You might think that I am the one hurt, that I am the victim. When my parents walk into the bathroom to see the mirror smashed to shards and the blood dripping down my cut face, they will think that too. However, all anyone will see is my ruined beauty, a wilted rose that will no longer be famous on the virtu-web, no longer be looked upon by all the world with fame and envy. No one sees beyond the surface, beyond the most shallow of appearances, and it was this attitude that caused the true tragedy.
It was 7 years ago when I first met Aejvelijn (pronounced like the old-fashioned name of Evelyn). She joined my class at the academy after her parents, wealthy heirs to two separate family corporations, had a feud with her previous self-promotion teacher. When I first met her, I envied her greatly. Her beauty and status were far above mine. She already had a good following on the virtu-web, but not one quite strong enough for her to no longer attend school; the lessons we were taught on how to present ourselves could help her presence grow even more.
We were the only two girls in our advanced body framing class. At the start, I would not have called her a friend, but we grew closer; whether by simple necessity or genuine friendship, we became true friends. We did all that would be expected of us as silly adolescent girls. We giggled in the bathrooms during class, telling tales of those we wished to have as romantic partners, collaborating on projects for our long-form advertising class, and using our virtu-pods to call each other until the early hours of the morning.
Our school was one of the new academies designed to teach young women how to create and sell a successful online identity. Aejvelijn was one of the few people there that was already profitable, greatly helped by her desirable body shape and willingness to wear the revealing clothing that appealed to the key audience demographic of middle-aged men.
In contrast to her success, my parents were disappointed in my failure to market myself quite as successfully; they thought all their pre-promotion of me on their virtu-profiles while I was growing up was wasted. They were not quite accurate in that determination.
Although I did very well in some classes, I apparently “lacked the necessary professional attitude to be successful.” I had reservations about using certain poses, showing certain parts of my body, and using augmented editing of my appearance. As a result, I failed my first “suggestive media” class and was forced to drop out of the academy.
I was devastated at disappointing my parents. Looking back on it, though, it was then that I knew the life of selling myself on the virtu-web was never for me. My parents still held aspirations for my fame, but I was more than satisfied to for once be a standard citizen at a standard school preparing for standard careers. Not that the satisfaction lasted.
I surreptitiously stayed in touch with Aejvelijn during my adventures in the lands of standard people. She was horrified at the stories they told of publicly re-wearing clothing, disgusted at the only foods available to them being processed without required nutrients and full of fats and sugars, but most of all, she was horrified at how fat they were. They looked ugly; our middle school body-shaping instructor would have had them not eating for weeks to try and get back to an acceptable shape.
As Aejvelijn’s virtu-web presence grew she started trying to search for her big break. At the same time, I lived at the standard school, was fed the standard food, and as a result began to gain weight. My body that I had worked my whole life to preserve was slowly destroyed, and I could do nothing about it. After a period of desperately trying to lose weight, I decided not to care; it was out of my hands in any matter.
I had desperately looked for the healthy food I had been fed by my parents and at the academy, but there was not a fruit or vegetable to be found in the nearby neighborhoods where the standard people lived. I realized that corporations in charge of food distribution knew that standard people could not afford to seek out weight-controlling foods and therefore did not even bother to sell or introduce them.
My parents were frustrated at my decision but felt that the squalid conditions of a standard life would make me come running back to their life of luxury and oversharing. They took every opportunity to show off their better life to me and insult my new friends; they constantly tried to bribe me with comforts, and even with money. They thought that it would tempt me to return; to them, my willingness to give up their privileged life was incomprehensible. They were wrong. I did come “running back,” but it was not because of a desire for the silly things which they cared about; it was because of Aejvelijn.
It was one year after I was booted from the academy and Aejvelijn was a year from graduation as the new top of the class, when I learned from her about a large assignment, one that could give her the big break she was looking for. Each member of the class was for the first time allowed to work with an outside corporate sponsor. Aejvelijn had the first choice on who to work with and chose a fashion brand specializing in undergarments.
Her project immediately brought her profile to the world stage; you probably recognize her now as the recently-disappeared influencer “A the Stylish.”
Something you might not know, however, is that the head of the academy, a powerful manager who I must not name, immediately took interest in her work. He used a questionable clause in the contract that all the students signed when joining the academy to place himself as her manager.
Although it is seen as beneficial for many influencers to have managers – beneficial due to how they can help organize collaborations and sponsorships – it is little known that managers use contracts to control nearly every aspect of their influencers’ lives. Though a manager can in writing only control the public aspects of one’s life, when every moment of it is published to the virtu-web, they have total control. What was seen as dangerous enough before the rise of the virtu-web now allows them to control lifestyles, major life decisions, and even friendships.
