Why I shan’t be posting a #nomakeupselfie

Today’s post from Cecily is very relevant – this past week has seen the #nomakeupselfie explode on all forms of social media. I don’t have Facebook and I keep my Twitter fairly quiet, so I will admit that the craze passed me by initially. It was only when it crept over to Instagram and the media caught on that I began to follow what was going on with some interest.

I risk writing my own post here but this is Cecily’s ground to cover, I will just say that whilst I feel like the whole thing was ridiculous and started from something silly and vain there is no question that it grew into something magnificent. Yesterday I saw a tweet doing the rounds that said enough money had been raised to fund 10 new trials to try and fight cancer. If that’s true, kudos to the person who had the brains to actually donate, rather than just smile for the camera.


Over the past week I’m sure your Facebook and Twitter feeds have, like mine, been full of pictures of your friends’ unadorned faces accompanied by #nomakeupselfie.  Although the craze wasn’t actually started by a charity, they are now mostly accompanied by a screengrab of a text donation to Cancer Research.  Part of me wants to think that anything that raises awareness and money for a worthwhile cause is a good thing, yet the more I think about it and the more of my friends I see posting, the more determined I am not to join them.

The whole thing smacks of an uneasy mixture of vanity and insecurity.  On the one hand, certain posters have obviously taken the time to carefully pick the right angle, the right light and the right pout and seem to be defiantly showing us that they look fabulous without make-up.  Yet the very concept of a no make up selfie and the number of accompanying comments along the lines of ‘eek, can’t believe I’m brave enough to do this’ just promote the message that we are not good enough just as we are.  It’s just a picture of your face – why should it be brave to show it to your friends?

I have no problem with make-up.  At work, it makes me feel like a more polished version of myself and when I’m getting dressed up to go out, a slick of red lipstick or a smoky eye adds a touch of glamour, much like slipping on a pair of stilettos.  Yet, I also don’t have a problem with going out bare faced.  I never want to be ashamed of how I look.  The nomake up selfie seems to be telling women that we need to disguise ourselves before we face the world, that our face without make-up is an inferior version and, at the same time, that not wearing make-up is somehow brave or even un-feminine.

The worst part of all – this was all started by a woman and women are responsible for its success.  The bemused comments from our husbands, boyfriends and male friends show that, for the most part, they don’t really get it.  They think we look quite nice without make up.  Once again, wewomen are proving that so often we are our own worst enemy.  To raise awareness of and money to help fight prostate cancer, men grow ludicrous 80s-style facial hair or, for those who can’t, patchy little pencil moustaches.  I’m not a big fan of moustaches, November is definitely not my favourite month, but at least it shows that men don’t take themselves too seriously.   Why oh why couldn’t have we have done the same?  Not growing facial hair, obviously, but something fun and silly.  #Nomakeupselfie is such a tragic wasted opportunity.  Now, #clownmakeupselfie, there’s an idea I could get behind.

Categories: Body Image, Politics and Feminism, Uncategorized
35 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Fee
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    With my professional background in charity marketing (the charity in question here in fact), I find a lot of social media activity hugely frustrating. All of these ‘like this picture if you hate cancer’ or ‘share this if you’ve been touched by cancer’ are pointless. 1 in 3 people in the UK will have cancer in their lifetime so we’ve all been affected and we all hate it. You shouldn’t get to feel good about yourself for clicking ‘like’ on Facebook – if you want to feel good and actually make a difference, donate your money or time or both.

    I initially felt the same about this new craze but having seen the amount of money it’s raised, it’s blazing a new trail for social media fundraising. I have seen firsthand the difference donations make to CRUK and also the hard work it takes to get these donations. The fact this amount of money has been raised is incredible.

    I get all of your points and agree with them but I think this argument is dwarfed by the success of the whole thing. I think it becomes irrelevant when put in context of the cause – make up is trivial etc but if it triggers this sort of charity giving, I’m all for it.

    I think the more pressing questions this has raised are around charity giving in the UK in general but I could talk about that all day so I’ll stop!

    Great, thought provoking post.

    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      As someone who works with social media I find it REALLY interesting as to why it DID work….is the vanity part of it?? Perhaps. Fascinating stuff.


    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely – I couldn’t agree more. I was going to talk about our relationship with charitable giving, but thought maybe that was a whole other topic to tackle… Of course any amount raised is a good thing and I absolutely don’t want to take away from that, but I still think that the concept reinforces some pretty negative ideas about image, which is a shame.

