How modeling photos a Canadian woman took as a teen have continuously popped up in unexpected places over the last 15 years.
“Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. This is our little secret.”
That’s what the image of Lauren Gulyas seems to be saying, her pointer finger placed over pursed lips. The 32-year-old Canadian posed for the photo almost two decades ago, during a brief time in her life when she was a teen model. But that photo — and a few others from that shoot in which she wears a pair of angel wings — has turned out to be anything but secret. Plenty of people have seen it — probably even you.
When Gulyas modeled for the angel-themed photographs in her hometown of Ottawa at the age of 15, she knew they were for a clip art company called AbleStock, but she didn’t expect them to circulate as widely as they have over the years. She’s since seen her likeness pop up in a newscast on an early episode of the ABC show Ugly Betty and on the cover of a magazine about religion. More than one student has told her they’ve used her images in photo editing classes.
In fact, you could say Gulyas is one of the most popular and frequently-used angel stock images on the web. A reverse image search of one of her photos shows that it’s currently being used as the logo for an environmentally friendly maid service in New York and on a 2010 Pop Sugar guide for cherubic beauty products. Psychology Today used it in 2013 for an article about perfectionism and it appears on an astrology blog post titled, “Are You An Earth Angel?” There’s even a self-published novel circulating on Amazon and eBay that features Gulyas on its cover, with a superimposed halo floating above her head.
“It’s been on all kinds of weird crap,” she told OK Whatever.
But perhaps the strangest, and certainly most unorthodox place her stock images have ended up are on batteries for sex toys.
Gulyas learned of this a decade ago when she was in her early 20s and received a phone call from a puzzled friend. He asked if she’d ever taken a photo dressed an angel to which she replied, “Where did it end up this time?”
His answer? On the battery inside of his girlfriend’s vibrator.
It turned out the friend had been hooking up with his partner when her vibrator died. When he went to replace the battery, out popped Gulyas’ face doing the “Shhh” motion with the word “Naughty” written beneath.
“I was so surprised,” Gulyas said. “I thought that they were gone by then. The clip art company had gone out of business. I thought that those photos were no longer in circulation.”
Of course, she was wrong. Today, thanks to the internet, everything is forever. Nothing just dies and fades into obscurity. Though both AbleStock and the battery business are no longer around, Gulyas still gets cheeky photos sent to her from friends who’ve visited sex stores and spotted packs of her batteries for sale by the registers.
It is strange — and a bit creepy — that a 15-year-old’s face has ended up on batteries for sex toys. But at the time of the photo shoot, it’s likely no one had any idea that would eventually happen.
“It felt super innocent. Everybody was really nice and we just didn’t really think that much of it,” Gulyas said.
Her mother was there with her for the shoot, and the photographer was someone she had worked with previously. They even asked her to select the music they’d play during the shoot. (She chose the punk-rock bands NOFX and The Vandals.)
“It was just a great time. No part of it felt inappropriate at all.”
Then again, it was only Gulyas’ “second or third” modeling job, and it’s likely AbleStock used her naivety to its advantage. She and her mom read through the contract, and though she regrets it now, she opted to sign over the photo rights. In exchange, she got “not very much money. Maybe $400.”
“We were in Ottawa and I guess we thought, ‘Oh, we don’t have to worry about this,’ ” she said. “I just assumed the clip art company would do their due diligence and not put my face on dildo batteries, you know?”
In the years since, Gulyas has tried reaching out to the battery company — which also manufacturers ones with Jesus and nuns on them — but she’s never heard back.
Instead of getting upset, she’s taken the whole incident in stride, laughing along whenever anyone shows her a new resurfacing of her famous old photos.
“I kind of just chalked it up to whatever, this is a funny story we’re going to tell,” Gulyas said.
Last December, she shared her story on Reddit, posting it to the group “Well That Sucks.” She received hundreds of comments from people, many of whom mentioned having seen her photos. A few of them also mused about how many conceptions her batteries made possible, which was an angle Gulyas had never considered.
“I thought, ‘Awww, that’s the nicest way that anyone could think of it.’ It made me feel pretty good.”
Redditors inevitably also brought up the shadiness of Gulyas’ situation and the fact that her underage images ended up on sex toys. They told her that the inappropriate use of her photos could make her contract null-and-void, and many suggested she take both the clip art company and the battery company to court, and “just sue everybody.”
But that, Gulyas said, “feels like a lot.”
In the end, would she have liked to have made a little more money off those photos, especially now knowing how far they’d eventually spread? Yes, of course. And, does she wish she’d stayed in modeling instead of ditching it after her fifth or sixth gig? Duh.
But what can she do?
Other than file a lawsuit, not much. The past has already happened, those photos have long been disseminated to the masses, and modeling doesn’t sound as appealing to her as it once did.
So what can she do? Really, there’s only one choice: laugh and continue to find the humor in the situation.
“Otherwise,” she said, “it could totally stress me out.”