companies use the ad, one of which posted it to Facebook. Stripped of its original context, the photo became widely disseminated, picked up by blogs in other languages, and even associated with the aforementioned urban legend that had been floating around since the early 2000s.

Yeh says this ruined her modeling career and has even given her trouble in her personal life:

“People actually believed it and thought this had happened to me. Even my relatives and fiance’s family have asked me about it.

This has totally affected my work. People refuse to believe that I have never had plastic surgery…because of what has happened, I haven’t been able to sleep well and I’ve broken down many times crying. I keep thinking, why is this happening to me?”

She also worries what will happen when the children in the photo see themselves in the meme:

“The children may not use social media now, but it will hurt them when they grow up.”

I find it bitterly ironic that the same society that prizes looks above all else would punish a woman for having (real or perceived) plastic surgery to better her life within that society. And that the same system that paid Yeh to pretend to have had plastic surgery would punish her for being too convincing in her role. In both eastern and western culture, women are set up for criticism no matter what we do.

Then again: If she was really that concerned about the children, perhaps she might have thought twice about appearing in an ad she knew was going to be fairly cruel? And if she was really concerned about people thinking she’d had plastic surgery, perhaps she shouldn’t have modeled for, um, a plastic surgery ad? And what about all the women who have had plastic surgery? Would it be okay for people to pick on her like this if she’d been born “ugly”? I mean, if some asshole calls a gentile a “dirty kike,” the correct response is not “actually, I’m not Jewish.”

It seems Yeh was benefitting from membership in that lucky group known as “women who were born conventionally beautiful,” one that receives a ton of privilege as a dubious gift from the patriarchy, at the expense of everyone else. Maybe instead of mourning her newfound exclusion from said group, Yeh should expand her critique a bit further and realize it’s all bullshit to begin with.


Taiwanese Model Says Dumb Plastic Surgery Meme Ruined Her Life

2 replies on “Taiwanese Model Says Dumb Plastic Surgery Meme Ruined Her Life”

Yes, she was benefiting from her membership of the beautiful people, and I can quite believe it has has some very adverse side effects. perhaps instead of howling she should think about advocacy? She has been cut by the double edged sword, one I suspect she never really thought about until it happened to her, and I do quite genuinely feel sympathy for her- after all, she was just doing a job. She could now though do some good…

She was ignorant and demeaning, but she just regrets being looked upon badly.

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