“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut
In his novel, Mother Night, the satirical giant warns his readers against spending too much time in a dream. The dream, these days, is of course the Internet. In the age of Instagram fame, we should all be careful what we wish for, in the metaphorical sense. I am sure that Orange County native Yaritza Hernandez did not wish to lose her life, but she did seek out fame.
She is now famous for hanging lifeless near a parking lot, according to Lt. Steve Gil of the Orange County Sherriff’s Department. Yaritza Hernandez, known to her 126,000 fans on Instagram as Yari Vanessaa, is a model who lives for the spirit of adventure. Or, she was. She died on December 10, 2015 in Newport Beach, California.
She was 22 years old.
As the Orange County Register reported, the incident appeared to be a suicide, “which did not look suspicious.” When a horrific situation such as a beautiful young woman losing her life surfaces as a suicide, the dynamics behind a woman who loves to “create beautiful pictures” makes you wonder why.
Yari Vanessaa never admits that her wish is to be famous in her September 29th interview with producer and photographer Nathan Drake, but she does talk about how focused she is on her modeling career and shares her goal to one day design swimwear. The confession that distinguishes her from a reserved corporate professional who would never post a photo of herself wearing lingerie, alternatively, is when she tells us she gets catcalled every day because she dresses “provocatively,” even when going to the grocery store to buy tampons.
I don’t know about you ladies, but I have what’s called “period clothes,” and there is nothing provocative about them.
Arguably, it's a strange thing for a woman who was “very sheltered, growing up, like, staying at home, sheltered.” I’m not even sure that most famous models wear provocative clothing to the grocery store, because they don’t need a crop top to be noticed. They don’t need to be noticed. They are famous.
Was Yari Vanessaa famous? There is an argument to be had there, I am sure. There are obviously levels of fame and success in the world of celebrities, but most would agree that Instagram famous is not celebrity. Cindy Crawford has about 20 times as many “likes” as Yari Vanessaa on her photos on Instagram — none of which include any selfies or lingerie — and the world knows who Cindy Crawford is. Anyone who has ever watched Chris Brown’s “Liquor/Zero” music video may know who Yari Vanessaa is, but I surely didn’t, before I came across her story and decided to write about it.
Cameron Diaz, in a video by Human, talks about fame in relation to happiness. “Fulfillment comes from within you,” says the actress. “Not chasing fame.”
There are so many factors involved in an alleged suicide. Depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and so many other mental illnesses have been known to lead people to take their lives. Bullying plays a factor. Though she claims it never happened, several accusations against Yari Vanessaa that she sleeps with her photographers could do a number on the psyche of any person, especially an impressionable 22-year-old.
But she has likely been criticized before, with the way she puts herself out there — online, barely wearing any clothing, and at Café Lu where she worked, a coffee house where women serve non-alcoholic beverages in lingerie — seemingly with no fear, and it doesn’t appear that she has any history of self-harm. It is pretty easy to shake off trolls once you get used to having an online presence. Online, there is no physical existence to attach insult and negative emotion to someone you don’t even know. But if a random person stopped you on the street to accuse you of sleeping your way to the top, they might as well just slap you in the face.
What are the mental repercussions of Instagram fame and can they lead to suicide?
In an article about rankism, Robert W. Fuller, Ph. D., talks about the damages of being a nobody versus being a somebody. “Nobodies are marginalized to the point of invisibility,” Fuller notes. “Since humans are social creatures, banishment carries a threat of being deprived of social and material resources critical to health and happiness, and sometimes to survival itself. Indignity, he says, “poses an existential threat.”
There is one way out of indignity, according to Fuller, and that is the acknowledgement of genuine recognition versus those dubious comments we might get on social media. “Genuine recognition must be differentiated from both false and inflated praise. The self-esteem movement fell into disrepute because the respect it offered was often disingenuous and exaggerated. What is required instead is a precise understanding and appreciation of each person's role, and the contributions he or she makes to others.”
What is the contribution that Yari Vanessaa made to the modeling community and is it fame? Or did the real people of the world who work hard for a living laugh in the face of Yaritza Hernandez, crushing her dreams of being a swimsuit designer and ultimately causing the demise of herself? Was the recognition that she received from Instagram heartfelt and genuine, or did it come as a shock that there were people who didn’t “follow” her and didn’t take her seriously?
According to word-of-mouth of local friends and family, including her father, Yaritza Hernandez did not actually commit suicide. He posted this video identifying her boyfriend as her murderer shortly after her body was found. Yari’s best friend, whom she calls Maverick, named Milagro Ardon, is accused by friends of being of special interest to the Orange County Sherriff’s Department and, armed and dangerous. This information, of course, has not been publicly confirmed by any police authorities, but it seems to be the informed opinion of those who knew her.
Suicide or not, Cameron Diaz said it best. “I don’t do what I do to be famous. Being famous is my job.” Instagram is not a job. Instagram is an app created by two guys who loved playing with cameras when they were kids.
Let us stop setting young people up for failure by allowing them to think that likes and follows equal success, only for them to be torn down by the real world. It’s tough out there, and Instagram fame is not a way out. Fame, in general, is not a way out and should not be sought after. It’s unhealthy for people to believe that they are special and important, only to be torn down in the worst possible way.
Like Kurt Vonnegut said, these double lives that we live are damaging to a point that our humanity is measured by how many people we can get to look at us, no matter how we do it. It is in fact an existential crisis which causes some people to let go of the very thing their humanity requires from them: the will to survive.