No Make Up Selfie: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

This weekend I was nominated to do a no make-up selfie. For those of you who aren’t aware of this trend, it’s a social networking viral craze used to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. However for something so seemingly ‘good’, it has caused a huge amount of controversy.

No one seems to be sure where the trend started but one sure fact is that it wasn’t set up as a campaign by any cancer charity; some have said it may have been prompted by this ( while others say it was a reaction to the now-famous Oscars selfie led by Ellen De Generes.

Personally I wasn’t sure what I thought about it, I have seen people praising the trend and people slamming the trend so I thought it would be worth exploring a little before doing one myself. Initially all I thought was ‘not more selfies’, I’m not a fan of the posed, caked with make up photos I see every day and all this seemed to be (initially) was another way for a girl to fish for compliments on the way she looks without make up, while still wearing foundation and some not-so-subtle eyeliner. I’ve even seen ‘no make-up’ selfies of people wearing fake eyelashes which, forgive me if I’m wrong, completely defeats the point. The first round of pictures I saw didn’t even mention donating (that started to pick up after the first round of criticism), but then I noticed followers of the trend beginning to upload two photos, one of their bare face and one showing the text donation, slightly over-philanthropic perhaps but you can see why people would want to prove they had done their part after all the ‘why don’t you actually go and do something’ comments.

One criticism appears to be ‘what does not wearing make-up have to do with cancer’ and the answer is essentially nothing. As I mentioned previously, the trend was not a campaign devised by charity strategists or fundraising teams and therefore searching for a deep meaning within the trend won’t get you very far. Having said that, meaning could possibly be found; a cancer survivor (who doesn’t actually agree with the trend) offered this as a potential explanation:

“(No make-up selfies are a way of) baring yourself, exposing yourself, making you feel vulnerable, trying to understand a mere taste of the fragility that someone with cancer experiences when they look in the mirror”. 

The main criticism that I have seen appears to be people blindly saying that those who are posting no make up selfies are having no effect and not helping the cause. I would like to argue against this. I strongly believe that this trend has made a huge difference; cancer research charities have raised £2 MILLION in three days from a campaign that they didn’t even set up.  Even those who took part early in the craze and may not have donated have nominated others who may have donated. For example one person doesn’t donate, but nominates five others. The five she nominates donate £3 each and nominate five other people each, all of which donate. Even if the chain stopped there that’s £90 raised for cancer research! So even those who didn’t manage/didn’t want to donate have unconsciously raised money through those they have influenced to take part.

As for those even shorter sighted people who say this trend will do nothing to raise awareness – look how much controversy it’s caused. If I look down my Facebook timeline today I’m sure I’d come across at least five selfies and at least one person moaning about how it’s not making a difference. And I’d like to argue that those who moan about people doing the selfie and not donating – how many men do you moan at for not donating or being sponsored while doing Movember? A lot of men I know do it for fun, but because people notice something different it’s still raising awareness of a great cause and they are doing something rather than doing nothing. Even if you knew nothing about the trend, seeing a photo of a girl who you hardly recognise, due to the lack of make-up, is enough for you to stop and question why she’s uploaded that photo when she’s usually so image conscious. It is a trend that is only successful because of people’s vanity, if it was just a standard selfie than no-one would notice anything different; if a girl gets complimented on her ‘natural’ look in the process, where’s the negative in making her feel a bit better? As long as this is not the sole reason she posted it then I can’t even see that being a valid criticism. The whole concept of social media is built on people’s vanity in building their ‘online presence’ and showing themselves in the best possible light.

I agree that it’s a ‘lazy’ way to help but people have such busy lives that perhaps a quick photo and a £3 donation is just the easiest way to help out. How many of us would stop to talk to the fundraisers standing outside the tube station every day, listen to what they’re trying to raise awareness of and give them £3 towards their cause? Probably not very many. How many of those who criticise would go out of their way to buy that homeless man they walk past every day a breakfast and chat to him? These are other easy ways to give to charity but they are still ways that the majority of people don’t make time for. I think if you’re going to criticise the no make-up selfie trend, personally I’d like to see how you’re taking the time to do something better.

The whole ‘campaign’ goes to show the incredible power of social media, £2 million is an incredible achievement in such a short period of time. One professor of Communications said “this campaign has captured the imagination, very rapid communication like this has never been faster in human history”. It’s incredible that now we don’t have to go anywhere to do our bit, incredible that we can feel like part of a community in a fun task with our friends but also know that we are helping, even if it is in such a small way and at minimum personal cost to ourselves. At the end of the day combining popular trends with fundraising is a great way to reach young and untapped audiences.

This is a short-term fix for cancer charities. Cancer charities find it harder than not-for-profit organisations that are raising money for a specific cause at a specific time to organise mass fundraising drives and it’s something that arguably features so heavily in our day to day lives that we forget how important it is. This campaign shows us that fundraising doesn’t have to be something that is out of our reach as busy people, something that we can do with our friends and something that isn’t a chore. It’s raising money, it’s raising awareness and it’s showing support if nothing else. I’d like to remind everyone that the NekNominate drinking game craze was incredibly popular just a couple of months ago, it was only criticised by adults who were quick to condemn the binge drinking and irresponsibility and it led to three deaths; I have seen far more comments from my Facebook network condemning the no make-up selfie trend than condemning NekNominate so social networks, let’s get our priorities straight.

Text BEAT to 70099 to donate £3 to cancer research to help beat cancer