The couple wasn't unused to their photos gaining attention. They had a large presence online and quite a following. That is why it was so strange that this one particular photo was gaining so much attention. More than any other.
The main difference, however, was that the attention it was getting was not from their followers but from the general public. It was even being picked up by news outlets! They baffled couple didn't understand what was happening, so they started to read the comments on the photo in the hopes of discovering the source of this popularity. Then it hit them.
Back To The Beginning
Wendy Joseph and Dan Hennessey hadn't always been such an internet sensation. In fact, there was a time when almost no one on social media even knew who they were. The irony being, that this was a large part of what started the story of their success and their love for each other.
This would ultimately lead to their online success. It was in 2006 while they were both college students that their story would begin. Dan hoped to make more friends. This choice would lead him to cross paths with Wendy in a rather unusual way.
Dan, then an 18-year-old sophomore, was studying Exercise Science while Wendy, who was only 17 years old at the time, freshly graduated from high school, was hoping to pursue a career in public healthcare. Dan was outgoing.
He loved to party, socialize and meet new people. He heard about a new online tool called Facebook. Back in 2006, this behemoth of a platform was still relatively unknown. It was only used by students and mainly used to meet or date new people. It was on Facebook where Dan first met Wendy all those years ago.
Dan had decided to use Facebook in an attempt to meet new people and make new friends. It was there that he found a friend of his named Daphne. They shared some friends so he sent her a message. She didn't respond but this didn't stop him.
He scrolled through her friends list. Suddenly he stumbled across Wendy's profile and was instantly smitten by her. He immediately sent her a message. At the time it was quite understandable for Wendy to be careful and wary online strangers. Rather than replying to him, Wendy told Daphne about his message and she took Dan to task over it.
Persistence Is Key
Daphne mentioned to Wendy that he had messaged her too, so she decided not to answer him. After a few weeks, Dan decided to try again. Wendy was curious so she decided to view his profile. It was there that she discovered they knew some of the same people.
She felt safer with this knowledge and decided to answer him and a friendship was born. Dan decided that he wanted to meet her so he invited her and some of her friends to a party at his apartment, but there was a problem with that idea, however.
Dan had made the invitation, assuming Wendy would decline. She didn't. Suddenly, Dan needed to plan a party, and fast! He reached out to his friends and managed to arrange a party at very short notice. When the night finally arrived, the two met for the very first time.
They immediately hit it off and spent the whole night chatting and dancing. Even after the other guests had left, Wendy stayed behind and spent time with Dan. It was clear that there was a spark between them, but would that be enough?
Wendy had recently had her heart broken when a long-term relationship had come to an end. She was understandably scared of getting hurt again. Dan enjoyed his single life and the party life that it brought with it.
They decided to stay friends even though it was clear there was something more there. They kept in touch and messaged each other regularly and six months later they decided to give things a try as a couple. Little did they know what trouble was waiting for them.
Happy with her love life, Wendy started to pay attention to things that she had neglected for some time. She plunged into her studies.
Dan, however, continued to party and socialize as he always had. Years flew by. Wendy was still trying to get her Master's degree when she discovered a message in Dan's inbox that would change everything and leave her reeling.
Wendy had always had some seeds of doubt in her mind. These seeds continued to grow along with the friends list on Dan's still active Facebook profile. She became very suspicious. Dan had found her on Facebook. Who's to say that he wasn't finding other women on Facebook too.
What also troubled her was the fact that while she had to decline many party invitations due to her studies, Dan began to go out without her. Even though Dan had grown up and become much more mature, he still loved to party as much as ever.
The actual message itself was innocuous enough but it plagued Wendy all day. Dan hadn't logged out of his Facebook and his inbox was open which is how she saw the message. Wendy was studying when the message popped up. She knew that it was wrong.
If she didn't trust Dan, it meant that their relationship was in terrible danger. As much as she tried to resist, her curiosity overcame her and she clicked. Her world seemed to crash down around her when she saw that the message was from a girl.
