In November 2020, several of Averie Wright‘s friends sent him a meme that reminded them of him. As an active 20-something social media user, that wasn’t anything unusual. Except for this time, the meme reminded Wright’s friends of him because it was an actual drawing of him.
The meme was a side-by-side cartoon of two definitions of an “established and complete woman” — one panel depicting a husband, wife and child and the other panel showing a woman by herself eating a slice of pizza and a glass of wine.
The husband in the first panel could have been taken from a photo Wright’s sister took of him a couple of years prior. This wasn’t just a guy with a similar skin tone and beard wearing glasses, it was, as Wright explained to In The Know, “uncanny.”
“I was certain it was me,” Wright said. “The rest of that night was dedicated to figuring out how and why I was in a meme.”
According to Wright, Instagram user Lainey Molnar created the meme. Molnar is an illustrator with over 1 million followers on Instagram and posts artwork focusing on women’s issues. As of reporting, Molnar does not have a post of the meme featuring the image Wright claimed looked like him — instead, she has an “established and complete woman” meme featuring a dad without glasses.
In The Know attempted to contact Molnar but has not heard back.
“She didn’t just use me as a reference for a picture, she just traced my face and put it right into a picture,” Wright alleges in his video. “The picture blew up within 24 hours, almost a million people had seen it.”
However, searching “established and complete woman” pulls up multiple iterations of the same meme — the major difference being the dad. In some, it’s the image Wright claims looks like him, in others, the dad still has glasses but lighter skin and less of a beard. The rest show what’s posted on Molnar’s page.
“The night Lainey’s image was first sent to me I tracked down her email,” Wright told In The Know. “She confirmed she found my image on Pinterest — however, she stated the watermark that was on the original [photo] was not there.”
In a video Wright uploaded about the saga in May 2022, he included screenshots of what he claims is the original meme that has the dad looking just like the photo his sister took.
The popular Instagram account @feminist is one of the reshare examples Wright uses in his video. Feminist has over 6 million followers and still has the alleged original meme up on its account from November 2020 with the image of the dad looking similar to Wright’s. Feminist credits Molnar’s Instagram in the caption.
Feminist also credited another, smaller Instagram account — @bebadass.in — which also still has the original meme up from November 2020.
“At first, I was OK with being in the image — the message is positive and I wasn’t cast in a bad light,” Wright said. “Where things got messy was this being part of an aspiring content creator’s brand marketing.”
In a follow-up video, Wright included a screenshot of an email he sent to Molnar saying that he “really appreciated the message of empowerment” in her work. But as Wright saw Molnar’s popularity increase, he started to wonder whether she was financially profiting off of his photo — which she used without his permission.
Molnar, who lives in Budapest, did see her follower count increase after the “established and complete woman” meme went viral. According to screenshots included in Wright’s video, she gained over 100,000 followers since posting it. Wright also claimed he saw the meme included in “multiple paid promotions.” In The Know asked Molnar whether she got money from this particular meme, but she did not respond.
“After a while, it started to feel like the whole situation wasn’t an accident as Lainey had described but that she was using people of color and certain messaging in order to attract an audience of American women,” Wright speculated.
“I felt like my skin color and the positive message were being utilized to gain a following,” he added.
Then things got worse. Recently, the meme started to be parodied with antifeminist rhetoric. The family depicted on the left suddenly had a lot more kids; the woman eating pizza had things like “college debt,” a cat, a sex toy and a tally of men she’s had sex with. Know Your Meme speculated in its write-up of the meme that the edits came from 4chan, a forum similar to Reddit but with “no names, few rules and few consequences.“
4chan is responsible for a large percentage of memes, language and trends that make up Internet culture (e.g. LOLcats, Rickrolling). It’s also responsible for hoaxes, cyberbullying and extreme Internet pranks (e.g. leaking celebrity nudes, calling in fake bomb threats).
That was why Wright decided to make videos about the situation almost two years later. When the antifeminist version of the meme circulated, Wright noticed people on Twitter were defending Lainey and her work, so he wanted to add more context.
“When I got on Twitter and saw that most of the comments about the newest version were talking about the ‘original meme’ and how great Lainey is, I felt like my video would add valuable context to the conversation,” he said.
Some social media users didn’t agree that the context was necessary. One commenter on Wright’s TikTok video asked why Wright would make a video after “the issue was resolved privately” between him and Molnar.
“After sharing my story, someone else commented that Lainey stole her picture as well,” Wright explained to In The Know.
Wright did not name the other person nor did he share the meme that allegedly featured her “stolen picture.” There’s a level of invasiveness subjects of memes feel when their image goes viral. Jimmy Kimmel who released “Worst Twerk Fail EVER—Girl Catches On Fire!” in 2013 as an experiment to see if it could viral, explained to Vice that there are a lot of downsides to going viral.
“People get excited about it but you’re also inviting a lot of strangers into your life,” Kimmel said. “You just expose yourself to a lot of people, the least of it is being exposed to negative and hurtful comments, but those can have an impact.”
Even though Molnar’s meme was an illustration, enough of Wright’s friends saw it and thought they recognized him. Imagine what would have happened if Molnar hadn’t changed the dad’s image in the meme before 4chan turned it into an antifeminist joke.
“It’s hard to know how viral memes make their way online, and if you can’t identify [the people in them] there’s no way you’ll know how they feel,” Wright said.