Thinking about criticising Nomakeupselfie

makeupNomakeupselfie caused no small controversy over the last few days. The idea, which has no uncontestable origin isn’t actually all that easy to describe. Ok, well the selfie of yourself with no make is, but the reason for doing it was hard to pick out as it seemed to be different on each selfie.

To this casual observer, the original aim seemed to be to “raise awareness of cancer.” The pedant in me scoffed, most people are fully aware of cancer. Asking to raise awareness of cancer, rather than awareness of how to spot it, prevent it or how to help fight it, is sort of like saying be aware of your teeth, rather than be aware of how to look after them.

As the day wore on, more selfies were accompanied by donation details, or messages of support for people suffering cancer or to those that had lost people to the disease.  Photos of men wearing making up to join in started to appear and caused much hilarity.

Those going makeup-less were being labelled brave for doing so and that’s when I start to get uncomfortable. I expressed these concerns last year when Children In Need launched their #BearFaced campaign. A friend of mine God Loves Women wrote a great blog explains well why she thinks going makeup-less is not something that should be a fundraising method. I agree. That there are people out there who feel being seen without make up is something difficult is a very sad thing and I do say good on you to all the women who yesterday overcame a fear.

But I have two major concerns regarding #nomakeupselfie the first being two really important subjects got blurred.

Fighting cancer by raising money for research and support is really important. Fighting misogyny, sexism and bullying that leaves women thinking they can’t be beautiful in their own skin is really important. Nomakeupselfie wasn’t about comparing the bravery of those going without make up to those suffering from cancer; I didn’t see that happen. But a lot of the commentary and discussions on the topic did try to point out that the selfies weren’t as hard to do as fight cancer.

I don’t think it should be a competition about which fight is harder. Cancer is evil. But women still walk our streets being treated as cattle, and look in the mirror believing that they are nothing without donning a mask both physical and mental is evil too.

They are two different fights and neither is more important than the other.  

Secondly, I think it should be ok to criticise a movement like Nomakeupselfie which had no one steering it and no directed outcome.

Cancer Research UK have benefited from the donations but fundraising is a complex operation. Other planned campaigns may well have been impacted because of the giving that has happened now. Charities often plan their marketing/fundraising drives for when they need the money most. Will CRUK suffer later because people may think –  I gave back in March? What knock on effect does it have for many other cancer charities? March is Marie Curie month. Will their donations go down? National charities plan together to ensure they don’t do themselves out of donation by asking for the same thing at once.

Of course, it is impossible to stop something viral once it has got going, but we have to be aware of the ramifications of getting involved. Remember Kony 2012, an experiment to see if a home made video could make a war criminal famous so that he would be stopped from committing more heinous crimes? Millions of people shared the video, hardly any of them watched it (it was 23 minutes long after all)  and although the intention was good, slactivism was born. Slactivism is defined as  a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it take satisfaction from the feeling they have contributed.

In Kony 2012, damage was also done to individuals and the cause because of an ill researched campaign, which in turn has had a negative impact on the power of social media to be a power for good in charitiable works. Too many “click to support” campaigns with no clear messages, or ones that cause confusion or other matters to be jumbled into the mix just aren’t helpful.

It was easy to see why people thought to criticise the nomakeupselfie was to undermine the women who do struggle to see themselves without make up. But questioning the campaign wasn’t about that, it is about asking whether viral campaigns really do good in the long run.

CRUK have an extra £1m to play with, for now. Those women who have body image or self esteem problems and went makeupless may have had some nice comments and friends may now take more notice. I really hope so. But couldn’t more directed, planned, researched campaigns do more? With links and materials and helplines ready to serve those who have been affected?

And in general, it should be ok to question charities and charitiable works. Just because someone has decided to do something that has benefited a charity, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be looked at. I saw plenty of people castigated yesterday for daring to say they weren’t comfortable with the Selfies.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

Just raising money isn’t enough – these days we need to be clear on why and how we’re helping. The nomakeupselfie confuses the lines between fighting misogyny, fighting cancer and fighting the impact of either or both of those things on our lives. But you can’t cure a low self esteem or cancer by whopping a photo on Facebook.


ETA: I’ve just seen a #nomakeupselfie where the Tweeter set up a direct debit to Refuge, a women’s domestic violence charity. I’m even more confused.  There definitely is something backwards about indicating it is a very special, unusual, brave, amazement worthy thing to do to go make up free when you’re supporting a charity where women often leave their home in the middle of the night with a toddler under one arm and a baby on their back with not so much as a pair of clean knickers.  Especially when the tweeter is clearly aware she is a very photogenic young lady. That’s a different argument though.


4 thoughts on “Thinking about criticising Nomakeupselfie

  1. Well put Heather. I admit I’m equally confused and am keeping out of commenting or joining in because I can only sustain so many online discussions in rather day. I thought at first it was to do with the unpleasant criticism of Kim Novak at the Oscars for not looking like she did when she was in her twenties, but that became confused with giving to cancer charities. Some of the selfies on my timeline have donation details on them, most of them don’t. I’m not sure how I’m meant to respond since everyone looks pretty much the same as they did with makeup on!

    • Thanks Pam. My experience has been that the selfies didn’t get donation details until after the early ones had been criticised for being a bit pointless, so actually criticising the selfies helped. I’ve even had a friend say she doesn’t understand the Nomakeupselfie and isn’t bothered about whether she wears make up or not, but has done one anyway because what’s the harm. I think God Loves Women outlines the harm better that I can, but things like this that seem innocuous can have a big affect.

  2. Well, as someone who has had breast cancer, I posted a no-makeup selfie, which prompted people to post their own and donate, as they knew what I had been through. Which is the point of the campaign. What I don’t get is the messages that say ‘Post where you put your handbag but post it after ‘I like it on the…” Which doesn’t really do anything, no place to donate and so on.

    • Thank you for your comment. I don’t join with those random ‘post what colour is your bra is’ things because they do confuse. If someone has to ask why you’re doing it, it isn’t really a very good awareness campaign is it? The nomakesupselfie had elements of that too and even today I’ve seen more photos with no reference to any charity or cause. I think that is a shame.

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