She Couldn't Resist
Wendy gave in to it. It was easier now that she had done it once. She began to go through all his messages. All his private Facebook messages passed before her eyes. There was nothing incriminating that she found other than many messages from other women.
Women who were successful, had finished studying, and young just like her and Dan. Dan had met them at the many parties he attended alone. She felt like a failure when she compared herself to these women and soon fear crept into every part of her life.
The Little Voice
There was nothing Wendy could do, however. She was young and as a result, she had very little experience in either life or love. To Wendy, it felt that her life was falling apart. Small arguments escalated into huge rows. All fueled by Wendy's fears.
Dan also refused to compromise on his lifestyle. They argued over who should do what. Should she set aside time to spend with him? Should he stay home more often? What if he met someone new? All their arguments ended up there and Wendy couldn't help but wonder if he already had.
The Photo Explodes Online
Something would have to give. But what? Back in the present, Wendy couldn't believe her eyes as she watched the likes on their photograph pass the 60,000 mark. Thousands of comments and shares flooded in from all over the world.
Everyone wanted their opinion and comment to be heard. Even news stations were approaching the couple about this photo. But what was it about this specific photo that caused such a huge reaction?
Wendy decided to break things off with Dan. It seemed like a logical course of action all those years ago. She was becoming very unhappy in their relationship and she wasn't getting what she needed most from Dan, validation.
They were young at the start and people change a lot in seven years. Even so, making the decision broke her heart. Now, looking back at that photograph, Wendy is sure that it was the best possible decision she ever made.
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 didn't like the person she had become when she was with Dan -- insecure and needy. She needed to find out what kind of woman she could become.
So she renewed her efforts, and without the constant distractions and worries that came with her relationship, she went on to eventually receive her Master’s Degree in Public Administration. She had done it for her own good. But staying away from Dan had proved much harder than she could ever have imagined.
Never Giving Up
But there was one thing she hadn't considered. Dan hadn’t been happy with Wendy's decision -- far, far from it. He wasn't ready to give up the love of his life. He understood what part he had played in their breakup. He had taken her for granted. But now, he missed her terribly.
The only thing he could do was message her every day for the entire year and a half that they were separated, so that's what he did. Just like in the beginning, he hoped that his persistence would pay off once again. But Wendy had finally found her true calling.
Though it was an extremely difficult time for him, Dan eventually realized that Wendy was right. After she achieved her dream of completing her Master's Degree, Wendy decided to set her sights even higher. With social media on the rise, she saw an opportunity.
She started her own YouTube channel, called "Wendy’s Curls", where she posted beauty tutorials and gave hairstyling advice for girls with unmanageable and naturally curly hair. 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
But it was inevitable that Dan and Wendy would meet again. One day, the couple bumped into each other after months of not seeing one another. Dan was amazed at the transformation that Wendy had made. She had embraced her natural beauty and just wasn't the same girl he knew from all those years ago -- in fact, she had thrived while they were apart!
The strong, beautiful, and confident woman he saw before him made him fall in love with her all over again. But would she take him back? Naturally, Wendy had her reservations. Things needed to change.
Wendy had decided to break up with Dan so that they could each find themselves and discover who they were as individuals. Their relationship had stagnated. They had just been too young. Dan hadn't been mature enough, and Wendy wasn't secure enough in herself to be able to handle it -- although that kind of security would only come with age.
Though it was an incredibly 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 so much in such a short time? Had he finally grown out of his party-going lifestyle? And was he ready to settle down? Wendy thought so. He’d been relentless in trying to convince her that they were meant to be together, and he made good on his promises.
Surprisingly, he hadn’t dated anybody else during the time they had been apart. He was only interested in Wendy. She knew that he’d proven 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 10-year anniversary. But they had no idea this milestone would become a viral sensation.
To mark the occasion, Wendy posted a side-by-side picture on her Facebook and Instagram pages. 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 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.