Aejvelijn’s friendship with me was seen as dangerous by her manager, and as such he destroyed it. He said that she was above me. He did not want her to be known as an associate of a standard person and persuaded her to cut off her relationships outside of their community of influencers and wealthy patrons. She refused, but he had his way nonetheless. I know now that he took her virtu-pod and used written speech to insult me and denounce my decisions, tearing a rift between us that would never be mended fully. After that, he simply refused to let her contact me; he blocked our communication and pretended to her that I had disappeared.
This is when everything changed. I felt betrayed by my closest friend, and once again noticed all that I had left behind. I looked at the scale every morning with dread, I noticed my clothing being sub-optimal, and I felt overwhelmingly unworthy of her friendship.
For weeks I tried to contact her in vain, and I suddenly saw the flaws of my surroundings. I refused to eat or talk to those standard people near me. I began to hate the standard people because they made me worse, they encouraged me to consume without care for my body, and they did not care at all for perfecting their images. I tried to fix my body and my life to make myself worthy, but it was a fool’s errand. I realized that I could not do it living a standard life. It is impossible to live up to the image required of the virtu-web in standard surroundings.
After this realization, I felt I had but no choice. She was my best and only friend, and I could not stand to lose her. Her friendship was worth more to me than the principles I held against the culture of the virtu-web. I went to my parents in defeat and accepted their proposition, returning to the world I had once abandoned.
They struck a hard bargain in my return. They set themselves up as my managers and forced me to, using nicer terms, of course, sign my life away. I was from then on forced to do everything they wished, my silly principles notwithstanding. At that point, however, I cared for nothing save winning Aejvelijn back.
Much as it pains me to admit it, my parents excelled at influencer management. My father, who owned a large virtual media company, was well accustomed to manipulating algorithms and working with sponsors, and my mother, a retired influencer herself, had the practical experience to coach me on what to say and where to draw the best types of attention.
Their guidance seemed infallible, and it was a mere three weeks after I restarted my virtu-web profile that I achieved the silver status milestone, something I had not done in my many years of school. Their new strategy took advantage of my experiences at the standard school to make me seem relatable. My famous videos about school stories and standard life, allowed my fame to grow at a prodigious rate. Although I started by telling true tales, they soon ran dry and I began constantly embellishing the truth and in some cases telling pure fantasy.
My parents’ management took advantage of my relatable nature to capture the hearts and minds of those naive enough to believe I was telling the truth. I sold snake oil and expensive clothing to those who would be better off spending their money on food to eat; I sold a dream unattainable by the standard people under the guise of having achieved it myself. I did all that I had once stood against for one sole reason, friendship, and it did pay off.
Aejvelijn managed to recontact me, and I was ecstatic. We collaborated on the virtu-web and rekindled our friendship as well. Our managers had no choice but to let her be with me, but it swiftly began to hurt our virtu-web appeal. At first, they were pleased with the partnership and how it brought more attention to both of our profiles; we were very cute in videos together. However, as time passed, she became more focused on collaborations than growing her fame, and it impeded her manager’s growing profits. Similarly, I had achieved my one goal in returning to the virtu-web lifestyle, and I was no longer quite so deferential towards my parents.
Our managers saw this occurring and hatched a plan to protect their interests: they convinced me that Aejvelijn only wanted to be with me due to our newfound fame together, and used my natural distrust of the system against me. They were successful and though we publicly continued to make some of our most popular collaborations, our private friendship was devastated and she was once again alone in the social yet isolating world of the virtu-web. Even as we worked together, the tensions between Aejvelijn and me continued.
My profile outgrew that of Aejvelijn, for I was very successful during this period of time. My virtu-web profile, artfully controlled as to be perfectly appealing, grew exponentially. People all over saw me exactly as my parents wished—relatable and more honest than any others on the virtu-web, and it caused my success. Perhaps you even then thought that such was the truth.
My success infuriated her because it was all she ever wanted, and she knew that I had never even wanted it at all. She began to accuse me of taking advantage of her and stealing her fame. I defended myself vigorously, but, on further reflection, it was likely that my parents did have that intention. Aejvelijn had always had truculent tendencies, and it was only a matter of time before her anger got the better of her.
After she lost a large sponsorship deal that was offered to me instead, she lost it. She posted in anger on the virtu-web, denounced me and our partnership, and said blatant lies in an attempt to hurt my reputation and following. It backfired dramatically. The grave effects did not fall on me, but instead on her. Her profile was blacklisted, and success disintegrated before her eyes. All she had worked to gain in her many years of laboring over her image was struck down by the omnipotent virtu-web users, gone, never to be restored.