  2. Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    I suffer with adult acne. My face is currently partially covered with scars and boils. It’s a condition which I am dealing with, but in the interim my confidence is not great. I do go out without makeup on but not often. The thought of doing a “no makeup selfie” makes me die inside. You want to come over here and tell me I wouldn’t be brave to do it?

    For what it’s worth, I’m impressed and pleased about how well this campaign has done. And yes it’s a shame it isn’t normal for us to go without makeup, and isn’t it good that it’s also got us talking about that? It’s a shame that many have used it as a stick to beat those who choose to wear makeup though. Everyone has their reasons, it’s not always black and white.

    Definitely up for the #clownmakeupselfie though.

    Great post.


    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      Now I’ve had my Shreddies and am feeling a bit less confrontational I should probably qualify this by saying this…. Yesterday I overheard a woman at our gym complaining about the fact that she’d nominated her friend to take part and her friend had sent her a message saying she’d donated but didn’t think the world was ready for a picture of her makeup free face. I think it’s easy to assume that because you find something only a little bit challenging that others might not have more difficulty with it. Equally that just because you’re a woman going bare-faced should be a big deal when lots of us don’t wear makeup at all – I can see how that might make some people feel uncomfortable.

      Agreed that this is trivial compared to the battle of cancer sufferers and their loved ones, it really, really is…. but isn’t this even more reason for us all to just be a bit kinder to each other about our choices?


      • Posted March 26, 2014 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

        I’m completely with you – of course everyone has their own personal battles and I don’t want to belittle those in any way. The point I wanted to make is that I felt that in many ways the campaign reinforced a lot of negative ideas about image. And that these attitudes only reinforce people’s insecurities.

  3. Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I love that it raised so much money. I’m not particularly bothered that it stemmed from something pretty shallow.

    What made me so angry was women stating they were so brave to post a picture of their make up free face. That’s not brave at all. Brave is waking up every day with cancer and having to battle through chemo, hair loss, the crippling side effects of the treatments trying to keep you alive. Dealing with your family’s emotions, while not knowing what to do with your own. Not knowing if you will be able to have a family, or whether you will see your children grow up. It’s an insult to these women to say you are brave for taking off your slap.

    But 8m is wonderful – I really do hope it makes a difference

    • Katielase
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      I have to respectfully disagree, for some women going without make-up is brave. Women are constantly forced to compare themselves to one another, and this is one more way of doing that. It’s possible for going without make up to be brave for some people, without it detracting from the bravery of those people facing cancer. I dislike the idea that we have to justify our feelings by comparison to others. Some days getting out of bed is brave for some people.

      KL x

      • Posted March 26, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

        It’s depressing that society has made it something to be brave about – that the quest for perfection, and the pressure on women to look flawless at all times means baring your face to the world is a challenge. In the context of the campaign, I know first hand from cancer sufferers, survivors and the family of those that lost the fight, that they were upset by some of the brave comments accompanying the selfies, hence the slightly forceful post from me

        (And sorry P, I didn’t see your post before mine xxxxxxxx)

        • Posted March 26, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

          Not at all – I can see why anyone confronted with cancer might feel put out by the “brave” claims on many of these pictures, which do seem a bit frivolous. As KL says though, everyone has their own battles. Some more obvious than others!


        • Posted March 26, 2014 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

          This is what I was trying to get at. I don’t want to detract from the fact that everyone has their own battles, but that it makes me sad that we live in a society where there is such a quest for perfection and that I felt that this campaign contributed to that.

  4. Cat B
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    I work in fundraising for a children’s cancer charity. Whilst we’ve received nowhere near the £8m that CRUK have, we’ve still benefitted and that can only be a positive in my book. Sometimes the means do justify the end.

  5. Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    For some it’s a massively brave thing to do, for others it’s a walk in the park and the most bizarre thing to ever happen to social media. Either way it’s raised an awful lot of money and only lasted a few days. As long as the people posting images were actually donating, I don’t have a problem with it at all… (Although I much preferred the ones where people were gurning and pulling stupid faces rather than pouting and choosing the most flattering filter.)

