Make-up Free Selfies and Supporting a Cause

Disclaimer: This lengthy post not meant for the faint of heart. This post is my own opinion and not meant to be used as fact (except for anything cited to another article).

Makeup Free Selfies, Armchair Activism, and the Feminine
Like you, my Facebook feed has been packed with posts by my female friends and acquaintances who have taken the plunge and revealed their no-makeup selfie for their virtual world to 'Like', comment on, or applaud their bravery for showing their face free of product. If you've posted one yourself, I acknoweldge your ability to jump on a social bandwagon, and if you did it and actually donated to the Cancer Awareness fund, well, then you have my respect, sarcasm aside. 

'Natural' Makeup  via
Let me preface this by saying: I have not been tagged by any of my Facebooking cohorts, and for this I am pleased. This pleasure does not come because I have anything to hide - in fact, for those of you who follow my blog, I am not shy about posting my face free of mascara, eyeshadow, foundation, or whatever else. Realistically, I spend a lot of my days wearing no more than a tiny bit of foundation, and some blush. If I don't have to go anywhere, my eyes go au natural, and that's great. 

No. The reason I am thankful that I have not been tagged to complete this selfie task is because, for many of the young women I see posting their make-up free faces to their Instagram, Twitter, and/or Facebook have no regard for how or why this trend started. 

Let me be clear. This is not an act of condemnation. I am proud of the fact that women have taken it upon themselves to show their true skin off to their virtual and online world - one infested by unrealistic images and expectations of what the feminine should look like and be. As someone who writes a blog, where the very name of the blog implies and connotates a certain type of feminine, I admire the idea of promoting and pursuing a more natural beauty doctrine for our young women. Where I become  disconcerted and skeptical is when posting a makeup free selfie becomes another form of validation for our consumer-driven, self-pleasing society. 

A quick history on the week-old makeup free selfie movement: 

According to a recent article by the Toronto Star, sometime around March 4, Laura Lippman, former Baltimore Sun reporter "posted a photo of herself without makeup, asking women to share photos of themselves without makeup in solidarity with [Kim] Novak", whose Oscar appearance stirred a huge Twitter following about the problems with plastic surgery and feature enhancement. 

The #nomakeupselfie trend then caught on in the UK, hitting North America a few days later, and somewhere within its first two days of sweeping Facebook pages, the point turned from raising awareness about the Hollywood expectations about how to look (and what happens when they go wrong), to a means by which women, and all those men looking at their beautiful, makeup free faces, would be prompted to donate to the Cancer Awareness societies. The trend has since raised over $3 million, according to CTV news, and The Independent for the fight against cancer (or just cancer awareness...the semantics on this one are still fuzzy). 


Now, despite the overwhelming financial support that this #makeupfreeselfies trend has raised, it has now turned into a place for online journalists - supporters and non-supporters alike - to dish out what this 'trend' says about our cultural value of the feminine, and how social-media related 'causes' fail to do what they are intended. 

#nomakeupselfies and the Feminine 

In the last two days, I have read many editorials about the makeup free selfie trend and the feminine. I think the best line I came across was written by Yomi Adegoke in her editorial for The Independent (article was liked to above). She writes, "what has an image of someone's unmade up face done for the fight against cancer?" Further, and the real probing question that got me thinking about how we perceive the female: why in the world is posting a makeup free selfie considered a "brave" thing for a woman to do? As the cancer-awareness hashtag is getting lost in the concern with nominating your female friends to bare their face to the virtual world, bloggers and journalists are concerned that this fad is doing nothing but promote, what Adegoke called, "narcissism masked as charity." 

In her editorial "Why I won't be Posting a Makeup Free Selfie," Emily Buchanan, blog writer for the Huffington Post noted that "it was all very well meaning and inoffensive, but as far as I could tell, had absolutely nothing to do with breast cancer awareness. If anything, it was trivialising a very serious issue and using it to justify a vanity point ... who exactly is this benefitting other than the person in the picture, who will undoubtably be swathed with social endorsements of her natural beauty." But what is most provocative in her response to this selfie trend, is when she points, tongue and cheek, to the question: "Are so many of us hiding behind a mask of foundation and fake eyelashes that sharing a make-up free picture is shocking enough to raise awareness of a disease that destroys lives?" 

Her answer (to which I am prone to agree): 

"No. The only awareness it raises is that of a society that's sick and that values beauty above all else. Of a society that systematically batters self-esteem so that people consume; so that people spend thousands of pounds [or dollars] on beauty products and clothes just so they can feel good about themselves." Social media has allowed our narcissism and self-indulgence to run rampant, and when we follow the herd by posting a photo of our bare face for all to see, maybe in the name of cancer awareness or maybe not, we are told we are brave for contributing to a fad that is not actually teaching young women they are beautiful as they are, but rather that with or without makeup on, they need the validation of everyone around them to give their life meaning. 

Swallow that: even in our culturally initiated counter-cultural movements to show off that we are beautiful no matter what, we still need everyone in our virtual reality to tell us we're beautiful, counter-culturally. 

The Selfie and Armchair Activism

In 2012, following the Kony movement, the editor of The Silhouette, McMaster University's student newspaper, published an article about how clicking 'share' or 'like' on our Facebook accounts promoted a type of activism in the millennial generation that wasn't really activism at all, and that generating a mass following based on inadequate or outdated information was shaping a movement that was both ill-informed, and inaccurate. Of course, the Kony 2012 spectacle disappeared as quickly as it came, but it serves as a helpful illustration as we move from one version of armchair activism to another.

The problem, suggests Buchanan, stems back to altruism. "Take a picture, post it to Facebook, good deed done for the day."

Except, for many of us, that picture, caption or none, isn't the point (nevermind that the fad didn't even start out as a cancer awareness campaign, but somewhere along the line someone thought, hey! let's do this! and we all jumped on the bandwagon of goodwill and good deeds for all). The point is that this "brave" action has led us to feel good about ourselves as a human being, and even more so because of the 89 virtual friends who 'liked' it and told us we were so beautiful in our natural face. Posting a selfie is not the way to magically make money go to the cause you want. Posting a makeup free selfie oozing with the need for validation as a human being is even less effective; however, picking up your credit card, visiting a website, or texting a number to make a donation is (and it's really easy).  

So what do we take from all this?

Cancer-Awareness = good. 
Donating to a Cancer Society near you = better.
Awareness of how our culture is distorting the natural female image in order to make consumerism work = good. 
Realizing that, even in our good-deed motives, we need validation = important. 

To wrap up, I want to include a video posted by Dove (the soap people) in January of this year, illustrating selfies as artwork, and how a selfie can be used to shape (for better or worse) the self-image of teenage girls. While the video still marks 'completely' on the "others' opinions of me matter to who I am as a person" scale of validation, the premise is linked, I believe, with the original motive of Lippman's selfie: to point out how self-image has been distorted so far that women have been taught to do anything to make themselves beautiful, and where I feel the discussion should fall - that selfies should show real women and girls (and guys) as they appear every day, not from crazy angles with hair and makeup abnormally perfected, whether it be completely au-natural or with your daily routine of what makes you feel comfortable. And it might not remove the need for validation, but at least it's a start. 


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1 comment :

  1. I am so happy you posted this. I feel the exact same way (about this and any social media "share this to help this cause") Sorry but that doesn't do s***. If they want to do something productive and meaningful they should do a walk, donate, volunteer. xo



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