[I will preface this article by saying that I fully support any donation to cancer charities. Cancer is awful and I have personal experience of this, but what follows is a short discussion of a recent trend which I personally believe to have problematic aspects.]
Unless you live under a rock, you are doubtless aware of the ‘no make-up selfie for cancer awareness’ trend that has been cropping up all over Facebook and Twitter over the past few days. Countless bare-faced photos have been filling up the internet, with the woman in question then nominating several friends who have 24 hours to post their own picture. The idea wasn’t started by Cancer Research or Macmillan, although they have now begun to accept donations. The fact that, out of 23 such photographs on my own news feed, only 12 make any reference to donating money is worrying.
What, therefore, is the point of these selfies? Yomi Adegoke argues that the craze is nothing more than thinly veiled narcissism and that the idea of not wearing make-up being somehow ‘brave’ is laughable. She is of course right on the latter point: fighting cancer takes bravery, wiping your face does not. A friend of mine, who rarely wears any make-up, despairs of the portrayal in the media of women without war paint as looking so horrific that it becomes an act of self-sacrifice to merely reveal a natural face. A lot of the comments on these photos, however, make for interesting reading – they are overwhelmingly compliments from other women. This is arguably a positive development and has the potential to spark a dialogue about women’s self-esteem in relation to cosmetics or lack thereof.
My personal opinion is that these images do not reflect narcissism on the part of the poster; merely good, if sometimes vague, intentions often coupled with a desire for this validation from others. Women are bombarded daily with the message that they need to put on a never-ending variety of STUFF to make themselves look acceptable. Many of us are extremely unconfident about our appearance sans make-up (I write this as someone who chooses to wear cosmetics on a regular basis and has frequently been asked if I’m ill when going without). As a result of this, the rare message that you can look great without the slap is a brilliant one for women of any age to be hearing. But can it really only be prompted by the hashtag #cancer?
This movement will doubtless be short-lived (unless, as Adegoke suggests, a month-long event comparable to Movember is born) but an example of photos that have appeared on social media which I believe to be truly worth the attention is a series of women revealing their mastectomy scars. Surely this is a more pertinent representation of bravery. What does it say about our society if women displaying their natural, normal faces appears to mean more to us?
So in conclusion, take off your make-up. Or keep it on. Whatever. Just be comfortable with yourself and please donate to a good cause if you can.