  6. Sophie P
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Personally, I hate any kind of ‘chain’ even back to the chain letters I got as a kid. ‘Pass this on or you’ll break the world record’ ‘like this picture and get good luck’ ‘don’t like this picture and…’ You get my point. Initially I had the same reaction to the no makeup selfie, ignoring my tags. It was only when I heard about the first million raised that I decided to do one – not nominating anyone in particular but any of my friends who wanted to be part of it. I often don’t wear makeup and I wear very little to work so my selfie wasn’t very brave. That wasn’t the point for me. The point was the donation. Some people use makeup to make them feel good about themselves; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Despite my initial nose turn up, I’m now proud to have been part of the no makeup selfie. I love the ‘one day we WILL beat cancer advert and I love #nomakeupselfie

  7. Posted March 26, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    As a woman who only wears makeup to special events, I’m not participating either.
    The vanity / insecurity / judgement angle makes me uncomfortable too. Am I less of a woman for not wearing makeup most of the time? Am I not worthy of participating since a photo of me with no makeup is just a photo of me?

  8. Katielase
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I have two points…

    First, I have to say I wish we didn’t live in a world where going without make up was a brave thing for some women to do, but we do. I hate that, but I’m not going to take away from the fact that I’ve seen women who have massive self esteem, self confidence and body image issues do something that for them IS brave. My friend took part, and it gave her a panic attack because she uses make up like armour to help her cope with her self image issues. I wish she didn’t feel like this because she is beautiful, on the outside and on the inside, but I’m so proud she did something challenging and did it to raise money. It’s not fair to say that going without make up isn’t brave just because it isn’t the same as waking up with cancer. Everyone is fighting their own battles, choosing to make some more worthy than others helps no-one at all.

    Second, I agree with Fee. £8 million. 10 clinical trials. That’s 10 steps closer to helping people with cancer. To be honest, now that figure is out there, I don’t care how it got raised. In fact my main feeling is awe, how inspirational is it that between us all we turned something that could have been meaningless into something that means everything in the fight against this shitty, awful disease?

    KL x

  9. Liz
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    When I saw the first of the photos my reaction was that I was never going to do it and it did seem a bit vain when there were only a few people involved, but as this thing grew traction and starting raising so much money there didn’t really seem much point in resisting as it is doing so much good.

    For me, its not about the fact of the its a ‘nomakeupselfie’, it could have been anything which people want to get involved in. Maybe it is precisely because it is a little thing which doesn’t take too much effort for the majority of women that people are willing to do it. Clownmakeupselfie sound like great fun, but I would guess the reality is that it wouldn’t take off in the same way because it relies on people having to do something more out of the ordinary.

    l did mine as the result of someone donating and nominating me, and two more people have done the same after me – that’s £12 right there; £12 that none of us would have donated a few days ago. A total of £8m in the space of a couple of weeks, wow. And £8m raised spontaneously without the charity having to plough lots of time and resources in to achieving this, double wow. Maybe a little vanity from the women of GB is ok if, as a result, we can together donate this much?

  10. Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I have a lot of thoughts. I’m easily persuaded by both sides of this argument, by both the original poster and comment-ers.

    My main problem has come from the fact that I’ve been nominated twice. Neither of those people mentioned cancer, donating to cancer, cancer awareness… So I guess I’ve seen the people who (potentially through no fault of their own) haven’t got the message. To them its just people saying they still look pretty without makeup.

  11. Emma
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    My main issue with the no makeup selfie is that, unfortunately, on my friends list for every one who did the selfie and a donation, there were other people just taking a photo to ‘raise awareness’ and not actually bothering to donate. That isn’t actually even a jot of help to CRUK or any other cancer charity.

  12. Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Anything which raises so much money in such a short period of time is amazing in my book. I know the whole thing got a lot of negative reactions but the sheer speed and scale of it is one of the reasons I love social media and the internet as a whole.

    A friend of mine who lost her amazing mum to breast cancer 5 years ago yesterday posted this with her photo and it summed up a lot of what I wanted to say but was too inarticulate to put into words: “I don’t need anyone to tell me what they think of me without make up on it’s not about that!! Make up is something that woman with cancer can use to put their war paint on when fighting something that takes everything else away, when your not fighting baring all shows your support and shares awareness”

    The one thing that did bother me was that the reaction was so negative that people felt the need to justify their picture by accompanying it with proof that they had donated. That rattled my cage. G and I discussed it at length during our commute and came to the conclusion that although raising awareness and raising funds are two different things, both are good. A lot of my friends were posting pictures of how to do a self breast check. Possibly only a small number of people will follow the steps and hopefully an even smaller number will find something irregular but for those people this campaign could save their lives and isn’t that worth something?

