No makeup selfie: It's hard to argue with £1 million raised for cancer research - but to say that these snaps are courageous is simply nonsense

Like The Sun’s breast cancer campaign, this trend glosses over the reality of cancer

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“Selfie” was 2013’s word of the year. So the good news is that there are probably only about three months to wait before it goes the way of “Turkey Twizzler”, “omnishambles” and “vuvuzela” and is overtaken by another tedious piece of zeitgeist-speak. That, or any day now Michael Gove, George Osborne and Jacob Rees-Mogg will post a picture of themselves brandishing bingo dabbers, in a larky, tilty-head embrace and kill the trend dead, once and for all. And then people can go back to having pictures taken of them by other people, who might actually want to see and cherish the results.

For now, though, the word and deed are at their peak. The nation is drowning in duck faces and artfully angled cheekbones. This week there was a new surge, this time of more bashful self-portraits, many taken first thing in the morning or last thing at night, often featuring dressing gowns and duvets. These were the “No Make-Up Selfies”, a viral outbreak in which women took bare-faced photographs of themselves, posted them on Facebook and then nominated various other female friends to follow suit. Like Neknominate, but instead of ordering your friends, via smartphone, to drink a potentially fatal pint of vodka and Lambrini, you order them, via smartphone, to take the enormous social risk of appearing online without make-up. Like, literally none at all. To think there was a time when you had to be in the same room as your friends to have fun with them!

There was a point to this, although it took a while to make itself known. The No Make-Up Selfies began as a backlash against cruel criticisms of Kim Novak’s face when the 81-year-old actress appeared in public for the first time in years at the Oscars. Somewhere along the line, the gesture – 50 per cent solidarity, 50 per cent solipsism – gained a new hashtag, #breastcancerawareness. And just like that, the selfies took on a humanitarian hue. They became a means to raise awareness of cancer, the nominations spreading the word like an old-fashioned chain letter.

Not too much wrong with that, but “raising awareness” is a quaint concept. In the UK, someone is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes. More than one in three people will develop some form of cancer during his or her lifetime. If it has not affected you physically, cancer will more than likely have affected you personally. Awareness matters, but at this point it is money that makes the difference. Or to put it another way, being aware of the latest must-have L’Oréal BB Cream is not the same as having enough cash in your wallet to go and buy it. And if equating breast cancer with cosmetics sounds banal, well, I didn’t start it.

 

While many people thought that a close-up was sufficient action, some also shared pictures of their receipt from donating to Cancer Research. In 24 hours, a million pounds was raised. It is hard to argue with a sum like that. Imagine how much more might have been raised had the campaign not effectively excluded more than half of the population – most men, not to mention the women who go out bare-faced every day, some without even realising their bravery.

Not that people who slather it on should be made to feel guilty. It is up to individuals what they do or do not put on their face, but the notion that this choice is courageous, or useful, in this or any other context, is nonsense. And like The Sun’s “Check ’em Tuesday” breast cancer campaign, which lately encouraged readers to “cop a feel of their boobs”, it titillates with women’s faces and bodies, while glossing over the unlovely reality of cancer.

Read more: The ‘no makeup selfie’ craze seems like narcissism masked as charity. Why not donate instead?

Cancer Research did not come up with the selfie campaign, but it was probably only a matter of time. It used to be the lone privilege of celebrities on Comic Relief to show the world how they were doing their bit; now everyone can share their charitable work, whether it is growing a moustache or running a marathon. It is not enough to do good; one must be seen to be doing good. Point, click, hashtag, share, feel good. Given that any act of charity that does not involve simply going to a website and quietly typing in a credit card number is an act of vanity to some extent, the no make-up selfie is probably the vacant high point of modern giving. So point and click, if you must, but click on cruk.org first.

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