Last week I penned an article on the 'No make up selfie' craze that split opinions so remarkably, you could have spread it on your bread in lieu of Marmite. Essentially, I stated that as it stood then, the so-called 'campaign' was no more than vanity disguised as philanthropy and that we as a nation could do significantly better. The following backlash that came was in no way a surprise; laying narcissism accusations at perhaps the most self deprecating nation on the planet was sure to get some up in arms. But many dissenters, rather than actually read and grasp the point being made by the piece, simply summed it up as 'Selfie hating student loves cancer, hates charity'.
What prompted me to write the post was a Facebook feed was littered with selfies taken in the name of #cancerawareness, differing in no way from your run of the mill, messy bunned, 'Easy like Sunday morning' lazy day photo, bar a hashtag. Anyone without a sieve for brains will recall that when the craze first began at the start of last week, donations were not being sought, cancer charity links were not being provided and sponsorship was not even being mentioned. So does the fact £8 million has now been raised leave me face sodden with egg and moonwalking into a back track? Not in the slightest. You see, as soon as the backlash came, so did those who sought to donate after being galvanised by guilt and fear of being deemed the dreaded 'n' word. Post critique, the donations spiked; changes outlined by the unconvinced were immediately implemented by those desperately avoiding being tarred by that blusher-free 'vanity' brush. Once it reached the rest of the world, it was an entirely different campaign- when I first wrote about it I hadn't come across one selfie with a donation; two days later I hadn't seen one without. The funds raised since however, does not somehow fashion a virtual DeLorean, allowing us to go back in time and eradicate the fact that for the first few days people simply did not donate. A picture of a make up less face without any action does as much for the fight against cancer as liking a viral image stating 'Like if you hate AIDS' whilst scrolling Facebook does for the fight against HIV. And though the campaign has certainly changed for the better, there are still reasons many are choosing to donate differently.
As we now know, the #nomakeupselfie originally started in solidarity to actress Kim Novak who was shamed by commentators for her looks. Entirely separate from cancer and from charity, it remained a brazen, slightly chipped middle finger to our image obsessed world. The hashtag was soon appropriated with #cancerawareness accompanying photos, which soon evolved into breast cancer specifically and an onslaught of 'bravery' declarations in reference to the pictures soon muddied manys understanding of the trends aims. Though for some ditching concealer is the ultimate act of courage, for an equally large proportion it's simply inconsequential; we're left wondering if we should expect pats on the backs every time we forfeit foundation. The vague 'vulnerability of cancer/ vulnerability of being without make up' connection cannot help but stick in our throats. If we started a 'Bra-less for Breast Cancer' week or had a 'Hairy Armpit April' would we as a nation deem participants as 'brave'? Both hair removal and bra wearing are done with the intention to adhere to prevailing psychical ideals much like make up is and sure, we would acknowledge the altruistic merit of these actions, but we would not necessarily consider them gallant ones. Insinuating not wearing make up takes guts abnormalises the idea of women who just happen not to.
There are two ways the craze could have avoided the various vanity accusations. The first being had the campaign continued as it started; a statement against the constant scrutiny of the female face, imposed ideals of femininity and the ever present pressure of physical perfection. No insinuations of heroism, no cries of lionhearted valour. But applauding a woman 'daring' to show what she actually looks like says being made up is the natural, default state of a 21st century woman. Whilst men channel Dame Edna in the magic wave of mascara wand, donning thick eyeliner and lippy cementing the 'London look', women take a picture of their natural faces, implying that in the same way a man in heavy make up is out of the ordinary, so is a woman without. Women who regularly avoid the make up counter are left nonplussed- all their selfies are 'no make up' so joining in appears obsolete but the #manupmakeup hashtag is no place for them either- the gender binary is affixed by a bit of blusher. Make up less women are being peddled as unicorns; as out of place as a swimsuit clad fundraiser in a bath of beans. We only reveal our bag laden eyes, potentially pock marked skin and lack lustre complexion when there is significant cause, apparently.
Though no one would dare knock the cool £8 million raised, to say it doesn't matter what messages campaigns send out if they yield results (especially when done in the name of charity) is reckless to say the least. The no make up selfie finds itself occupying a confused middle ground; at best as a half baked attempt at a form of feminist resistance which evolved into a fantastic fundraising opportunity. At worst, propagating the view that a woman minus MAC is something to be gawked at, even if it is for a great cause.
The second way initial criticism could have been avoided was if people had gotten their skates on and started donating at the very start. This has now happened but lest we forget; it was us cynics that tied the laces and gave the campaign that much needed push. We could all do with remembering a little criticism can go a long way.
Follow Yomi Adegoke on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sittingwitty