A deaf beauty queen has blasted health club Virgin Active for editing out her hearing implant in a worldwide internet advert.
Simone Botha Welgemoed, 27, is believed to be the youngest child in Africa to be fitted with a Cochlear implant, after she got one at just 22 months in 1992.
But the model has been left outraged after being picked to model for Virgin Active – unknowingly having her implant photo-shopped out of her right ear.
Simone Botha Welgemoed (pictured) is a former Miss Deaf South Africa. When she posed for this Virgin Active billboard campaign she was wearing her Cochlear implant (circled left), but when the images were published on social media, it had been edited out (circled right)
When the 27-year-old (pictured) saw the images on social media she was ‘saddened’ by the fact Virgin had edited her hearing implant out, saying they had ‘edited out a part of who I am’
Miss Botha Welgemoed, who was crowned Miss Deaf South Africa in 2012, said: ‘I was shockingly surprised and it felt like somebody just dropped a bucket of water on me.
‘I couldn’t believe what I saw when my sister tagged me in the Virgin advertisement on Instagram, I couldn’t believe what I saw.
‘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.’
Miss Botha Welgemoed is a dancer and professional model. She won Miss Deaf South Africa in 2012 and says she is ‘proudly hearing impaired’
Miss Botha Welgemoed is the principal dancer at Bovim Ballet Co in South Africa and a vocal representative of the hearing impaired community
She wears her cochlear implant across the back of her head, which means her speech processor sits above her left ear and the implant itself fits behind her right ear.
But Virgin’s advertising campaign does not feature the wire or implant that Simone was wearing when they shot it.
Posting on social media, she expressed her disappointment at the gaff, saying: ‘I’m not someone that just rants on about every little thing, bu this is something that affects me personally and I am saddened by what I see…
‘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.
The dancer is pictured in ballet clothes with her Cochlear implant, which she wears across the back of her head, meaning her speech processor sits above her left ear and the implant itself fits behind her right ear
‘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 e 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.’
She has accused Virgin of choosing aesthetics over reality – despite the company being aware of her disability when she was chosen for the shoot.
Sir Richard Branson’s firm immediately pulled the edited version and replaced it with an earlier take which shows the implant.
The now 27-year-old was believed to be the youngest child in Africa to be fitted with such an implant at the age of 22 months
The model said: ‘Virgin Active immediately responded to my post on Facebook and made contact with me to meet with them.
‘We had a discussion about what happened and they were extremely apologetic about everything.
‘Somebody on the creative team, probably uneducated about hearing disability if I can say so, told them to remove it.
‘Unfortunately nobody thought the better of it and that the impact of the bigger picture would be an unwelcome one.
‘Virgin took off all the adverts and put the original one back on.’
Miss Botha Welgemoed has modelled for Virgin before in their ‘Ballet Barre’ series, during which the firm learned she was hearing impaired.
But her implant was still featured on billboard ads from the campaign.
The principal dancer with Bovim Ballet Co. in South Africa is an active representative for the deaf community.
She hopes to use her experience to raise awareness of her hearing disability.
A Cochlear implant (pictured) is a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing in both ears
She said: ‘It’s amazing how many people still need to know more and that there is still work for me to do as an ambassador and former Miss Deaf SA.
‘I was put in a difficult situation. If I claim to be an ambassador for the deaf, then am I not proud to boldly showcase who I am?
‘I am also currently working on a solo performance for a big international event in Austria next year where I will represent as the world’s first professional ballerina with a cochlear implant.
‘I believe that your imperfections add to your beauty and uniqueness as a human being.
‘I was born deaf and my disability as shaped me in who I am today.
‘Not for one moment would I hope to try and change myself, because I was meant to find my purpose in life with it and so I do it with hard work, many obstacles and and yet with joy, grace and beauty.
‘So I choose to smile on and make my disability an ability.’
Liam Preston, head of the body confidence campaign Be Real commented on the need of diversity in advertising.
He said: ‘It’s important for companies to be inclusive of diversity in their advertising and portray people from all walks of life.
‘While there are nowhere near enough disabled people featured in advertising as it is, editing a model’s cochlear implant, which is part of her identify, suggests that only a certain look is desirable.
‘Instead of companies trying so hard to portray only one beauty standard, there should be more emphasis on highlighting and celebrating people’s uniqueness.’
Posting on social media, the model and dancer talked of her sadness at what Virgin had done
Dr Jan Sheldon, Chief Executive of the Royal Association for Deaf people added: ‘The Deaf Community are very proud of their history, language and culture.
‘Although we acknowledge that Virgin have apologised for their actions it is clear that they have a very urgent need to significantly develop their knowledge and understanding of Deafness.’
A Virgin spokesman said: ‘We issued an immediate apology to Simone. We had a good heart-to-heart meeting with her.
‘We will work with Simone around education and have re-run the campaign, un-retouched.
‘We 100% accept that the action of photo-shopping the image is not in line with our values as a business, nor in keeping with the welcome we extend to everyone.
Virgin said they ‘got it wrong and they realise that’ when the blunder came to light, admitting there had been some oversight
‘Simone subsequently posted about her satisfaction with the resolution on her Facebook page. We got it wrong and we realise that.’
On Facebook, a Virgin South Africa spokesman said before their meeting with the former beauty queen: ‘Thank you for raising your concerns relating to our Instagram post in which Simone Botha Welgemoed featured.
‘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.
‘We have heard the call to take down the posts and all collateral featuring these images are in the process of being removed.
Our senior management team will be meeting with Simone to offer our sincerest apologies.’
They met with Miss Botha Welgemoed (pictured) and after discussing the issue with her, released a full apology