Melkbosstrand, Western Cape native and ex-Miss Deaf South Africa, Simone Botha Welgemoed has slammed health club Virgin Active for photo-shopping her Cochlear implant out of a global billboard campaign.
The 27 year old dancer and professional model was crowned Miss Deaf South Africa in 2012, and when she received the implant, she was the youngest child in Africa to get it.
“I was born profoundly deaf and received my CI (Cochlear implant) at the age of 22 months. At that stage I was the youngest child in Africa to receive it, without my CI I hear absolutely nothing at all.”
Botha wears her implant across the back of her head. Her speech processor sits above her left ear and the implant itself fits behind her right ear. She was wearing it when she shot the campaign, but Virgin’s the final image does not feature the wire or implant.
After her sister tagged her in the advertisement on Instagram, she spoke out about her disappointment on social media.
‘This is a billboard picture of me posing for Virgin Active and if you don’t know me personally you won’t miss the tiny piece that is a cochlear implant that is supposed to sit on my head.
‘They just went and without my permission decided to edit the cochlear implant out, because why?!!!
‘It doesn’t fit with their pretty little picture of portraying the perfect life at Virgin Active?
‘Well guess what Life isn’t perfect. No one is perfect.’
Virgin was aware of her disability when she was chosen for the shoot, Both has called them out for choosing aesthetics over reality. The firm immediately pulled the edited version and replaced it with an earlier take that shows the implant.
Botha says Virgin edited out a part of who she is in the advertisement.
‘I am proudly hearing impaired and was happy to inspire through Virgin Active that people with hearing disabilities also lead and enjoy an active and healthy lifestyle.
‘But I guess you don’t think we do.
‘I guess my Cochlear implant shamed you so much that you had to edit it out.
‘Well you just edited out a part of who I am and didn’t ask my permission and I’m not okay with that.’
Virgin Active immediately responded to Botha’s Facebook post and made contact to meet with her. The firm said someone on their creative team had told them to remove her implant from the picture. Virgin replaced all the adverts with the original image, including her Cochlear implant.
A Virgin South Africa spokesman wrote on Facebook,
‘Editing the photograph was thoughtless and not reflective of the welcome Virgin Active extends to everyone. An apology is not going to undo how we’ve made Simone feel but we really are sorry.’
Botha is the principal dancer with Bovim Ballet Co. in South Africa and an influential representative for the deaf community. She hopes this experience will help in raising awareness of her hearing disability.
Featured photography Helene Mostert/SWNS.com