New trend turns self(ie)-absorbed

Sinead Mulhern / Ryersonian Staff

(Sinead Mulhern / Ryersonian Staff)

Over the past week, a new social media trend swept the newsfeeds, with several women posting self-portraits wearing no makeup.

By including the hashtag “#nomakeupselfie” along with nominating their friends to do the same, this was a supposed attempt to raise awareness for breast-cancer research.

This trend is reported to have started shortly after American author Laura Lippman posted a photo of herself on Twitter without any makeup on in support of actress Kim Novak, whose looks were criticized at the Oscars. But soon after, others seemed to pick up the idea as a way to get people to support cancer charities. Over $3 million was raised for cancer research after charities like Cancer Research UK caught on to the trend.

But despite how much money has been raised, is society losing sight of what raising awareness really means?

Social media trends are not a new thing, but they certainly gather steam as they make their way across the internet. From sharing Invisible Children’s viral KONY 2012 video to posting pictures of your favourite cartoons to raise awareness for child abuse, these online movements have become very popular among online profiles. The trends are also generating discussion about what they are actually achieving.

The “No Makeup Selfie” trend is the same. While most of these self-portraits were posted for a good cause, critics of the campaign are slamming the trend by saying it misses the mark.

Jessica Galang, co-editor-in-chief of Ryerson’s feminist magazine, McClung’s, has no issue with those taking makeup-free selfies in general, but finds this particular project problematic.

Criticizing the campaign for making a horrible ordeal such as cancer into “a vanity circlejerk,” she said the trend puts too much emphasis on a girl’s appearance rather than the cause.

“I don’t think girls should be praised for not wearing makeup,” she said, noting that going bare shouldn’t be considered brave when compared to cancer. “There are more productive ways to raise awareness for cancer.”

She’s right.

Many who decided to forgo makeup failed to post links to charities along with their selfies, instead opting to tag their photos with vaguer terms like “#BreastCancerAwareness” or none at all. Feminist writer Yomi Adegoke also called out the trend for being an attempt to veil “vanity as philanthropy” in an opinion piece written for the British newspaper, The Independent.

If this fad is really about the cause, why don’t people choose to ditch their smartphones and do something to further their favourite charity’s efforts instead?

The fact that the “no makeup selfie” trend is said to be helping raise awareness for breast cancer makes very little sense at all. It’s understandable to shave your head in support of cancer or to grow a moustache to raise awareness or money. But deciding to forget your makeup for the day can also imply that people with cancer can’t wear makeup at all because they’re sick and confined to their beds. In addition, the gendered implications of this trend seem to forget that men are susceptible to breast cancer in rare cases as well.

The truth is that this “no makeup selfie” trend is not enough to bring to light the importance of cancer research. Rather, it’s narcissistic and needy.

Telling someone they look beautiful has very little contribution to raising awareness for cancer. Deciding to skip the makeup for the day gives the connotation that it’s only okay for girls to do this once a year. It implies that for the rest of the 364 days, they should just go back to their normal routines and never let anyone see them without makeup.

It’s great that over $3 million has been raised since this trend started. And it’s wonderful that this fad is trying to normalize the fact that women shouldn’t feel self-conscious about wearing no makeup.

But taking pictures of yourself barefaced is still not enough to make an impression. In what society sees as courageous and pushing boundaries for the sake of a good cause, we actually see how self-interested we’ve all become.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 26, 2014.

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