It started harmlessly. My sister, Louise (a bad influence for over forty years) had Facebook posted a naked-faced ‘Selfie’ to raise awareness of breast cancer and was badgering me and her long-suffering girlfriends to do the same.
Me: Can’t I just make a donation?
Her: No, I’ve done it and so must you.
Best just to go along with it. I posted my own on Facebook, made a brief reference to it on Twitter and thought that would be the end of the matter.
By coincidence, that morning, I went to the funeral of a friend who died two weeks ago of a brain tumour. No flowers, donations instead to Macmillan Cancer Support. Leaving church, I couldn’t see the collection box. In normal circumstances I might have left it, telling myself I’d donate another day, but I’d pledged, via my Selfie, and I had to follow through. So far so good. Macmillan was a modest sum better off and I’d made good on my promise.
I got home to find a storm kicking off on Twitter and we No-Make-Up Selfie post-ers on the receiving end of some pretty mean-spirited flak. How dare we claim to be brave? People who suffer cancer, who lose loved ones to cancer, who undergo months of chemotherapy are brave. We vain, self-absorbed women are simply attention seeking, jumping without thought onto the latest bandwagon, achieving nothing more than a good old wallow in our own self-gratification.
It was a pretty harsh wake-up call, to be honest, and one that preyed on my thoughts for the rest of the day. Had I been thoughtless? Crass? I’m the first to admit to personal vanity but insensitive to real suffering? I hope not.
The How Dare We mob became relentless, sending a steady stream of bile our way. Here’s the jist of it, and my own, considered at length, reaction underneath.
Simply posting a photograph of yourself achieves nothing.
Granted, but I think it was very clear that women were supposed to post, donate and encourage others to do the same. The purpose was to raise awareness AND cash.
These selfies include no link to a charitable website.
Well, some of them did, and those that didn’t, including mine, probably assumed that people are intelligent enough to find a way to donate to major charities if they so wish.
There is nothing brave in putting a photograph of yourself, make-up or not, on social media.
Compared to racing into a burning primary school to rescue the reception class, I guess it doesn’t stack up. But most of us are sensitive to how we’re seen by the world. Self-image is important and it took – maybe not courage, exactly – but a firm gritting of the teeth to make public a representation that was a long way from flattering. In any event, none of the posts I noticed were making any claim to courage. (We were more concerned with the damage we inflicted on others.)
People who have not suffered (subtext here: suffered publicly) from cancer have no business making light of it in this way.
By this stage I was starting to get cross. Few of us, once we reach a certain age, have not been affected, either directly or indirectly, by cancer. No one has a monopoly on suffering and this disease impacts upon us all. Consequently, we all have the right to address it.
This nonsense perpetuates the view that women only look good when caked in make up.
Another valid point on the surface. Women’s body image is inextricably linked to their self-esteem and this is an ongoing problem; not one I’m about to make light of. On the other hand, every post I saw was followed by a flood of comments. A lot of words were used, but they all largely said the same: ‘Well done, Hun. You look great.’ The exercise actually became quite affirming, surprisingly positive. Women were being told they looked good without make-up. Whether we believed it or not, we learned, if we didn’t know already, that good friends don’t care how we look.
People don’t need a daft gimic, they should be donating anyway.
Except that whilst people all over the world are very well-meaning when it comes to supporting good causes, they tend to need a nudge in the right direction. Wasn’t the frenzied posting of photographs exactly such a prompt? It certainly prompted me to seek out the Macmillan tin.
Regular monthly donations achieve far more than one off splurges.
Without doubt, but very few of us are wealthy enough to make regular payments to every charity that touches our hearts. A few years ago, mainly in response to our young son’s demands that we support every good cause that came our way, my family decided to support three charities with regular, if modest, donations.
My husband chose RNLI, because he’s a keen sailor and he might need a lifeboat one day. My son, about six at the time, chose the World Wildlife Fund’s Tiger project, for reasons that probably don’t need explaining. My own cause? Well, surprise surprise, Cancer Research UK, because I had my own brush with the disease some years ago (no details, it’s personal).
Those are the three good causes we support on an ongoing basis and, when particularly moved (or given a shove by a family member) we’ll make one-off donations to others. I suspect there are hundreds of thousands of families like us all over the UK.
So, all things considered: No, I hadn’t been crass. I hadn’t jumped on an attention-seeking, ill-considered and ultimately rather offensive bandwagon. And nor had anyone else. These women meant well. And, in spite of what an oft quoted proverb tells us, when intentions are good, good usually follows.
And then something rather wonderful happened. The two main breast cancer charities got involved, fully endorsing the ‘Bare-faced’ Selfies and reporting the fabulous news that donations had surged during the day. It was too early to put a figure on the amount raised but that hardly mattered. An increase of a few hundred pounds alone would have made the exercise worth it and I suspect it was a lot more than that.
Here is the link, if you don’t want to take my word for it. http://news.uk.msn.com/selfie-windfall-for-cancer-charity
I thought about ending this post with another “Bare-faced” Selfie. This time with tongue firmly out and fingers waggling from the tip of my nose. My very own No-Make-Up-Cocking-A-Snook-Selfie. I decided against. It would be childish and, more importantly, a deeply unflattering look for me.
I’m doing it in my head though. I’ll be doing it in my head all day long.