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No Make-Up Selfie = Narcissism?

March 20, 2014

I saw a link to this article in the Independent on Facebook today, and not for the first time the no make-up selfie meme which was intended to raise awareness of cancer research was defined as an act of narcissism by those who participated.  One comment stating this was enough to irk me, but more than one is getting me really mad.

The article states the campaign was sparked by a of an author who uploaded a photo of herself without make-up on in support of Kim Novak daring to bare at the Oscars.  This is a bit of a misunderstanding; actually the meme was initially a “Dare to Bare”  ( – if the link doesn’t work when clicked) campaign last October in which women were sponsored for going without make-up to work, or a social function, or similar such event, in order to raise money for breast cancer awareness.  The two separate events appear to have conflated on social media.

I understand men are now doing ‘socks on cocks’ selfies for testicular cancer.  This is great, if how to check oneself for lumps, bumps and testicular changes is posted with the photos.

Normally I intensely dislike memes which purport to raise awareness without actually giving any mention of the cause about which such awareness is to be raised.  It seems pointless and exclusionary to me, especially if one is supposed to specifically exclude a particular group of people as part of the meme.  This one, though, has sparked discussion, awareness-raising and fund-raising for myriad cancer charities and I myself did take part, linking to charities and two forms of checking for signs of cancer.  Here’s what I posted:

naked face - shocking!

me without make-up

“Here’s my profile picture without make-up for this cancer awareness meme thingy – did you know it is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month this month, in the UK?:
Have some more links:
Just a few to keep you going – Have a lovely day.”

But this is not what enraged me about the Independent article and the many other comments made with regard to the narcissistic nature of women posting selfies without make-up on.  What is narcissism?  The dictionary defines it as “excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance.”  From the comments I have read by women posting these selfies, whose genuine and heartfelt wish is to promote awareness and many of whom have donated to charities, an excessive interest or admiration of their own looks is the last accusation that could be thrown at their comments.

Women are judged by their appearance in our society, only someone brought up in a cave without any social interaction at all could fail to realise that.  The decision to bare their faces, publicly, on social media where photos are shared and seen by more than those who are in our immediate social circle and are permanent (unless deleted) so can be re-accessed days after the actual event, is one which flies against social norms for women and is in my opinion a brave move.  Yes, it is brave.  It is scary.  The myriad comments stating how hideous, horrible, monstrous, vile etc the women feel they look are not fishing for compliments.  This is how many, many women feel.  I have said and will probably say it again, often, about myself.   It is a socialisation that is ingrained within us.  We look at our faults, not our truth.  We see ourselves not as others see us, but as society thinks we should be and are failing to measure up to.  We wear make-up to give ourselves confidence to face the world, to conform to an ideal of attractiveness in as far as we can.  We want to be beautiful, to be accepted.  We are supposed to be beautiful to be accepted.  It’s not narcissism to do so, and it is most certainly not narcissism when we feel a cause is so important that we are willing to go against our fears to promote it.

So whilst I generally dislike such memes, this one was an effective one in the way people adapted it to their own use.  To disparage those women taking part as being narcissistic, self-loving, and to criticise the meme on that basis is ignorant.  It is a denial of the way in which women are viewed in this society.  It makes presumptions about the reasons for posting and the actions the poster is making alongside posting the photos.  Maybe a few women did post with narcissistic motivation, but by far the majority I saw and have read about did not.  They found posting terribly difficult but wanted to do something for those they have loved who have been affected by cancer.

That’s why I did it.  That’s why I shared the information.  Not for narcissism, but for awareness; the very point of the meme in the first place.

UPDATE: Cancer Research UK has reported receiving approximately £1.4million in donations through these selfies.


From → Ideology

  1. Akshat Jain permalink

    Loved this post 🙂

  2. Fully agree with including actual health education in campaigns. This is a subject close to my heart: I lost both testicles to cancer at age 20. I wonder if had I been more aware of the need to self-check, would I have detected a problem before both testicles were affected? I didn’t really realise that testicular cancer is a young man’s disease. Lesson learned.

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