The first time Lucy Kyselicas face was stolen, it turned up in the window of a beauty salon in small-town America. Kyselica is a Dutch beauty YouTuber who mostly makes videos about historical hairdos, but she had also made a video showing her subscribers how to thread their own eyebrows. The salon took a screengrab from that video, enlarged it to poster size, and used it to advertise their eyebrow threading services. Across the ocean in the Netherlands, Kyselica only found out because some fans recognized her, and asked her if she was working with the salon or if she even knew her image was in its window. She wasnt; she didnt. She sent an email, and never heard back. It may still be there, she says.
In the six years since, Kyselica has seen her image used to sell other peoples products over and over. Shes been the face of hairstyling tools, hair thickening products, and beauty pills. The products are always kind of dodgy, she says. Most recently, it was clip-in bangs sold by a Chinese merchant on Amazon. Kyselica decided to publicize her problem, and made a video about it: I Ordered My Own Bangs Off Amazon > =E @. You see, Kyselicas bangs, which are her signature look, arent actually clip-ins. They grow from her scalp.
Image theft isnt unique to Kyselica, or even social media influencers. If youve ever seen (or bought) a designer handbag or a pair of sunglasses that fell off a truck, youve seen a version of this before. The internet has made selling knockoffs a breeze, especially because vendors can just use a picture of the genuine article on the listing and the customer wont know the difference until the inevitably plasticy and awful fake shows up on their doorstep.
As influencer marketing has grown in popularity, using images from their accounts has became the logical next step. Instagrammers often complain about Chinese fast fashion companies copying their looks and using their photos (often with their faces cropped out) to sell cheap knockoffs. Beauty YouTubers constantly encounter ads featuring their own eyes, nails, or whole faces, as well as inboxes and DMs full of fans telling them about such ads. In an economy based on audience trust, the products can be a real blow to their businesses. More often than not, they have no idea what to do next.
While it certainly isnt good, a brand making a low-rent dupe of your outfit and selling it with a photo of your headless body can be a sick sort of best case scenario. For one, youve got that plausible deniability: If I really endorsed this (crappy) product, why would they crop out my face? Plus, for some, the scandal of it all can actually be a benefit.