I have today been nominated to upload a #NoMakeUpSelfie to Facebook as part of the latest social media craze.
At first, I was baffled by the campaign, which, according to status updates in my facebook newsfeed, had the aim of “raising awareness of cancer.” I found this confusing because I thought most people were pretty much aware of cancer by now (unless they live in a secluded community in the Brazilian rainforest far from the media and carcinogenic chemicals, I suppose).
Nevertheless, the campaign has evolved into one that aims to raise awareness of the work of breast cancer charities, especially Cancer Research UK, and my generous and fabulous women friends have been donating money when uploading selfies. This is admirable and makes much more sense as a campaign.
I do have some problems with the basis of the campaign though, if not with its aims (*collective groan* – sorry everyone).
The idea of women being sponsored, or sponsoring themselves, to go without make-up raises some interesting issues. Is removing make-up really the sort of grand gesture that is deserving of donations? The ultimate sacrifice for charity? The social media trend suggests that this is so. This in itself points to the fact that the world has not accepted women without make-up.* Indeed, the airbrushed, perfect images of women in the media pressure women to wear make-up, as do the endless advertising campaigns that make women feel ugly without it. Of course, why should women care if they feel “ugly” or “beautiful” according to social conventions of what constitutes attractiveness? We shouldn’t, but most of us do, because society trains us to from childhood.
If the #NoMakeUpSelfie idea was consciously and critically attempting to raise awareness of the patriarchal idea that women must be beautiful, and the capitalist idea that they can only be beautiful if they spend money on cosmetics, then I would applaud it. However, I’m not sure it is doing this consciously. It seems to have been started on the basis that an un-made-up woman is something of an unusual freakshow (unusual because many women have been made to feel unattractive without make-up, which is highlighted by some of the comments by men on my facebook newsfeed, calling women’s fresh-faced selfies “ugly”), something outrageous that is done for charity, like having a bath in baked beans. What is this saying? That women should strive to be more attractive by wearing make-up all the time, only taking it off if it’s for charity?
On the other hand, many women are reclaiming the #NoMakeUpSelfie campaign. The proliferation of diverse, un-airbrushed, un-cosmetically-enhanced images of women is a positive thing, which many of my women friends have noted in their own facebook statuses accompanied by their selfies. Furthermore, quite a few of my women friends have pointed out that they never wear make-up anyway, which in itself shows that the (sexist) basis of the BareFaced campaign – that it is always a daring feat for women to go without make-up – is flawed.
Here is my #NoMakeUpSelfie, which I post to raise awareness of how patriarchal society tells us that how we look isn’t good enough, and how capitalism cajoles us into spending money on (carcinogenic) cosmetics to make us look more socially acceptable:
I have chosen to give my donation to Breast Cancer Action, which highlights the very political nature of the disease. I think it’s worth raising awareness of the their work and policies:
- They lobby for more funding transparency by cancer campaigns that partner with corporations profiting from cancer (by selling products that they know have carcinogenic chemicals, for example, or from creaming huge profits off the medicines they make), such as the Pink Ribbon campaign.
- They focus on the social disparities amongst mortal victims of cancer. In the US for example, a black woman is 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than a white woman. Cancer is not just about genes, it’s also about social injustice.
- They highlight the environmental links to breast cancer (did you know that 70% of breast cancer victims have none of the known genetic “risk factors”?) and campaign against the use of carcinogenic chemicals in many of the products that we use everyday (WHICH, IRONICALLY, INCLUDE COSMETICS**
– in the light of this, going “make-up free” to fight cancer makes much more sense!)
- They advocate for less toxic and more effective treatment for breast cancer, and for the treatments that are best for the patient rather than those that best match the needs of corporations.
- They have a strict corporate donations policy (no donations from corporations that profit from cancer) and are therefore in far greater need of donations from members of the public.
*I don’t mean to suggest that all women who wear make-up do so due to societal pressures. There are many reasons why women wear make-up. Some see it as an art form, for example. Others find it creative and fun. I should also note that I deplore the shaming of women who are seen to “wear too much slap.”