Friday, 21 March 2014

No Makeup Selfies: the £1 million campaign that divided social media

Anyone who has been on Facebook recently will have noticed the trend for no makeup selfies, the cancer awareness campaign that everyone is talking about.

Newsfeeds around the country are currently covered with fresh-faced images of women, who have shunned the slap in favour of a more natural look, all in aid of cancer awareness.

Some of these selfies include links to cancer charity donation pages, while others vaguely allude to “raising awareness” without actually encouraging financial donations.

The no makeup selfie campaign has been a tremendous success. Cancer Research UK has raised £1 million in just 24 hours, and has received more than 800,000 text donations. Although Cancer Research takes no credit for starting the initiative, the charity has praised women who have taken no makeup selfies, encouraging more people to take up the challenge.

But, while the craze may seem like a great way of raising money for a worthy cause, many commentators have responded with criticism, arguing that the campaign does more harm than good. Some critics have argued that the no makeup selfie campaign trivializes cancer. Cancer is, after all, a terrible, life-changing disease affecting thousands of people in the UK, and it is difficult to see exactly what going without makeup has to do with the illness.

To some, the trend seems to compare the bravery of cancer sufferers with the bravery of going without makeup, a comparison which seems offensive and insensitive. Although this may not be the intention of the women posing for these selfies, it seems inevitable that some will view it this way.

It is also worth taking a moment to consider why taking a makeup-free selfie is considered so daring. Makeup is a big part of most women’s lives, and women spend copious amounts of time, money and effort purchasing and applying cosmetics in order to achieve an image that is deemed acceptable. We call applying makeup “putting my face on”, and many women relate more to their fully made-up face than their own naked face.

The fact that such a campaign exists is an unintentional reminder of the pressure on women to look good, and the trend invokes a misplaced feminism, reminiscent of Dove’s body confidence campaign, which urges women to get in touch with their natural beauty.

The no makeup selfies craze reinforces the idea that a makeup-free female face is a rare sight, and that going without makeup is brave. In reality, there are many women who go without makeup every day, leading completely normal lives without ever feeling the need to apply even a slick of lip gloss or a dusting of blusher. How can these women take part in the campaign, and do their bit for cancer charities? The no makeup selfie campaign implies that makeup is a necessity for all women, from which we can all collectively abstain for charity.

Nevertheless, it is hard to argue with a campaign that has raised so much money for cancer charities, spreading the word and encouraging people to donate. Perhaps the most important message that we can learn from the no makeup selfie campaign is the power of social media and the internet. When combined with an interesting idea, campaigns can go viral, sharing information with a wider audience than could ever have been imagined before the age of social media. In order to create change, charities, campaigners and activists need to harness this potential and exploit the opportunities of social media.

The no makeup selfie campaign shows how social media can be put to good use. It’s just a shame that this fundraising initiative places so much emphasis on women’s appearance, when women are already under so much pressure to conform to a standard of beauty.

However, as cancer campaigns go, the no makeup selfies are fairly innocuous and inoffensive, particularly when compared with The Sun’s notorious Check ‘Em Tuesday campaign, which uses Page Three to raise awareness of breast cancer.

So, if you feel this is the best way to raise money for cancer, go ahead and take a selfie. As Carolan Davidge, director of communications at Cancer Research UK, says of the trend, “it’s all about putting a selfie to good use!”

Here's a few of the Liberty Belle team's selfies who have also donated to the cause:

By Bridget Coulter

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