    I’m totally up for clown makeup selfie!! I’m up for anything which makes me look ridiculous really…

  13. Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I don’t agree with the writer at all, is the whole point behind it not to show how it’s silly that woman focus on things like make up when you could be dealing with much worse. I think it’s only encouraging for people to post these pictures and show they don’t need make up to face the world. I don’t think we should be critical of those woman who felt they were being brave to post it, we should be encouraging them for doing so even though it was hard for them. The writer talks about woman being their own worse enemies but her post is exactly that, by saying these people shouldn’t being feeling brave for posting these photos. I think it was a wonderfully simply campaign got everyone talking and donating when they otherwise wouldn’t.

    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      This is exactly what I was trying to say in my rambling comment above…

      • Posted March 26, 2014 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know. I haven’t really seen anyone trying to compare fighting cancer with not wearing make-up. I didn’t really think that it was about comparing different types of bravery. I was trying to say that I think it’s awful that we live in a society where not wearing make-up is considered ‘brave’ and that I thought that the campaign reinforced that idea.

  14. Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I hear what you’re saying about not wearing make up and it would be great if women could just feel comfortable in their own skin but the fact is that many women don’t. I was nominated to post a selfie and couldn’t do it. The idea of pointing that camera at myself is bad enough when I feel like I’ve made myself up properly, so the idea of revealing the flaws I hate to the world made me feel sick in the stomach. I don’t know what that says to you about me, it’s just a simple truth (I didn’t have professional wedding photos taken either for the same reason). So from that point of view, I think it was a brave thing for some women. We’re all different though and some feel comfortable without, some never wear make up, some pile it on some days and minimise it others – and we all feel differently about it.

    That said, I felt that ‘raising awareness of cancer’, as it was first put before people started linking it to breast cancer, is just silly. We know about cancer. We might need to learn more about specific cancers, or even how to check for warning signs, but raising awareness of cancer is no longer necessary. Instead of nominating I contributed some money. I did the same thing when people changed their profile pictures to cartoons for the NSPCC (and didn’t add the cartoon) because frankly it’s the donation that makes the difference. Incidentally, this time I donated to a small cervical cancer charity. The big guys do great work, but they also get a lot of help so I felt I needed to support a charity that could do with an extra leg-up.

  15. Lexie
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I think this is a fascinating topic. On the surface the selfie craze (I’m thinking even before the money raising happened) seems quite vain and yes it is a way to get attention. But, it can and does run deeper than that. For example, someone with body dysmorphia might actually be encouraged to post regular selfies as part of the way the deal with their illness.
    The no make up thing, like a few have said is quite personal. It would be great if no one found it a big deal and it shouldn’t be a big deal, but the truth is that for some it will have been a big deal and great for these things to happen (from what I’ve seen) in a supportive way and for a good cause.

  16. another Sarah
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Arghhh! Off topic but I have just tried to post a comment three times and couldn’t. I read every single post on this blog via feedly on my phone. The stupid app doesn’t let me scroll down to the ‘post comment’ button. When I do it just closes the post in the app. Can anyone recommend a better reader?

    On topic, if we told each other how beautiful we look when we just look ourselves (rather than when we’ve dressed up/made an effort) we’d all feel a lot more confident. I hope all the insecure women that took selfies feel empowered to be themselves more in the future.

    • another Sarah
      Posted March 26, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      P.S. Has anyone else noticed that loads of these no make up selfies show people still wearing make up (mostly mascara/eye liner). My mantra is ‘do it properly or don’t do it at all’ and it’s driving me nuts! It undermines the people that have literally bared all, sometimes for the first time ever/since I’ve known them. In some cases they’ve looked (shockingly) almost unrecognisable.

      P.P.S. This sounds awful but seeing some usually ‘perfect’ people looking normal has made me feel a lot more confident about my own looks.

  17. deltafoxtrotcharlie
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I disagree with this post. I’d call myself a card carrying feminist and guess what? I love wearing makeup and I wouldn’t judge any other women who does or doesn’t. That’s just not the battle that I choose to fight. I also think its wrong to say that it isn’t brave to post a no makeup selfie. Sure, it wasn’t for me but it is for others.

