If your newsfeed is anything like mine it’s been blowing up recently with self-portraits of women wearing no make up. Like the #neknomination trend that made the rounds a few months earlier I watched as this new viral social media trend caught on like wild fire and began creeping steadily closer to my circle of friends. Then, two Sundays ago, I got the Facebook notification I had been dreading, a friend had posted her own no make up selfie and nominated myself and two other friends to do the same. The idea of posting a no make up selfie bothered me, not because I was worried about exposing myself without make up—as someone who loves traveling and sport, a huge portion of my Facebook photos feature me without any make up and in my day-to-day life I can often be found without make up. What bothered me was the whole idea behind this “awareness” campaign. Instead of posting a selfie I decided to use my nomination as an opportunity to open a dialogue on the topic. Rather than nominate others to post a selfie I encouraged my Facebook friends to share their thoughts on this latest viral social media campaign.
As some may know I’m currently writing my Master’s research paper on how young women use Facebook to interact with peers and how this relates to our culture’s dominant gender norms. The purpose of my study is to gain an understanding of the role social media platforms, such as Facebook, play in establishing and reinforcing social norms, gender roles and stereotypes. I don’t normally try to stir the pot on these types of social issues but with my nomination and coinciding parallel research interests it seemed like the perfect opportunity to address this mass cultural delusion.
While I could probably go on ad nauseam—being a grad student has taught me to master the fine art of writing long drawn out bullshit—I’ll spare you the agony of reading a long essay and summarize my thoughts into the 3 aspects of the campaign that I find most problematic.
Who is “unaware” of cancer in 2014?!
The original aim of this selfie campaign, that began in the UK, was to “raise awareness” for cancer and have people text in a 3£ donation. However, I feel compelled to ask, who in this day and age does not know what cancer is?! Is there really still a need to spread “awareness” about this umbrella term? Perhaps if the campaign had been targeted at raising awareness for a taboo or little known form of cancer or illness it might have seemed more legitimate but raising “awareness” for the big “c” seems unnecessary. Even if you disagree and believe that raising awareness for cancer is still a necessary endeavor it remains difficult to see any connection between cancer awareness and posting make up-less photos on social media sites. And, more troubling than that, a good majority of the no make up selfies that appeared on my newsfeed failed to mention anything at all about cancer awareness. And, in fact, during my research I interviewed many young girls on their opinions of the campaign and almost none were aware of the connection between the no make up selfies and the original cancer awareness intent.
“Slacktivisim” and the selfie
While I think the original idea of the campaign might have been well intentioned, I wonder whether the outcome justifies the means. Like the #Kony2012 campaign I feel that the no make up selfie is a classic example of why people criticize and dislike these “slacktivism” social media campaigns—a sort of lazy, armchair reaction that makes people feel good about themselves. Also, as many bloggers and cancer survivors have pointed out, the idea that a women not wearing make up is deemed as brave when held against cancer is disconcerting to say the least.
“Normalizing” women not wearing make up
Finally, I find one of the underpinning assumptions of the campaign to be problematic—I realize that the idea of the campaign is to normalize women not wearing make up, but to suggest that by doing so exposes someone and leaves them vulnerable is troubling. And, if we’re being honest, I really don’t think that this campaign makes women feel more comfortable in their own skin or raises self-esteem for women at all. If anything it makes it seem like a big deal to show people what women look like. Instead this awareness campaign seems to have turned into a self-congratulatory and frustrating game that makes women feel obligated to play along with this who-can-be-prettier-without-makeup competition. Let’s be serious ladies, these no make up selfies are not truly a reflection of what women look like without make up at any given time. Retaking a photo 15 times so your chin looks just right is not empowering, it’s a cry for affirmation. When I see my newsfeed full of no make up selfies I can’t help but think that these women are trying harder than normal to look good, compensating for how ugly they feel without make up. In the end it feels like we’re just perpetuating false notions of what being a women and being beautiful really are.
So, let me sum up my thoughts on this campaign into a single sentence: It is my opinion that this campaign is, or perhaps has become, more of a mass exercise in narcissism than a legitimate awareness campaign. So that’s my 2 cents on the no make up selfie. Much virtual ink has been spilled on this topic over the latest few weeks and I encourage you now to indulge in spilling a little more—I invite anyone to share their thoughts on the topic, whether you agree with me or not.