How One Woman’s Unflattering Photo Went Viral — and What We Can Learn from HerLizzie Heiselt
It’s been said that we’ll all get 15 minutes of fame. Some of us sit around and wait for those 15 minutes to find us, while others actively seek it. More often than not, however, those 15 minutes sneak up when you’re least expecting it. Suddenly all eyes are on you and you may feel like a deer in the headlights — shocked, frozen, immobile — as if everyone is judging you right now.
That’s the power of the Internet: everyone has the opportunity to be seen, but not everyone has the opportunity to choose how they are seen. Our power lies in how we choose to react when we are thrust unceremoniously into the spotlight when we least expect it.
Just ask Caitlin Seida, whose unflattering photo of her dressed up as Tomb Raider Lara Croft for Halloween, went viral on the Internet. Seida is not someone who, a decade or so ago, would have had the opportunity to be seen by millions of people. She’s not a movie star or an athlete. She doesn’t have famous (or infamous) family — at least that I am aware of — nor does she have the kind of money that makes people sit up and take notice. But still, she woke up one morning to find herself the focus of a mean-spirited and very public prank. An “Internet sensation” if you will.
Seida said that she wasn’t angry at first, and it took her a little bit of time, once she realized what was going on, to get her wits about her and figure out what to do. And then she did it: issuing copyright infringement notices, responding to the negative, hurtful comments, and then stepping up to the mic, so to speak, to tell her own story. She knows she’s a big person, but she also knows her own health better than anyone and that she’s taking care of herself as well as she can. She’s comfortable in her skin.
And as Seida took control of her own story, she began getting messages proclaiming her a role model for women showing that no matter our physical appearance we can love ourselves and own our inherent worth.
This “role model” thing was quite surprising to her. In her own words:
I didn’t think I’d be considered “role model” material. I’m a snarky, cynical pain in the ass with a morbid sense of humor and a tendency toward the crude, the lewd and, occasionally, the vulgar. But here I am, with hundreds of people praising the way I stood up for myself against cyberbullies and the way I accepted my body for what it is — good, bad and anything in between, depending on who you are (and unless you’re my doctor, it’s really not your place to tell me which of the three it is).
And that’s the thing. Seida knows herself better than anyone who sees a picture of her dressed up at Halloween does. She knows herself better than those who criticized her costume choice and better than those who rushed to her defense. She is aware of her weaknesses, shortcomings, and the more unflattering parts of her personality, as well as the fact that she’s doing the best she can with what she has. In short, she has a more complete picture of the situation.
But the funny thing is, it’s precisely because the rest of the world does not see the whole picture that Seida had the opportunity to become a role model. The Internet, and those who frequent it, saw only a large girl whom they judged to be clueless and powerless and then were surprised when this clueless, powerless person spoke up and told them what idiots they were for thinking they knew anything about her. The contrast in the image and the message was stark. Her response to her “15 minutes” was unexpected. And it gave her an additional opportunity: to see herself in a more flattering light.
While Seida may be able to take herself as she is a normal person with normal problems and a normal life the rest of us are looking for stories, and her story is a good one: chubby girl silences fools with confidence and courage. Suddenly, her story is not so normal or ordinary. Suddenly, she has traits that are above and beyond that of “normal person” status. And suddenly, she has an audience looking to her for additional confidence and courage.
Seida admits that the experience has been somewhat disorienting for her, but she has taken hold of the new narrative of her life and she’s owning that as well. She says she feels the need to live up to the confidence people have in her and to continue to inspire and to become more like the image they have of her — to reach toward the potential for good that others see. It seems as though when given the opportunity to be reflected in the mirror of the Internet, it is possible that our better selves are reflected back, and if they are, we then want to magnify them even more.
So when your 15 minutes comes knocking, what will you do? Stand shivering in the spotlight, step quickly out of the beam, or step up and let yourself be heard? You may get something you didn’t ask for in return, and that may just be a very good thing.
photo credit: Terri Jean Photography, used with permission