Thursday, 20 March 2014

In Defence of the No Makeup "Selfie"

(Image from

If you spend any amount of time engaged with social media, you will have no doubt noticed the rise of the no-makeup “selfie” to raise awareness for breast cancer.

If you spent a second longer, you will probably also have noticed the rise in non-participants moaning about them.

First things first – yes, it’s fine to moan if your newsfeed is full of photos all of a sudden and not whatever it is you are used to seeing there. The odd grump though is a world away from some of the vitriol I’ve seen aimed at the trend.

“Why don’t they donate money instead?” – well, how do you know they aren’t doing so? And given that the campaign so far has helped Cancer Research UK alone raise over £1 million from in excess of 800,000 text donations, I would hazard a guess most people in fact are doing so. Besides which, what business is it of yours how another individual chooses to go about raising awareness of a cause? When last I looked, nobody was attempting to chain you to the bandwagon and drag you bumping and stumbling along behind it.

Cancer (in any form) has touched or will touch us all in some way throughout our lives. Macmillan Cancer Support’s oft-quoted statistic is that one in three of us will be affected by cancer. That doesn’t just mean contracting the disease, but includes the friends and family surrounding us.  The likelihood is therefore that for a lot of the people posting those pictures, cancer is a pretty big deal.

All those questions of “What’s the point?” or the roll of the eyes-inducing “It’s not face cancer so it’s not relevant” sort of comments are in my eyes missing the most important part of awareness – the need for people to talk about the cause.

In broad terms, there’s no difference between posting said photo, moaning about people posting the photos, commenting on how amazing (or mad, depending on viewpoint) people participating in sponsored activities are, or if like me back in January you were in the camp of wondering why Dryathlete was worth sponsoring because if not drinking for a month is really that much of a challenge for you then charitable leanings aren’t going to help you.

The uniting factor of all those scenarios is that no matter your feelings you’re talking about it with others, who may then talk about with further others, and so on and so forth. No matter the method, the end result is the same success. A crucial part of raising awareness is getting people to discuss and engage with the topic at hand.

It’s the same reason people write blogs, join communities, get involved with organisations such as WEGO Health in hosting web chats and Twitter discussions and generally share their experiences with regard to any illness large or small. If you wish to educate people on the topic to achieve better understanding and greater awareness then the first step is the initiation of conversation. Lack of it will only hinder any advances, and silence is the anathema of progress and the bane of understanding.

I’ve seen a few people posting the breast examination poster instead of a photo, stating that “this actually helps cancer awareness” and I’m sure despite the smug tones that this comes from a well meaning place, but it belies a critical lack of understanding of how people engage in social media. If they aren’t interested, then they’ll scroll right on past your informative poster in the same way they will a photo, whatever the caption or explanation you’ve shown alongside it. You may think you’re being more helpful, but in reality you are no more or less likely to promote discussion and raise awareness than the people you’re deriding.

(There you go, me without makeup. I may or may not legally be a ghost.)

It's the same with The Retired Bridgeburner. I could be talking about something absolutely catastrophically world-bending (unlikely, given my last post was about Munchkin) but if you weren't interested you'd have scrolled right past the various places on social media where it can be found without a second thought. It’s the nature of the beast.

Something to remember is that whilst sponsored athletic exploits are phenomenal and certainly worthy of a great deal of respect (and no small amount of awe in some cases), not everyone is capable of completing such feats. Not everyone's health can meet that challenge, and that's no reason for turning one's nose up at smaller efforts. Even things that are relatively effortless are worthy if the intentions come from the right place.
Then of course there’s the darker side of the complaining – I’m sure we’ve all noticed that it has allowed the rather ugly matter of how much or how little makeup women should be wearing to raise its weary head once again. I try to avoid stereotyping as much as possible, but sad to say at least in my experience so far it has been mostly men who are commenting in this way.

I’m going to put this very shortly and simply for the benefit of the prat at the back and all their friends. I’ll try not to use big words because it seems to be a very difficult concept for their very narrow view on life to tolerate.

We are not wearing make up for you. We are not forgoing wearing make up for you. We are not wearing or choosing not to wear makeup for any person other than ourselves.  

When the outside edges of your world view have ceased to shudder, maybe you will consider that by taking the photos as an excuse to assert views on what a woman looks like with or without the accompaniment of makeup (because as women we certainly aren’t tired of the assumption that our appearance is our one and only contribution of note), you’re doing far more damage to the cause of raising awareness about cancer than any of the subjects of the photos are by posting them.

You might not agree with their methods, but they’re doing something, even a very small something to open up conversation. Turning the matter into an excuse to trot out the incredibly tired makeup debate is preventing that conversation from happening.

In conclusion I will offer one thought – if you’re one of the moaners questioning why women aren’t donating to cancer charities instead of posting photos, I direct your question back to you.

Why aren’t you donating instead of moaning?

If you are, then I applaud you. If you’re not, consider that some food for thought.

Still amused by how ghostly I am, and wishing you all many spoons xxx


  1. Great post. My husband and I really enjoy your blog! Thank you
    Are you reading anything currently you would recommend ? Best Wishes- Emily

    1. Hi Emily, thank you very much for commenting, I'm glad you both enjoy it :-)

      Currently I've just finished The Book Thief (enjoyable but sad) and I'm re-reading Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy at the moment - if you like fantasy I very much recommend them :-) x