You’ve seen it. Your Facebook newsfeed is overflowing with photos of familiar (and some not so familiar) make-up free faces and online media channels are rife with debates about ‘no make-up selfies’, posted in the name of Cancer Research.
I’d been dreading receiving my inevitable nomination to get on board with this campaign but not for the reason you might think. I go fresh-faced far more frequently than I wear make-up and my friends and colleagues have seen me in varying states of unmasked sleep deprivation over the years. That being the case, being challenged to post a photo of myself without make-up on was not the problem.
No, the real shame with these barefaced selfies is not in exposing our ‘real’ faces; it’s in the concept that women are considered brave to do so. How sad it is to live in a society where letting the world see the natural you is viewed as a courageous act. This sadness runs far deeper when the subjects of these selfies have accompanied their photo with an apology for how they look.
In the case of my friends, I’ve seen two kinds of ‘sorry’: the ‘sorry for the nightmares this will cause folks!’ joke apology; and the more deep-rooted, fear-based ‘I wasn’t going to join in with this but I have to because I support Cancer Research and I’m really sorry you have to see this’ apology. Both kinds ultimately stem from the same issue: genuinely beautiful women who genuinely believe they need to cover their faces up in order to be accepted. How did we get to this place?
When I first learnt of the no-make up selfies viral campaign, my mind started running riot with a tirade of anger-fuelled questions. How is posting a picture of yourself without make-up going to help people with cancer? What kind of a mental world are we living in here, where showing your real face is a heroic act? Isn’t this whole thing kind of insulting to people with cancer? Surely battling cancer is the definition of courage, not to be equated with the ‘bravery’ it takes to skip on an application of foundation? And why isn’t anyone else asking these questions?
Turns out I wasn’t alone. I happily hit ‘like’ on my friend’s announcement: ‘I hope all these people posting selfies are actually donating money to Cancer Research and not just taking selfies?’ Until reading his status, the images saturating my newsfeed made no mention of donating; they simply challenged nominated targets to go bare too, as a way of raising awareness about breast cancer and I had been somewhat confused as to what good this was actually doing.
My skepticism about this campaign grew as varying messages came attached with the selfies, ranging from ultimatums to either ‘post or forfeit a donation’, to ‘Here’s my selfie, I’ve donated X and now I’m asking you to do the same’. And then of course there were the boys, with contributions including pictures of themselves plastered in drag queen cosmetics, close-ups of their bare bums and the ‘putting it all out there’, with only a sock to cover their modesty selfie-shockers. With so many distortions on the posts I’d first seen, I wanted to find out what the original message had been from Cancer Research and how it had spiraled so quickly. Was this for breast cancer, testicular cancer, simply raising awareness about all cancer or an official fundraising campaign?
It didn’t take long to discover that Cancer Research did not start this campaign but since it went viral, has thanked people for their generosity and is delighted to see such a spike in interest and awareness. This was reassuring to learn, as it had seemed like total madness that the charity itself would put out a formal communication to the world, condoning the idea that it takes guts to go without make-up.
Weighing it all up and learning that considerable donations (over £2million in a 48-hour period) were reaching Cancer Research UK on the back of this selfie epidemic, I decided that if anyone asked me to post my own selfie, I would decline to do so as a stand against cosmetics but I would instead make a donation to such a worthy cause. I was still grappling with my anger at our social conventions at large and how ridiculous it is to be dependent on make-up as a measure of beauty.
That was until the first nomination hit my profile, coming from none other than my youngest sister. Miffy had challenged all three of her sisters to get involved, giving us 24 hours to join her. I looked at her photo and found myself thinking that it had actually taken her guts to post it. She’s a stunningly beautiful woman but cannot see this herself and I honestly can’t remember the last time I’d seen her face without make-up on. This, combined with the fact that she has recently lost someone very special to her to cancer, hit home to me that the selfie campaign is important and it is making a positive difference.
While still deciding what action I was going to take, my other sisters swiftly got their pictures out there and my second nomination came in, from a dearly loved, childhood friend who sadly lost her father to cancer. It always seemed a crime Colin was taken so young and he is never forgotten. Like you, my list of special people who have been stolen by the dreaded ‘C’ is far too long.
Still struggling with wanting to take a stand against believing it takes bravery to go bare-faced and not entirely sure how friends currently fighting cancer would view all this, I needed one more push. It came in the form of a beautiful friend who has survived her breast cancer battle and lives each day to the full. Her selfie was out there for all to see and boy, didn’t she look incredible! That was it – I’d put up a selfie as well as making my donation.
I’m ashamed to admit that despite all my hatred towards the domination of the cosmetics industry, I didn’t post the first selfie I took. No, that went wrong – several times. Then I asked my boyfriend if he could take a picture for me – preferably one where I had both eyes open. Six identical (and in my view hideous) shots later and there was no way I was posting any of these pictures. Thankfully, I remembered I had a no make-up selfie on my phone that I took a few months ago and both of my eyes were open. Strangely, I felt guilty that I hadn’t just gone with the first picture I took, until reading one of the many articles about this campaign that started with the question, ‘Be honest, how many selfies did you take before you posted?’ Clearly I was united in nationwide insecurity with thousands of other women.
Although I personally have no issue with not wearing make-up in public, I do find myself in awe of the dolled-up office beauties. You know the sort – the girl who paints herself with immaculate precision everyday and looks like she just stepped off a film set? You’ve seen her right? These women seem to be in abundance and when standing next to them, I admit to always wishing I had made more of an effort (and having even the faintest clue about colour matching. Yes, I’ve had many a ‘Tangoed’ faux pas with the wrong tone of foundation).
Ironically, it was only a week ago that I decided that as I approach the age of 33, I better start trying to make myself more presentable to the world (or if we’re being really honest, attempt to hide the blessings aging brings our skin). I took the time to seek specialist help and left the store 30 minutes later with the magical products that were to transform me into an acceptable looking woman.
After going for months at a time with no make-up on, I’ve worn it every day this week and my boyfriend has told me that I look beautiful every day this week. I had taken his compliments to be in direct correlation with my new cosmetics but thinking about it, he’s told me he thinks I am beautiful every day since I met him. Even when I had a horrendous stomach bug and was undoubtedly looking the worst he has ever seen me, he still told me that I’m beautiful.
Four days into my newly adopted make-up routine, I caught sight of my eyebrows as I looked in my rearview mirror on my drive to work. ‘Oh yes!’ I thought, ‘This new eyebrow stuff is working so well – they look much better! Why didn’t I start using this earlier? I can’t believe people saw me without this on! I’m going to use this every single day, for the rest of my life.’
Would now be a good time to tell you that on this particular morning, I had forgotten to apply my eyebrow tinting, brush-on gel?