Caught Off Guard
They were always getting likes on their pictures. Friends and family and even some strangers would always leave a comment. They were popular. But one picture was different. It became a massive hit overnight and wasn’t just seen by their close friends. Magazine and news websites picked up their pictures to share them with the world. What was so special about this photo? Why was everyone talking about it?
Then, when they checked the comments, it all made sense.
But Wendy Joseph and Dan Hennessey weren’t always such big Internet stars. In fact, they remember a time when social media was barely a blip on anyone’s radar. Funnily enough, though, it played a big part in how their love and success story got started.
It all began in 2006 when both of them were young college students. They didn’t know each other, but they were about to cross paths in the most unusual of ways.
Dan was an 18-year-old sophomore studying Exercise Science. Wendy, at the time only 17 years old, had just graduated from high school and wanted to pursue a career in public healthcare. Dan was an outgoing kid who loved partying and meeting new people, and it didn’t take long for him to learn about Facebook.
At the time, the social network was in its infancy and only used by college students — mainly for dating. He immediately took a liking to the site.
Dan used Facebook to meet new people and expand his circle of friends. One day, he came upon a girl named Daphne, with whom he had mutual friends. He sent her a message, but she didn’t reply. Undeterred, he started going through her friends’ list. That’s when he saw Wendy’s profile.
Smitten with her photos, he messaged her too. But, at the time, Wendy was wary of strangers on the Internet. Instead of replying, she told her friend Daphne about it — who had some things to say about Dan.
Persistence Is Key
Daphne told Wendy that Dan had messaged her too, so Wendy decided she wasn’t going to reply to him. Weeks went by, and he reached out again. Intrigued, she went on his profile and discovered he knew people she went to high school with. So she messaged back, and an online friendship was born.
But Dan wanted to meet Wendy in person, so he invited her and her friends to a party at his apartment. There was only one problem…
Dan hadn’t actually planned a party because he didn’t think Wendy would accept his invitation. When she did, he scrambled to notify his friends and put everything together — and he pulled it off. The night of the party arrived, and the pair hit it off instantly. They chatted, drank, and danced together all night. When all the guests were gone, Wendy was still there hanging out with Dan.
There was obvious chemistry between the two… but that didn’t mean things would work out.
Wendy had just come out of a long-term relationship and Dan was really enjoying his party lifestyle, so they decided to stay friends. They became really close, and six months later they realized they were ready to try things out as a couple.
But they had no idea that trouble was looming down the road.
Doubts Creep In
With her love life blossoming, or so she thought, Wendy began to focus her attention on other areas of her life. She threw herself into her studies while Dan continued to socialize and party with friends.
By now years had gone by, but she was still no closer to getting her Master’s degree. That’s when she saw the message in Dan’s inbox that made her head spin.
What had started as a small seed of doubt in Wendy’s mind only grew the longer they were together. With Dan’s Facebook profile still active, Wendy watched his ever-growing friends list with suspicion in her heart. Shortly after she began declining invitations because she had to study, he began going out without her.
It was becoming very clear that although he had matured, Dan still loved to party.
The message seemed innocent enough, but as the day wore on, Wendy felt herself becoming consumed by it. Dan had forgotten to log out of his Facebook account and had left his inbox open. Wendy was going over her coursework when she saw the notification come through.
She hesitated, but soon her curiosity got the better of her. Her heart sank when she saw it was from one of Dan’s many female friends.
She Couldn’t Help Herself
Wendy couldn’t help herself. She found herself going through all of Dan’s messages. Although she couldn’t find any incriminating evidence against him, she did find a lot of messages from other women. To make matters worse, they were all successful, young, and had finished their studies.
She felt like a failure. And it wasn’t long before her fears seeped into every aspect of her life.
A Little Voice
What could Wendy do? She felt like her relationship was spiraling beyond her control. Everyday bickers quickly became giant arguments, fuelled by Wendy’s insecurities and Dan’s refusal to compromise. What if he met someone new?
Then, a little voice inside her asked: what if he already had?
The Photograph Explodes
Fast-forward to the present – and the notorious photograph. Wendy’s eyes widened as the “likes” crept past the 60,000 mark. Comments flooded in as the photo was shared thousands of times.
Friends, family, and the general public were determined to have their say. But why had this photograph that Wendy had posted sparked worldwide controversy?
The Right Decision
When Wendy decided to break it off with Dan all those years ago, it had seemed like the logical choice at the time. They had been so young when they had met. She knew that she had changed a lot in those seven years.
Looking at the photograph again, she was sure that it had been the best decision she’d ever made.
Breaking It Off
Even though it had broken her heart to think of a life without Dan, she knew she had to put her head down and pursue her own interests. She needed to find out what kind of woman she could become.
She went on to eventually receive her Master’s Degree in Public Administration. But staying away from Dan had proved harder than she had imagined.
Never Giving Up
Dan hadn’t been happy with Wendy’s decision. He wasn’t ready to give up the love of his life. He messaged her every day for the entire year and a half that they were separated.
