She studied the photo more closely this time, and was speechless when the truth became clear. She had been lied to for a whole month, and she couldn’t process what they had just told her. But why did her daughter lie to her? And then, it all made sense.
Netherlands-native Zilla van den Born became a model when she was 16. But it wasn’t the runway that fascinated her. It was the way that photographs were so easily manipulated to tell a lie. It was child’s play. All one needed to do was manipulate the light, and photo editors would do the rest to make sure everything came out perfect. But she wasn’t always a fan of photo manipulations.
Manipulation of a photo is nothing new. Photographers have been using it to change the skin complexion, hair color, and body shape of models for years. This allows them to mask all sorts of imperfections like scars, moles, and blemishes. But the healing abilities of Photoshop are an illusion to create an unrealistic perception, and Zilla probably wanted something more out of life.
Zilla decided that in lieu of modeling, she would pursue a different interest at the Art Academy of Utrecht. She enrolled in a graphic design course in the hopes of pursuing a career in art. But she was 25 and her family and friends knew that she wanted to explore the world. So, they weren’t really too surprised when she told them she was going on a 5-week trip to Southeast Asia all by herself. And Zilla’s vacation photos were about to become quite controversial.
The experience you gain from traveling will stay with you your entire life, and it’s a great way to immerse yourself in other cultures. It’s why so many young people are choosing to travel, even if they have to do it on a dime.
In April 2014, Zilla arrived at the airport with her heavy luggage in tow. But she couldn’t leave without sharing a photo bidding her friends and loved ones farewell on Facebook. Soon, she realized that her followers were happy, and maybe a bit jealous that she was jetting off on an amazing adventure. But no one really knew what was really happening in Zilla’s life.
Zilla had picked a great destination. Southeast Asia had everything from tropical rainforests to majestic temples, and even ruins. This was paradise! What person in their right mind could possibly turn their backs on an opportunity like this? It turns out, she couldn’t, or so everyone thought.
Zilla was having a lot of fun, but she took time to share a few photos of her trip as she traveled through Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia during her 5-week vacay. She took snaps in the blue waters of Asia’s beaches and the breathtaking skyline of Bangkok. She even snapped some photos of the mouth-watering local cuisine. But she didn’t realize this would spark so much backlash when she returned.
Her Facebook friends eagerly waited for Zilla’s next posts. She even created an album called “Thailand, the land of smiles.” It contained all sorts of amazing pics like the one where she was posing with a Buddhist monk in the temples of Bangkok. Her friends held their breaths until the next series of photos popped into her online albums, and each pic was better than the next. But was she over posting?
Do you take photos of your feet while lounging near the pool? Do you constantly check in with photo updates on social media when you’re on vacay? Well if you do then you’re probably one of many who are responsible of the ultimate crime of over posting, which some find extremely annoying. But is there a right way to do it?
A lot of people want to share photos of their trip in real-time, but not everyone is as excited to see them as you’d think. It’s all about volume. If you post so many photos that you end up crashing social media, then you need to stop. But this wasn’t the reason why everyone was ticked off at Zilla.
Zilla’s photos showed that she was having a blast going scuba diving in the waters of the Thai island of Phuket. She even made a few friends with local children. There was no reason to doubt that Zilla was living the adventure we would all like to experience. But the photographs didn’t reveal the horrible truth.
Despite her insane adventure, Zilla was able to keep her loved ones in the loop. She even video called them through Skype when she went back to her hotel room. But it was all a façade and she had done a remarkable job making everyone believe what she had worked so hard to maintain. Her parents never realized that something in their daughter’s life was terribly wrong.
Most travelers suggest that you turn your social media privacy settings on when you post real-time photos of your trip. This ensures that potential intruders won’t know that you’re not at home and break in. But your home isn’t the only thing you need to be worried about.
