Wednesday, 19 March 2014

No bare-faced selfies here - Why I don't like Cancer Awareness Facebook games

In the last couple of days on Facebook I've noticed a few people (women) posting pictures of themselves without make-up, purportedly for "Cancer Awareness". Like most people my life has been affected by cancer, I've lost my mum, two grandparents, two aunts and an uncle to the disease. However, although I appreciate the goodwill behind the act I won't be joining in.
Firstly I'm not sure what it really achieves. Nobody woke up this morning, logged into Facebook to see an unmade up friend and thought, "Oh yes! I'd forgotten that cancer exists!" Yet that's all several of these photos are doing, mentioning the word "cancer". Not enough seem to have any point to them beyond that, with no links to fundraising or symptom guides. There is the argument that people like me (and I've noticed several of my friends) rant about these supposed awareness posts with specific links therefore raising true awareness and that's true but I'd still prefer to see less of the vague and more of the actual.
Secondly so often these posts or games are female-centric, particularly those that involve secrets, "Post your bra size" or "State where you keep your handbag" but "Don't tell the men." Why? Are men not affected by cancer too? Even if we're just talking breast cancer it's not a women only cancer, men get it as well. And of course plenty of men see their loved ones with the disease, it's not just us women who suffer that.
There is also something a bit unsettling about the notion that a cosmetic free face is somehow shameful, that it's brave for women to post bare-faced photos. I did see a suggestion on Facebook that women don't buy make-up for a month and donate the money saved to a cancer charity instead and that makes more sense to me (although personally I can go several months without visiting the cosmetics counter!) Likewise being sponsored to go make-up free for a certain amount of time is more proactive.
I don't want to be critical of the people who do take part in these viral games, I do believe they join in with the best intentions. I'm just not convinced it's the best use of their time, "for Cancer Awareness" is just too vague.

Know your body, recognise the signs and symptoms of cancer and visit your GP early.

Donate to Macmillan Cancer Support

Update 20th March 2014
Since I posted this blog something wonderful has happened and over one million pounds has been donated to cancer charities. So I've been forced to reconsider my stance on what these Facebook games achieve and I'm happy to concede that in this case I got it partly wrong. I stand by my opinion that just posting a photo isn't really enough and I saw several instances where that is all people appeared to do. Perhaps they did donate but I'm still of the opinion that if you're going to post something regarding "cancer awareness" you need to make it more proactive or it just looks to be empty words.
I wrote my post early in the day when it just appeared to be yet another game, it turned out I was wrong, it became much more and if I caused any upset I apologise. I hope this will mark a permanent change and people will realise the vague statuses about bra sizes or handbags really aren't enough.

In memory of my mum, Mollie Adlem 1952-1994


  1. You say it so eloquently, and so much better than I can Karen, shared x

    1. Thank you, I do understand why people take part and I hope they don't feel criticised. It's just I think there are better ways of raising awareness. I've since seen a suggestion that it's showing solidarity with women undergoing chemo and that makes more sense although I've not personally seen a photo actually mention that.

  2. Ugh, yes. Thank you for saying it so well.

  3. Thank you. I am delighted to see there has been a big rise in donations over the past few days and I think it shows it's worth speaking up because I noticed after several people started pointing out that a picture isn't enough there were far more photos posted with links or statements that a donation had been given.

  4. Thanks for this post - says so much of what I've struggled to articulate, especially the bit about shamefulness, which got me very annoyed when the BBC ran their 'Bare/bearfaced' campaign.

  5. There's not many better ways that will raise £1 million for charity in 24 hours. Like yourself I have seen loved ones battle cancer and I am proud that just by taking an unmade up selfie I have helped cancer charities. People do pointless things for charity all the time like sitting in a bath of beans or wearing something pink. At the end of the day everyones intentions are the same and that is to help a good cause. Nobody said that wearing no make up is shameful, its just an interactive way to involve as many people as possible to donate.

  6. I completely agree with you, the results of this have been staggering and I'm delighted to see so many people have donated. I actually wrote this early in the day when the only posts I was seeing were the "here's a photo of me without make-up for cancer awareness" which I thought didn't much more than pay lip service to cancer awareness. Later in the day I saw more photos posted with links to donation sites and that's really all I was calling for (I'm not claiming my post caused the change!) Let's call my posting an accident of timing, perhaps I was a bit premature although I stand by my opinion that people need to actually do something more proactive than just post a photo. I'm glad so many people have now done just that.
    As far as no make-up being shameful, of course it's not but I've still seen many many statuses where women are apologetic for, or embarrassed by their bare-faced appearance and that is a shame.

  7. This was my take on this - #NoMakeupSelfie [Project 365:2014 - Day 79] - I wrote on my blog as part of my project 365, and included my selfie and how to donate. For me, when I started seeing people were sharing HOW to donate, then I realised it was more than just a stupid "I'm moving to Cambodia for 7 months" crap that I see so often which does nothing but raise an eyebrow and makes you think WTF.

    I've read that a million pounds has been raised by this viral social media thing, and that to me is fantastic to help fight against a horrid illness that causes so much pain and suffering the world over. Sorry to read of your personal losses to this disease xx

  8. Thanks for sharing your blog, a perfect example of the posts I was hoping to see and am glad did see as the day progressed. Thank you for your kind words too xx

  9. I much prefer the tone of this blog to some I have seen and felt very moved that you have lost so many loved ones. In my opinion, a campaign doesn’t have to have a point beyond raising an issue and trusting people to think for themselves…does it have to be measured in money and donations? Why do you assume they have simply posted a photo? Could it not be that they’ve gone away and checked their body? Researched how they can live a more healthy life? Decided to help at a hospice or volunteer for a charity? Taken up exercise? Or quit smoking? These public seemingly random campaigns can spark personal change. The lack of obvious focus was the very thing that set me thinking what ‘awareness’ meant to me and what action I would take myself. Cancer is sadly so familiar to us all that anything which comes along and makes us really think – for what ever reason – even if we’re just intellectualising the campaign itself is to be welcomed imho. Why be negative about it because it’s not raising pounds? As for a bare-face being ‘shameful’…I don’t know how that’s part of the #nomakeupselfie unless you interpret it that way. Something about seeing my beautiful friends celebrate themselves for just exactly who they are, I found very inspiring. Thanks for adding your voice to the debates. It’s always interesting to read other people’s opinions. It’s a really beautiful picture you have posted too, it’s full of love. x

  10. Hi Kate, thanks for your kind comments. I totally agree with you that I don't know what people did afterwards and that awareness campaigns don't need to be just about money. I'm sure it did end up making lots of people think but I still can't help believing that it makes more sense by including a link to something relevant be that to a signs and symptoms guide, a charity or a blog from a person affected by cancer.
    I don't for one moment think bare-faced pictures should be considered shameful but the number of photos I've seen where women apologise for their make-up free appearance saddens me, they all look beautiful to me.
    Thanks again for stopping by and adding some interesting thoughts to the debate.