Just like in the beginning, he hoped that his persistence would pay off. But Wendy had finally found her calling.
Though it was a difficult time, Dan eventually realized that Wendy was right. Wendy started her YouTube channel, Wendy’s Curls, where she posted beauty tutorials and gave hairstyling advice. She shrugged off her old look and began to embrace her own natural beauty, and her followers loved it.
But then, fate decided to intervene in her life once more.
Rekindling Their Feelings
One day, the couple bumped into each other again after months of not seeing one another. Dan was amazed at the transformation that Wendy had made.
The strong, confident woman he saw before him made him fall in love with her all over again. But would she take him back? Wendy had her reservations.
A Difficult Time
Wendy had decided to break up with Dan so they could each find themselves and discover who they were as individuals. Though it was a difficult time, she knew it had been the right thing to do.
During that time spent alone, Wendy had become a YouTube star with thousands of followers, and she had her confidence back.
Had He Changed?
Had Dan changed in such a short time? Wendy thought so. He’d been relentless in trying to convince her that they were meant to be together, and he hadn’t dated anybody else during the time they had been apart. He’d proved that he was in it for the long haul, so she decided to give him another chance.
Little did she know, their antics were about to go viral.
Life In The Spotlight
Dan started appearing in Wendy’s videos and they discovered that fans really liked seeing them together. So they began posting videos giving relationship advice and talking about their life as a couple. Dan also created an Instagram account, which quickly amassed over 25,000 followers — although not nearly as many as Wendy’s 105,000. Then, in December 2017, they celebrated their 10th anniversary.
But they had no idea this milestone would become a viral sensation.
To mark the occasion of their 10th anniversary, Wendy posted a side-by-side picture on her Instagram page. On the left was a picture of them when they first started dating, on the right was a current photo. Though it may seem like a normal thing to do, the post exploded. In a matter of weeks, it got over 60,000 likes.
It got picked up by major news outlets like The Independent, The Sun, and The Daily Mail. But why had this photo gone so viral?
The Picture Of Youth
Seeing the photos side by side, people couldn’t believe how different Wendy and Dan looked — especially since they appeared much younger now than ten years ago. “Do you both age in reverse?” asked one commenter. “What fountain of youth are you drinking from?” said another. But, it turns out, there’s a reason for such transformation.
They go on to explain exactly how they managed to become so healthy and happy…
Even before they met, both Wendy and Dan had a strong interest in health and fitness, which was reflected in their choice of careers. So it’s no surprise that both of them worked hard on their bodies. When Wendy’s YouTube channel hit it big, they realized going into the fitness space was a natural progression for them.
They started posting workout tutorials and nutrition advice. But they had a vision that was bigger than a YouTube channel.
Making It Into A Business
Together, Dan and Wendy founded True4You Fitness, a fitness coaching company where they give nutrition and exercise advice to their clients.
They also opened a wellness-focused YouTube channel, though once in a while they also talk about their life and relationship. And, in September 2016, they made a huge announcement.
In September 2016, Wendy and Dan were on holiday in Paris with a couple of friends. But, the day they visited the Eiffel Tower, Dan had a surprise prepared for Wendy.
With his friend recording everything, he got down on one knee, pulled out a diamond ring and asked Wendy to marry him!
The Next Phase In Their Lives
Naturally, Wendy said yes. She was so excited that she even forgot which hand the ring should go on. It was like a fairy tale. But the couple’s life was about to become even more magical. After their trip to Paris and their engagement, Wendy and Dan were not done traveling and living their dream life.
They were able to save enough money to do something they’d always wanted: travel abroad for months at a time.
Dan and Wendy managed to earn enough money from their fitness venture to travel to Thailand, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and many other places. After returning to the U.S., they went on a domestic trip to Las Vegas and are now busy planning their wedding.
But what else does this power-couple have planned?
A Big Move
Although both Dan and Wendy are originally from New Jersey, they decided to move to the warmer climate of San Diego, California. With the stunning weather, sun, and surf, this could be the perfect place for the couple to settle down.
What else does this mesmerizing pair have on the cards?
Strength To Strength
The couple’s Instagram and YouTube fitness pages have grown from strength to strength, recently branching out to include a website. Their main goal is to help people from all over the globe reach their fitness goals and transform their lives — just as they did! After all, the couple who trains together stays together.
Wendy and Dan’s story of love and success seems like a dream come true from the outside. But sometimes, if someone’s life appears to be too good to be true on social media, it probably is…
She took a closer look at the photo. Now that it was pointed out to her, she couldn’t believe it. She had been deceived for over a month, and she couldn’t fathom what they were telling her.
But why would her daughter do this? And then the truth of it all sank in.
Zilla van den Born from the Netherlands had entered the world of modeling at the tender age of 16, and soon, she was enamored by the way her photographs were manipulated to portray her in a different light.
The photo editors would work tirelessly to ensure that her shoots were picture-perfect, but she didn’t always agree with their modifications.