Zilla was young and traveling on her own, and that can be very dangerous, especially if someone is watching your every move on social media. Oversharing will guarantee someone knows where you are at the exact moment. This could put you at risk of being abducted or assaulted. But the dark truth was a lot closer to home.
As Zilla’s 5-week vacay came to a close, her parents looked forward to welcoming their daughter back and seeing if she bought them any souvenirs. It filled them with pride that their daughter had taken on such an amazing journey in a foreign country. But when Zilla revealed the truth of what had really happened during her vacay, her family and friends were left in utter shock.
Zilla had managed to fool everyone into thinking she was in Asia using a couple of paper umbrellas! She also used props in her apartment to make it seem like she was abroad when she Skype called her parents. And when her parents dropped her off at the airport, she put on a disguise and headed back to her Amsterdam apartment.
A 5-week vacation sounded nice, but Zilla opted for a social experiment instead. In reality, she hadn’t left her Amsterdam apartment for 5 whole weeks. Instead of sunbathing in the beaches of Southeast Asia, she Photoshopped herself into the most unbelievable vacay sceneries ever. Then, she uploaded a video on Vimeo which showed how she pulled off her incredible façade.
YouTube offers a variety of food channels that teach how to do everything from poaching an egg to cooking a steak. It might not turn you into a Michelin star chef, but it will definitely keep you from ruining dinner. And you can learn how to make all kinds of things including Asian cuisine.
Zilla recreated all those Asian food dishes in the comfort of her own kitchen. But first she had to study Asian cooking videos in order to make the dishes look legit. She also faked her snorkeling snaps in her backyard swimming pool. Then she edited the fish into the pic using Photoshop. There was no room for mistakes, so she made sure she had planned everything to the letter.
Zilla isn’t the only traveler who has tried pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. It seems that digital manipulation has become a growing trend, especially when you’re trying to convince everyone that you’ve had the best vacation ever. But you won’t make any real friends this way.
The most challenging part of Zilla’s 5-week lie was getting people to think that she had made friends with the locals during her travels. She even created fake social media identities for each “friend” she made to make it seem like she was chatting with them on Facebook. It’s why her followers were having a tough time accepting the truth.
Zilla had fooled everyone when she transformed her surroundings into an elaborate illusion. But there was nothing honest about this incredible adventure. The process was difficult to achieve and even harder to keep a secret. But her revelation didn’t initially explain one thing that had left her loved ones scratching their heads. Why did she do it?
Zilla was on a mission to prove to everyone that social media has the ability to distort the way other people perceived their lives. But this wasn’t a personal project. The experiment was for a course at the university. And she proved how easy it is to portray yourself in a different light using 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 explained in a thought-provoking message.
"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 explained during 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.”
It turns out that not every photo was manipulated. The snaps with Zilla and the Buddhist Monk were taken at a local temple. Sadly, the photos of the Buddhist temple were the closest things that Zilla got to the real thing during her 5-week vacation. Some of Zilla’s family and friends might have laughed the social experiment off, but others weren’t quite as amused.
Some of Zilla’s Facebook followers found her hoax amusing, but others felt like they had been slapped in the face, and her loved ones were the ones mostly affected by all this. "If I had the chance to do it again, I don’t think I would,” Zilla told BuzzFeed. “I really underestimated the impact of the project on myself and the people around me.”
Do you think Zilla’s social experiment was cruel? Does her hoax cast doubt on everything that our friends post on social media? It’s perfectly normal to feel a little envious when people we follow post things about their perfect life. But should we feel this way given that we now know that Facebook feeds can lie? If that’s the case, then take comfort in knowing that not everything you see is the truth.
Some of your friends might be posting some idyllic beach shots where they seem to be having the time of their lives. But they've could've easily maxed out their credit cards to go on vacations, coming back to nothing more but a stack of bills to pay. Social media allows people to represent themselves in a different light, not only through edited photos, but the mementos they choose to share are not exactly the whole truth, and we must always remember that.