On Wednesday morning I logged into Facebook expecting to find the usual assortment of Buzzfeed listacles, 21st birthday photos and updates from friends’ travels. Amongst these things, I noticed a number of fresh-faced self-portraits staring out at me, often with the hashtag #beatcancer. Some posts included accompanying information about how to donate to Cancer Research, while others said something along the lines of ‘Thought I’d better do my #NoMakeupSelfie for cancer research’ or something pertaining to the great ‘Awareness’ raised – no donation, no information. Just your run-of-the-mill selfie.
By Monday morning, I’d deactivated my Facebook, as I feared that I might not be able to contain the sense of unease I felt every time I saw one of these “brave” selfies. What began as solidarity makeup-free photos posted to support Kim Novak after the backlash she received for attending the Oscars makeup-free morphed into a “raising awareness” movement when somebody slapped the #beatcancer hashtag on their photo. And thus, the NMS craze was born; a pre-existing bandwagon with an anti-cancer message haphazardly thrown in.
This is where my problem with the NMS comes in; it’s yet another campaign glossing over the gritty reality of cancer. Every two minutes, somebody in the UK is diagnosed with cancer. The number of people who will get cancer during their lifetime will increase to nearly half the population by 2020, a proportion that’s continually growing and isn’t going away any time soon. So while it’s great to ‘raise awareness’ for a very real and very dangerous illness, I can’t help feeling that post-NMS we don’t really know any more about the causes of common cancers, or how to prevent them.
The NMS movement angers me most of all because it implies the most useful thing women can do to fight cancer is to shun the usual lipstick and mascara and open ourselves up to the inevitable scrutiny of others. As though concealer is our very oxygen, and sacrificing our cosmetic masks warrants a pat on the back or a ‘Well done babe xxx’ comment. No need to bake cakes for Macmillan, opt for the local charity shop instead of Primark or give a bit of spare change to a homeless bloke – all we 21st century women need to do to feel the warmth of goodwill is share a photo of what we really look like sans-filter and sans-slap with our friends and family.
These campaigns appeal to people because it’s fun to jump on a bandwagon and feel like you’re part of a fun social movement, hence the success of NekNominations, RAKNominations and so on. With the added incentive of looking like a do-gooder, what’s not to love about the NMS movement? While I can see the appeal, I can’t look passed its sexism, self-congratulatory nature and the sad implications it gives about the position of women in today’s social media landscape.