Zilla was 25 years old when she decided to pursue a career in the arts, and she enrolled at the Art Academy of Utrecht for a graphic design course. Her friends and family were aware of her dreams to travel the world one day, so they were unsurprised when she announced a solo 5-week trip to South-East Asia.
Little did they know, Zilla’s photographs of her trip were about to stir major controversy.
Laden with her heavy luggage, Zilla arrived at the airport in April 2014 and promptly posted a photograph of her sendoff on Facebook. Soon, comments flooded in — all her friends and followers were awed and a little envious that the young girl was about to set off on the adventure of a lifetime.
But nobody could have dreamed what was really going on in Zilla’s life.
Zilla continued to post photographs of her adventures in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia over the next 5 weeks. She posted snapshots of herself posing in the sapphire blue waters of Asia’s idyllic beaches, silhouetted against the iconic skyline of Bangkok, as well as enjoying the local cuisine.
She had no idea how much backlash she would receive for these seemingly innocent photographs later on.
Land Of Smiles
Zilla added photograph after photograph on social media, to the envy of her hundreds of Facebook friends. In one album, titled “Thailand, the land of smiles,” she even poses with a Buddhist monk in the beautiful temples of Bangkok.
Her rabid followers waited with bated breath for each snapshot of the young woman’s seemingly perfect life — and she never disappointed them.
Living The Dream
She partied with many new friends she had made, went scuba diving in the crystal waters of the Thai island of Phuket with exotic marine life, and even posed with the local children. On the surface, it appeared as though she was living everyone’s wildest dreams and adventures.
But this was far from the truth.
Zilla, despite her busy days of adventure, managed to keep her loved ones updated and would video call them on Skype from her various hotel rooms throughout her stay. And she did an excellent job of maintaining the facade she had built so elaborately around herself.
He parents never suspected that anything was amiss with their daughter.
When Zilla’s 5-week vacation drew to a close, her parents were eager for her to come home and show them all the photographs of her trip. They were proud of their daughter and happy that she had been brave enough to embark on such a journey alone in a foreign country.
But when Zilla revealed what she had really been doing during her vacation, everyone was left reeling.
She had set up some exotic props in her apartment when she staged the Skype calls to her family, and all it took to make everyone believe that she was in Asia were a few paper umbrellas!
When her loved ones had dropped her at the airport, she had disguised herself and returned to her Amsterdam apartment.
You see, instead of going on a 5-week vacation, Zilla had decided to perform an elaborate social experiment. She had never left her apartment in Amsterdam for the entire 5 weeks, instead carefully photoshopping herself into believable scenes from her imaginary vacation.
She revealed how she had managed to pull off such an extraordinary feat in a video on Vimeo.
Zilla had even studied Asian cooking videos and had recreated them in her own kitchen to give her posts an authentic feel. She had also successfully faked the shots of her snorkeling in her very own backyard swimming pool and then edited the exotic fish into the shots with Photoshop.
The hoax was risky, and she had been careful to make sure there were no flaws in her plan.
The most difficult aspect of the 5-week long operation was convincing people of the fake friendships she had made on her travels.
Zilla even went as far as creating fictional identities for each of them and staging Facebook conversations to make her experience more believable to her friends and followers.
Zilla spent weeks creating her elaborate ruse and had successfully fooled everyone. She transformed her everyday surroundings to create the illusion that she was off on an incredible adventure. The entire process was painstaking, and she had told nobody about her secret.
But her revelation baffled her friends and family. Why would she go to such an effort?
The experiment was a project for her university course. Zilla had set out to prove that social media is a powerful tool that many use to distort other people’s perceptions of their lives.
She wanted to prove how easy it is to portray yourself in a specific way on social media.
“…it’s not only the models in the magazines, but also our friends on social media who contribute to this fake reality. We should be more careful about what we believe, and ask ourselves why a photo is made — how and by whom and with which intention,” Zilla said.
And her message is a powerful one.
An Ideal World
“I did this to show people that we filter and manipulate what we show on social media – we create an ideal world online, which reality can no longer meet,” Zilla said in an interview. “My goal was to prove how common and easy it is for people to distort reality.”
“Everyone knows that pictures of models are manipulated, but we often overlook the fact that we manipulate reality also in our own lives.”
But not all of Zilla’s photographs were edited. For the shot where she poses with a Buddhist Monk, she simply went to the nearest temple. It is ironic that the photos of the Buddhist temple were the most authentic posts Zilla created during her 5-week social experiment.
But, understandably, Zilla’s elaborate hoax has received mixed reactions from her friends and family.
Some of Zilla’s Facebook fans praised her skills and took her message to heart, while others felt hurt and betrayed by her lies — her loved ones were affected most of all. “If I had the chance to do it again, I don’t think I would,” Zilla confessed to BuzzFeed.
“I really underestimated the impact of the project on myself and the people around me.”
What do you think about Zilla’s social experiment? Should we always believe that our friends are living idyllic lives because of what they post on social media? Is it right to feel unsatisfied with our own lives because of the distorted reality we are shown every day in the media and in our own Facebook feeds?
Think carefully next time you feel a twinge of envy — seeing is not always believing.