No makeup, no problem?

When I first heard the #NoMakeupSelfie trend was linked to cancer research, I was taken aback. The posts had been flooding my Facebook feed for months, but I’d never seen a connection made between the two.

The trend started back in March, when author Laura Lippman tweeted a photo of herself without makeup. The tweet read, “No makeup, kind lighting. #itsokkimnovak” and was in support of Kim Novak, an actress who had been the target of criticism for her appearance at the Oscars. What proceeded was a flood of women posting photos of themselves with no makeup all over social media. Cancer Research U.K., catching wind of the trend, created a campaign where they encouraged women to donate money in conjunction with their no makeup selfies.

In two days, the trend helped raise £2 million. Unfortunately, the campaign rapidly digressed.

#NoMakeupSelfie posts went from being linked to cancer research donations, to cancer awareness, to losing the cancer tie almost entirely. Soon the majority of women using the hashtag were simply posting selfies without makeup and “nominating” friends to do the same.

The campaign has been widely criticized as narcissistic. An article in the Globe and Mail told women to put their faces back on, while an article in Time magazine told readers to drop their smartphones and just donate. However, whether the posts are for egotistical reasons or not, Cancer Research U.K.’s acquisition of the trend was brilliant. They appealed directly to the vanity of social media and the desire to publically appear charitable.

Unfortunately, what that means is the trend became like many other social media causes. Instead of donating or being directly active in a cause, users can simulate being a part of a movement by simply pressing a “like” button or posting a status update.

Cancer awareness campaigns are invaluable in educating populations on the risks and signs of cancer. But the way the #NoMakeupSelfie trend is going, it’s doing little to nothing for cancer awareness.

Potential vanity or attention-seeking aside, the “nominations” are an issue. At times the nominations seem innocent enough, with friends telling each other that they are just as beautiful with or without makeup. Unfortunately, it’s making public what should be private. Encouraging a friend to donate to cancer research or to be confident in their appearance is fundamentally a private matter. Calling someone out in public for wearing makeup, asking them to expose themselves via selfie or to be publicly charitable is not helpful.

We need to be thinking about what we’re trying to achieve with these nominations. Are we trying to boost our friend’s confidence? Because if a friend is wearing makeup due to insecurities, forcing them to post one no makeup selfie isn’t going to help with any underlying issues or cause some sort of epiphany where they stop wearing makeup altogether.

No makeup selfies posted in support of cancer patients are an issue in themselves. If a friend has cancer and you choose to shave your head alongside them then there is a direct correlation between action and support. But how does posting a selfie on a social network — that mostly only friends and followers see — help reach out to cancer patients?

Also, what sort of message are we trying to send out to cancer patients? Are we trying to say that we’re being brave in doing this action, as if that bravery somehow compares to someone who is potentially facing death? Are we saying that they aren’t as beautiful as they once were so we need to make ourselves look worse in support?

Whether you post a selfie or not is your choice. But at the end of the day, we need to be questioning these trends that come across our newsfeed, instead of simply following along.

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