Friday, 21 March 2014

Not so made up about #nomakeupselfies

What the hell is all this #nomakeupselfie thing about? I was nominated in a Facebook post to take a photo of myself without any make up on and plaster it all over social media to help raise awareness of cancer, although, how exactly this will help to beat cancer was beyond me?

Having recently lost someone very close to me to cancer, I am all for active promotion of cancer awareness and fund-raising initiatives, but I failed to see how this social media trend would help to make a difference. Looking through my FB feed there was image after image, but very few of them at the time contained any information on how to donate, or any knowledge of how doing this will actually help to raise cancer awareness in a positive light.

Before taking a snap and adding myself to the #nomakeupselfie #cancerawareness trend, I wanted to check the background. Where had this come from and in aid of what exactly?

The idea of the 'selfless selfie' was capitalised on by act!onaid. The idea was to buy a t-shirt, the funds of which went towards the Typhoon Appeal, then take a selfie while wearing your charity t-shirt. beauty retailer also launched a selfiecampaign back in September 2013 to help raise money for Breast Cancer Care. This seems to be the most similar campaign so far to the trend we've seen in the last few days. Elsewhere, it's reported that the viral trend began when author Laura Lippman posted a photo of herself without make up as a way to support actress Kim Novak, who was slammed in the press for how she looked at the Oscars.

There has also been the launch of a new app this week, Put Yourself In The Picture, by Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust - the only dedicated cervical cancer charity in the UK - encouraging women to take a selfie with their reminder to go for a cervical cancer test. The app has been launched following new research* which looked at the reasons why women in the first (25-29 years) and last (60-64 years) screening ages had delayed or not been for their cervical screening. Thirty percent said that a friend reassuring them about the procedure would encourage them to attend. 

I get this, more than I initially understood the social media selfie trend.
Like with most internet virals, it's hard to pin point where it began. I did double check with Cancer Research UK (CRUK) press office, thinking Perhaps this was something they started? Carolan Davidge, director of communications at Cancer Research UK told me: “The #nomakeupselfie Twitter trend isn’t something Cancer Research UK started – but it’s great to see so many people getting involved to help raise awareness of cancer amongst their friends and family. If people would like to choose to support our work to beat cancer sooner, they can visit”

Please note the last bit about where to go to donate, because the odd thing with the current trend is that people were forgetting to actually do anything. It became, for some, an exercise in narcissism: taking a photo without make up and posting it and putting the correct hash tags doesn't mean you've done your bit for charity. You've aided nothing. Added nothing. It's just a picture and a comment that (well done you), you know cancer exists. Text a donation, go out and buy a Marie Curie daffodil; buy a pink ribbon; donate some clothes to your local Cancer Research Shop or hospice; donate some money to the cancer ward at your local hospital, because that's when it starts to make a difference.

Luckily, in the last 12 hours and since I've started writing this blog, many people realised the flaw in the plan and (finally) started to post details on where and how to donate to various cancer charities – the most popular being CRUK. Many cancer charities aimed to capitalise on this awareness viral too and began to promote all the ways and means people can actively donate. Soon, selfies were appearing with people adding in a snap of their text confirmation to show they'd donated.

The latest update I have received from CRUK says, “Thanks to people choosing to donate to us as part of the #nomakeupselfie trend, we’ve been overwhelmed with donations and support in the past 48 hours. We’ve raised over £2m so far, and the #nomakeupselfie is still going strong! If people would like to choose to support our work to beat cancer sooner, they can text BEAT to 70099 to donate £3 or visit”

Although the money raised is staggeringly amazing, there is one particular aspect about this whole thing that really grinds with me: the use of the word “brave”, the wider issue of how much attention is created when a woman publicly appears without wearing any make up and then the crude link of associating it with 'cancer awareness'.

It's a sad sign of the times when women after posting a photo of themselves sans slap were being told how “brave” they are. I couldn't agree with this more if we were having a conversation about the societal conditioning of women and what is 'expected' of them in terms of appearance. It's crap that it's surprising, 'not normal', or brave to see a woman without foundation and blusher. But that's not the debate we're having. We're discussing cancer and I believe the word “brave” means a lot more than the choice of whether or not to forgo wearing make up for a single picture.

Some context of what brave and cancer means: brave are the patients that have to undergo painful treatment, sometimes trying new, mostly untested drugs; brave is finding the words to explain to your loved ones that you might have less than a year to live; brave is the word to use to describe those carers that do all they can to make sure the person suffering from cancer is as comfortable as they can be, despite how painful it is for them to watch a loved one slip away.

One friend I was discussing this issue with summed it up well: “To me, 'bravery' or looking like yourself, vs what someone with cancer goes through is staggeringly offensive comparison.” Like I said, I'm all for raising awareness and the promotion of fund-raising initiatives, but why in this way? Why when cancer is such a degenerative disease that strips away and changes the appearance of someone, sometimes to the point where they no longer look like the person you know, did this have to run?

Think I'm being over sensitive? Please take a minute (literally) to watch the following video: a series of selfies taken by EmilyHelck who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and took a photo each week for a year while undergoing treatment. This is why I will not be posting, because my face without make up is not a big deal. 

* Research conducted by Censuswide, with 2,021 women aged 25-29 and 60-64 during 6th-12th December 2013. Surveys were conducted from a random sample of a representative panel across the country. Censuswide employs members of the Market Research Society and abides by its code and rules.

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Cheers, RoseC