Is it pretty much the bravest thing in the world to take a photograph of yourself, without, gasp, horror, wearing a scrap of make-up? For women anyway, the answer seems to be a resounding Yes. Since Tuesday afternoon this week Twitter and Facebook have been awash with the results. The current craze for posting make-up free selfies and nominating others to do same is great if it means more money going to cancer charities. All indications are that donations have significantly increased.
It may have a loose and less defined campaign “strategy” behind it than other concepts, such as Movember, where the growing of a moustache is inextricably linked in the public consciousness with its raison d’etre. Nevertheless, most people get the idea that the sudden influx of bare-faced cheek is all about raising cancer awareness, even if the posts forget to say so.
It’s not so surprising, as it wasn’t devised and marketed specifically for this cause, it kind of latched onto another protest, about criticisms of the elderly Kim Novak and took off from there. The major cancer charities themselves are puzzled but very pleased by the response. To say it was not orchestrated is putting it mildly and this may explain the confusion in some quarters. A typical befuddled tweeter asks,”Because not wearing make-up is like…having cancer?”
There is therefore a slightly muddled mixed message going on, and one of these is that “You have to be brave”, by implication, to go without the “slap” or face the world with no “face on.” This, however tenuously, then refocuses the need to support the work of cancer charities.
Behind every selfie posted is an assumption of courage, and comments tend to be of the “You still look beautiful” variety. A fresh-faced and filter free phizzog is the new fearlessness.
One of the many ironies of this is that the majority of the make-up free selfies are so self-consciously posed, lit and positioned, that they are equally as unrealistic as a fully made-up pouting profile pic. Apply the hashtag #makeupfreeselfie though, and all of a sudden, that carefully blurred image is the bravest thing since Boudicca.
Beauty, they say, is not skin deep, and yet this selfie sensation reinforces the contrariness that appearance, ultimately, is what counts. This is where some accusations of narcissism and vanity come in, particularly when there is no mention of, or link to, any cancer charity.
It is a fad without foundation, in more ways than one. It has grown into an overnight craze on the back of the notion that it is “normal” to wear make-up, and daring, not to. This then makes the “risk” of not wearing it, an act of valour, in the intent of helping others. It can wiggle into the definition of bravery that way, but only just. Is not wearing make-up really facing a real hazard? On a scale of one to ten, does it really measure alongside jumping into a river to rescue a drowning dog, or trying to put out a fire?
Defining a face free of unguents and lotions as a “brave face” seems somewhat disrespectful to those who genuinely risk their lives everyday to help others. Not wearing make-up it not a guarantee of heroism, is it? Not bothering to put any on, in many examples, could be put much more down to laziness or lack of time than any other motivation. Ten more minutes in bed can be a lot more appealing on a winter morning than having to get up and start slapping on the face paint.
If make-up is a shield, a defence against the world, then going out without any armor, could, at a pinch, be brave, but then again it could be reckless. But that is really pandering to the notion that all women are at heart timid creatures, so aware on being judged by how they appear that they cannot look the world in the eye, without a fringe of mascara to blur the edges. If this is “disempowering” and abandoning the disguise “empowering” then surely it should go beyond a naked face one-off on a social media site? Why not abandon make-up every day and forever? Does it not follow that if not wearing make-up is brave, then wearing it is cowardly?
The cancer awareness wagon is not the first to have latched onto this new form of female ferocity. Hashtag #MakeUpFree was originally applied to The Butterfly Foundation in support of those with eating disorders. Again, it was a perplexing premise. Why choose to promote a positive sense of body image, a vital and worthy message, by reminders of society’s obsessions of how women look?
As concepts go, The Butterfly Foundation’s empowering women message, was that stripping off the outer layers showed the world that beauty was “more than skin deep.” It was fighting against stereotypes of what women ought to look like, with a fundraiser based on what women look like, with or without their “war paint” on.
The ideas are contradictory. It’s not brave, and neither is it saying anything, to post a picture of yourself with no make-up on. When all is said and done, it is just a plain picture that is unenhanced. It has no intrinsic merit or message. If anything, it is fishing for compliments on “natural beauty.” Celebrities who do this are good-looking anyway, and receive enough adulation.
Women might choose to not wear make-up for all sorts of other reasons. Maybe they are allergic to it. Maybe they think its too expensive, and they can’t afford it, or they don’t like the way it is tested or developed, or they hate the false promises that come with it and insult her intelligence. A “typical” woman is said to spend $30,000 on make up and products to take it off again in her lifetime.
None of these reasons fall into the categories or either physical or moral courage. They are merely about choice, whether to glamorize what nature gave, or leave the face as is, as nearly every man on earth does after a wash and a shave each morning. In another odd twist, men are now joining in on this by posting pictures of themselves smothered in heavy layers of cosmetics. This is just as peculiar, but they could hardly post a #makeupfreeselfie without, presumably, attracting ridicule.
A lot of make-up advice is anyway aimed at “looking natural” that is to say, as if the wearer is not actually wearing any. Much of it is designed to imitate what could be underneath. Blusher for rosy cheeks, mascara for black eyelashes, lip gloss for a mouth that is moist and pink. “Concealers” hide the blemishes, the dark circles, the spots and wrinkles. Leaving these parts on display is non-acceptable. It’s too unpretty. Risking being thought unpretty is the Rubicon to cross from being thought to look merely “natural;” despite the blemishes being as “natural” as the rest.
A typical face cream product, often described as a “must-have” will offer everything from “radiance” to “dewy skin” to anti-ageing properties, “healthy-looking glow” and the ability to blur lines and even out the complexion. Wrinkles get reduced, skin feels smooth and tight, imperfections are banished and this is all “scientifically proven.” It is hard to resist these admonishments towards perfect beauty and many women end up trying the “latest” product just in case it is the one that will really work. The pressure to succumb is there from girlhood and make up never ceases to be an issue in female lives. Whether they wear it or not they will be judged accordingly.
There cannot be many people be are not “aware” of cancer, who do not know at least one person who has been affected. Surely the truly brave are those who are battling the disease in all its incarnations. Is there any relevance at all between not wearing make-up and cancer? Donations to worthwhile cancer charities who do so much to fund research, diagnosis and treatments are wonderful and if a #makeupfreeselfie helps, all to the good. Primarily, it should be to fund-raise, not to feed false and flimsy new notions of what constitutes being brave.
In the US donate to Cancer Research Institute by calling 866 415 5789. Anyone living in the UK can text BEAT to 70099 to make a £3 donation to Cancer Research.