    The thing about it that really bothers me is the incredibly harsh standards that women are holding themselves to which they wouldn’t dream of applying to anyone else. I’ve seen countless posts with a caption about how awful they look when in fact, every single picture I’ve seen is lovely.

    Lets give ourselves a break.

  18. Posted March 26, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    I am really undecided about this because it has raised a lot of money for charity and is therefore a Good Thing.


    How many of those people will donate to charity again, and how many donated because they were “nominated”? One off donations are great but really what charities and fundgiving bodies need is longer term commitments. Yes, clinical trials are necessary. But – they will be next year, and the year after. To me this hasn’t felt like a fundraising drive, it’s been more remniscent of those Lance Armstrong yellow bands that everyone had when I was in sixth form which became a form of fashion accessory rather than a method for engaging in conversations about cancer.

    How many of them have genuinely gone on to find out more about cancer and how to prevent/spot/support people? Surely that is really awareness raising… and yet a quick straw poll of my facebook feed shows that noone has linked to any organisations who can provide this information.
    And *whispers* is cancer really the one that we need awareness of, and how does a photo of a face link up? We all know that cancer exists. How many people are aware of organisations that fund cleft lip treatment in countries where people with disabilities are ostracised by society? Or can name organisations which research Bell’s Palsy, or provide support for people with facial disfigurements? In all honesty, to me, it doesn’t tally up, I suspect because they are not as attractive charities to campaign for (oh, the potential for irony with that one!) and that makes me sad.

    I’ll be honest, in that a lot of what has turned me off this campaign has been the people who have taken part – the people on my facebook timeline who posted pictures of themselves without makeup tend to be the people who post pictures of themselves in bikinis on holiday, or who are conventionally beautiful and get positive reinforcements for all of the photos they post. They are the confident people – the ones who are comfortable in themselves. In this respect, taking a photo of yourself without makeup isn’t brave. To me, brave is pushing yourself because you want to and because it’s taking you out of your comfort zone. I’m not sure that shaming/nominating someone into taking a photo of themselves is quite the samet thing.

    Oh dear. Sorry this is an essay. I’ve been debaing it with a colleague and we’re both so undecided!

    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      This is such a brilliant comment G. Highlights the difference between awareness raising and educating – we should never mistake one for the other. VERY interesting point about charities and which are attractive/popular… a whole other can of worms… I do think a lot of this is down to people choosing charities close to their own hearts, and cancer is a pernicious little beast, which is why it comes up so often. I am in charge of my company’s charity initiatives and employees always want to do more on cancer and children’s charities, anything outside of that is a much harder sell.


    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      Excellent comment Gwen. For me, Cancer Research UK is indeed very close to my heart because of my mum (and even more so because I like the fact that they’re actually involved in the science not just the touchy-feely stuff….) and I do donate regularly and do things like Race for Life. But I realise that not everyone is like me and therefore as far as I’m concerned anything like this which leads to a few more people donating can only be a good thing. I don’t really care what people do if it means they’re giving money to Cancer Research.

      Me -yes I was nominated, yes I did it, yes of course I donated and yes I nominated others. Because I almost never wear makeup it didn’t bother me at all, but then I do other things to challenge myself while also raising money (Race for Life is definitely a challenge for me…) and as I said, I’m mainly interested in raising awareness.

    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

      Great comment. That is all.

    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

      Yes to everything in this comment!

  19. Posted March 26, 2014 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Wow – thank you for all the comments. Turns out this is quite a controversial topic…

    I absolutely didn’t want to say that I don’t think that, for some people, posting a photo without make-up isn’t brave. It most definitely is – for all sorts of reasons. But why should it be brave? I find it depressing that we live in a society where it is a big deal for a lot of people.

    So many of the photos I’ve seen have been carefully taken to be as flattering as possible and accompanied by comments about how scary it is with varying degrees of sincerity. For all those people who have really struggled to do it, there are plenty who haven’t really, but are making a big deal out of it. I don’t think that’s particularly helpful for all those who really did find it a challenge and only serves to reinforce lots of negative ideas about body image.

    All that said. The amount of money raised is a good thing and I don’t want to take away from it at all. I just wish that it could have been done in a different way.

  20. Cat B
    Posted March 27, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Thought this might be of interest – it highlights in detail the direct impact to charities in both fundraising and awareness terms!

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