Yep, I tried it! Snapped this selfie fresh out of the shower and still with my post-workout hair. No makeup, no filters. No cancer either… that I know of.
On the scale of Things That Irritate Me, “cancer awareness” is pretty close to the top. That phrase ranks right above people who lick their fingers at the dinner table and Karl Lagerfield’s cat Choupette and just below Miley Cyrus’ tongue film, for things that make me grind my teeth so hard the vein on my neck starts to throb. Did you know approximately 50% of all people will develop some type of cancer during their lifetime? So why, exactly, are we trying to “raise awareness” of something that is as common as being born male? Is there really anyone who looks at the word “cancer” and only thinks of astrology??
I’m not a cyborg – I understand the need to raise awareness of rare or lesser known types of cancers and other diseases in order to get funding for research and to help people recognize the symptoms. But these general “raising awareness” campaigns strike me more as “slacktivism” – you know, how you feel so good about posting your bra color on Facebook to raise awareness for breast cancer that you feel like you’ve done your part and don’t need to volunteer or donate money or anything else that might actually be useful for fighting breast cancer. In most cases I think it’s silliness under the guise of activism but at its worst I think it diverts resources from the very thing it’s purporting to help.
So when I first came across the #NoMakeupSelfie trend – the instructions say to post a selfie of yourself (wow that was redundant!) with no makeup and no filters to “raise awareness for cancer” and then coerce all your friends to do the same – you will understand why my initial reaction was a giant:
Sorry owl lovers, David Bowie does a way better O RLY. He would also never do a #NoMakeupSelfie. You know I’m right.
I was especially irritated by the comments I was seeing on pictures calling the selfie-poster “brave”, “inspiring” and “courageous.” Really? How is gorgeous Gwyneth Paltrow posting a picture of herself being naturally gorgeous brave in any way? (Although I was sorry to hear that she split with husband Chris Martin.) Shouldn’t we be using those adjectives to laud actual cancer survivors? Yomi Adegoke posted a more eloquent response as to why calling women brave for going without makeup is problematic.
And cancer survivors themselves seemed to be less than impressed. Kristina Egan wrote on the Huffington Post
“In my eyes, the NMS was supposed to be a move of solidarity for the people going through cancer. Baring yourself, exposing yourself, making you feel vulnerable, to try to understand a mere taste of the fragility that someone with cancer experiences when they look in the mirror. The photos I saw did not show that. They were still mysteriously camera ready and lacked the level of realness that the cause demanded. I commented that I would have more respect if you took one, first thing in the morning, under fluorescent hospital lights, after a colonoscopy, as it was a little more relevant.”
I actually have a picture of myself in fluorescent lighting, right after a colonoscopy! And I look like refried death! True!
Anyhow. But then my jaded self read the backstory. Apparently #nomakeupselfie started when writer Laura Lippman tweeted a barefaced selfie to show solidarity with actress Kim Novak, who was ridiculed for her ultra-surgery-tweaked face at the Oscars. I’m not sure what that had to do with makeup (Lippman was wearing none while Novak was wearing an entire L’Oreal display) or cancer (Novak beat breast cancer in 2010?) but somehow Cancer Research UK jumped on the trend and added #cancerawareness tags and links to their site. And people actually went beyond posting pictures of themselves to donating money. Between on-line and text contributions, so far the trend has raised over £8 million for the charity! (There were also some hilarious unintended donations that went to the Polar Bear Fund thanks to typos that changed “beat” to “bear” in texts. But hey, polar bears deserve love too, right?) So apparently some people at least are putting their money where their lipstick-free mouths are.
And then, the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of a #nomakeupselfie in and of itself – no cancer strings attached. I’ll admit it: I love looking at those “stars without makeup” features in magazines. And it’s not out of some misguided ha-they’re-ugly-too schadenfreude. It is because I really like seeing how the sausage gets made. I mean there is a huge difference between Katy Perry with makeup and Katy Perry without:
She is beautiful both ways but it’s definitely two different looks.
