Memes have become an inseparable part of our culture. The single thing necessary for a meme is a funny photo to inspire others to begin copying it and adding minor variations before quickly distributing it online. Last year alone saw an emergence of new viral memes, including:
The subjects of these viral memes never intended for their faces to be manipulated and spread all over the Internet, but once it starts, there’s no stopping it. Some people have embraced their meme fame, while others have spoken against it.
Here are 14 real people behind popular Internet memes:
1. “First World Problems Girl.” A variation of memes began circulating around the Internet, poking fun at frustrations and complaints only experienced by privileged individuals. One of the most popular ones was taken from a stock photo of a woman crying with her hand against her head.
The woman behind “First World Problems Girl” is a model and actress from Italy, Silvia Bottini. Now residing in Los Angeles, Bottini’s career continues to thrive, and she’s nodded to her viral fame on her Twitter page, writing, “accidentally a first world problem meme: definitely a heroine!”
2. “Scumbag Steve” was an incredibly popular meme featuring a guy standing while wearing a sideways-fitted cap. The picture became integrated continuously with text, which often centered around unethical behavior.
The picture was originally taken of Blake Boston by his mother and uploaded to Myspace, where it received an unexpected amount of attention from the online community. Boston has since embraced the meme and has used it to help propel his rapping career.
3. “Hipster Barista.” Making fun of hipster stereotypes, this meme was often adorned with judgmental yet hypocritical quotes that jabbed at the culture surrounding independent coffee establishments.
The man in the photograph, Dustin Mattson, who works as a barista in real life, wasn’t too happy with the meme’s popularity. Mattson admitted that he found the meme offensive in regard to the culinary world.
4. “Bad Luck Brian.” This school picture became the perfect breeding ground for memes surrounding a guy who just can’t catch a break with quotes that center around embarrassment.
The real “Brian,” Kyle, became an Internet sensation after his friend decided to post his 7th-grade yearbook picture and forever embed it into meme history. Kyle has embraced his viral stardom and makes YouTube videos under his meme name.
5. “Ridiculously Photogenic Guy.” This photograph taken during a marathon caught the attention of the Internet because of how attractive one guy remained while running. Various quotes were added to the photo, spoofing his absurdly good looks.
The man in the flattering meme, Zeddie Little, was happy to be part of a meme that was in good spirits rather than cruel or vicious as they sometimes can be. Little even went on to be interviewed on “Good Morning America.”
6. “Sudden Clarity Clarence.” This party picture gained notoriety for the man standing in the crowd who looks as if he’s having an epiphany. Memes quickly circulated with text regarding sudden realizations.
While there’s been some debate on who the real “Clarity Clarence” is, one Redditor posted a picture of himself reacting to his newfound meme fame.
7. “Sheltering Suburban Mom.” This photo was quick to become a popular meme that made fun of the contradictions spewed by sheltered suburban moms.
The picture was taken from a portrait of best-selling romance novelist Carly Phillips, who became aware of her meme fame after one was posted to her Facebook fan page. Initially discouraged by the meme, Phillips began to become more accepting when she found that the quotes didn’t reflect her own opinions.
8. “Ermahgerd.” This picture of an excited woman holding up the popular children’s Goosebumps books quickly began to trend after the captions associated with it were written to phonetically imply a speech impediment.
The woman in the photo, Maggie Goldenberger, works as a nurse in Phoenix and admitted to Vanity Fair that she still finds it weird when she sees the picture pop up on her screen.
9. “Overly Attached Girlfriend.” A screenshot taken from a YouTube video in which user wzr0713 sang a parody version of Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” became a meme surrounding a girlfriend with stalker-like, obsessive tendencies.
The woman behind the meme, Laina Morris, has embraced her Internet fame and made a YouTube channel dedicated to comedic videos with the slogan “Not as awkward as I meme.”
10. “College Freshman.” A stock photo of a college student on campus caught the attention of meme-generators who began adding captions that make fun of the clichés college newcomers experience.
Griffin Kiritsy was the model in the photo and took to his personal blog to acknowledge his Internet fame and share a funny story on how the photoshoot initially went down.
11. “Successful Black Man.” Taken from a Shutterstock photo, this meme eventually became a platform for captions that begin misleadingly stereotypical but then reverse the context.
While his identity remained undisclosed for some time, Redditors discovered that the man in the photograph has become quite successful himself. According to Reddit, the man is an electrical engineer who lives in Texas and has also competed in bodybuilding competitions.
12. “Disaster Girl.” A picture of a young girl looking suspiciously upbeat while standing in front of a burning house became a meme that embraced crimes committed by children.
The girl’s parents came forward, stating that the picture was taken at a fire department’s routine live drill. They’ve since uploaded pictures of their daughter over the years and her acknowledgment of her meme fame.
13. “Attractive Convict.” A woman’s mugshot caught the Internet’s attention and became a meme with captions. The words written on the image are a wordplay on her good looks and previous crimes.
The woman in the mugshot, Meagan Simmons, quickly became aware of her Internet fame after she received numerous inquiries online. While she told Daily Mail that she doesn’t think it’s a good photo, she says its viral popularity has been a wake-up call for her. She is now focusing on raising her children and becoming a medical assistant.
14. “Success Kid.” A Flickr photo became an Internet sensation with an array of captions being slapped on the image. The meme became so popular it even got the attention of advertisers who wanted to use it to promote their products.
Initially, the kid’s mother, Laney Griner, wasn’t happy with her son’s photo going viral. However, the unwanted Internet fame worked to her advantage when it helped her raise over $80,000 on GoFundMe for her husband’s dialysis to pay for his kidney transplant.