This only fueled her fury at me, but she soon had much larger problems than whatever adversary she saw me as. Her manager was furious with her, and not only for ruining his best and most profitable virtu-web profile. Aejvelijn’s contract forbid her from posting on her profile without the explicit permission of her manager, and he saw this action as a sign that he had completely lost control of her. As a result, he took it upon himself to regain his position by threatening the one remnant of her success that remained, her wealth.
It is not well known outside of the influencer community that most of us are very well of financially before we even start on the virtu-web. Aejvelijn’s parents, like mine, were both wealthy and successful themselves and had given her a goodly amount of money with which to start her career. Due to her contract, Aejvelijn’s manager was well aware of this and thus threatened to sue her if she did not sign an even more limiting contract. He wanted full control of her finances and personal life in addition to what she posted, and he got it out of her desperation and fear of leaving the virtu-web lifestyle to be a standard person. She was so afraid to leave the ivory tower that she willingly made it her prison.
It was only a few weeks afterward when Aejvelijn’s manager made his move. He was still angry at her loss of profitability, and he used his newfound power over her to take drastic actions. As I learned later, he blamed her failure not on her angry video but her appearance. He decided that she was no longer pretty enough and decided to have her undergo cosmetic surgery.
You might say now, but Eliya, is that not illegal? It is indeed, but just as the illegality of underage drinking and drug usage never stopped them from being common habits, the illegality of cosmetic surgery has never stopped its widespread appeal and practice. Its dangers are often associated with standard people who wish to have the bodies of those on the virtu-web, but it is far more prevalent among the influencers themselves. This may seem impossible, as we all claim we are perfectly natural and despise those who admit to having surgeries, but most influencers are forced to have them as they age. It helps them keep up their perfect image, even after it has naturally faded.
Although the use of surgery by many influencers is not common knowledge, the dangers of the surgeries are well known. The news reports constantly how standard people die in the dozens at illegal clinics or in foreign countries. Everyone has heard the horror stories of the strange and unregulated chemicals used that can disfigure one for life and knows how one small mistake on the part of the untrained surgeons could instantly kill their patients.
The danger scared Aejvelijn. Although she feared all the possible outcomes of going through the risky behind enhancing procedure, she feared her manager’s anger even more.
She decided to through with the procedure one night after the two of us made a large collaboration video. It was during that filming that I learned the whole account of Aejvelijn’s plight–the story that I am repeating now. Although she hated me at the time, she was so afraid that she was willing to confide in me the chaos with her manager. I tried my best to convince her against the surgery; I even offered to give her some of my own money to help provide for her lifestyle, but she was too proud to accept what she saw as charity and went off the next morning towards her fate.
My guess is that you probably know what that was by now. It is still being talked about all over the virtu-web how she disappeared mere days after her virtu-web profile lost popularity. You are all smart enough to put that together with her dangerous surgery to conclude what happened. It failed and she died; I tell you now that this was the cause of her disappearance.
Disappearing is a strange thing in our world. Everyone states how when influencers get older they disappear and retire to a life of rest and relaxation. It seems a logical path given how standard people will retire to lives of leisure when they (much older) have accumulated their money. Most people assume that since influencers earn more money, they just retire early and their disappearing is simply them leaving public life. However, most disappearances are deaths, due to surgery or some ailment like cancer that would not be profitable to talk of on the always happy virtu-web.
I did not know of Aejvelijn’s death at first, although I feared the worst once I did not hear from her after her surgery. My parents confirmed my suspicions, in a painfully casual manner, the next day. It was then that I knew true fury.
My parents think that I am angry merely because I am hurt at the loss of my friend, but it is the causes of this loss that are what anger me.
In truth, I partially blame myself for what happened. If I had not fallen for the managers’ silly ruse in turning me against her, she never would have lashed out and ruined her virtu-web profile. If I even had convinced her against the surgery she would still be alive today.
I am no victim because I am more privileged than any one of the many millions of standard people in the world, but I am not happy because I am forced to live in a world made up of only illusions. It is not fair that the world only values appearances to the point that my friend died trying to improve something so skin deep. It is unjust that she was forced to do so, and even more so that the world is blatantly unaware of what goes on behind their screens.
It is for this reason that I stand here now by a broken mirror, a reminder of vanity smashed. It is due to this that I have forever ruined my face before you all. You need to know that there is no hope for a world of people that would risk death just to look prettier. I will sacrifice my fame, profitability, and image for that.
Thus I am done, I will stop now, and you will not hear more from me. I take this virtu-pod and destroy it like I wish to destroy all it stands for. I hope that all you who watch my virtu-web profile see this and understand what intent it has; I hope you never again look at an influencer in the same way, but I fear you will love this for the drama, think it fun lies and continue as you were.