I love seeing celebs all glammed up – judge me if you will but I think clothes and makeup and hair are fun and I love playing around with them and also seeing what others do. But I also think we could all use a regular dose of reality when it comes to what women really look like. Airbrushed “aspirational” photos can be artistic but if pore-less robots are all we see then we start to believe that’s what we’re supposed to look like – which is how the billion-dollar skin cream industry stays in business.
So with the makeup-free selfies, yes we learn that beautiful supermodels are beautiful with and without makeup but we also learn fun stuff like what normal eyelashes look like. (True story: I was helping my son with his homework a while ago and had to look up some paintings from the Renaissance. I was surprised to find that all the women in the paintings looked almost alien to me – and then I realized it was because you can’t see any of their eyelashes. I’ve grown so used to seeing women with mascara, falsies and/or eyelash extensions that seeing women without them, like Vermeer’s iconic Girl With a Pearl Earring, looked “wrong”! That’s messed up.)
Curious, I decided to snap some barefaced selfies. I mean, I already know what I look like without makeup – I don’t wear much of it on a day-to-day basis and I wake up with myself every day – but I do have it set in my head that I look “better” with some face paint and if nothing else I wear some eyeliner and mascara. It’s almost like my armor against the world. The more insecure or nervous I’m feeling, the more makeup I slap on. (You should see me at parent-teacher conferences! I’m basically a Kabuki doll.) That pic at the top of the post was the very first one I took and – I’ll be honest – my first thought was Heyyyyy, not too shabby! While my naturally black hair and pale skin combo has its downsides (oh the pit stubble!!) it does mean that I still have eyes even without makeup.
And here’s me during our annual family picture, totally painted up. Look at all those eyelashes! (P.S. Isn’t my hubby adorable? He always rocks the no-makeup look.)
Obviously in this picture my eyes and lips are more defined and my skin is more glow-y and less freckle-y but overall there’s not a huge difference. Which actually made me feel pretty good about myself! And it wasn’t because I was comparing myself to someone else but rather just comparing me to me and realizing that I like what I see.
Of course both of those selfies were snapped in flattering light using my fave three-quarter head-tilt angle. (I listened when Tyra Banks told us girls to “find our angles”!) There are definitely worse ways to take my picture. Like this:
This is my DO MY TEETH LOOK WHITER FROM MY OIL PULLING EXPERIMENT YET? DO THEY??? face. My mouth is only open halfway, by the way, because I just had two fillings done this morning and it took six hours for the novocaine to wear off. I also bit my cheek and didn’t realize it until I tasted blood. Cavities suck.
As I was writing this, Jelly Bean walked up next to me, saw this picture and said, “Mom are you being a llama again??” I don’t know what she means by “again” but I definitely do look like I could spit! Anyhow, definitely not as flattering. But maybe my teeth look whiter? A little bit??
So then Jelly Bean asked me to snap her pic:
And then Son #3 wanted his too:
Which prompted a beautiful conversation about what I like about them, what they like about themselves and how we all look alike and different. In the end I think the #nomakeupselfie thing was good for us. I don’t know how I feel about it being used as a tool for cancer awareness but I think it’s a good thing for everyone to try. At the very least it will remind us what real human beings look like.
Because how could this not make you happy??
Also, because I love children and hate cancer (and because I don’t want to be a slacktivist!), tonight I made a donation to the National Childhood Cancer Foundation. (And because I’m leery of charity scams, I vetted them first through Charitywatch.org – they gave them an “A” rating!) And that made me feel the beautifull-est of all.
What do you think of the #nomakeupselfie trend – annoying gimmick, thinly veiled narcissism or beautiful reminder? What do you think of “raising awareness for cancer” campaigns? What’s your favorite feature on your face? (Also: Should I cut my bangs back???)