Here’s something awesome: over the course of less than a week, concerned citizens raised £2,000,000 (about $3,299,200) for cancer research as part of a somewhat accidental selfie viral sensation on social media. While the whole thing wasn’t immune to criticism, it can firmly land in the “win for Good” category in the great Internet battle of Good versus Evil.
When #nomakeupselfie started trending on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media last week, the team at Cancer Research UK smartly requested that people add calls for donations to their selfies (that’s a Virgin Atlantic flight crew, as tweeted by Richard Branson). 48 hours and £2,000,000 to multiple Cancer foundations later, the world had a front row view of what can happen when an idea catches on and people respond with actions. This was a good week for the Internet.
The event wasn’t without controversy, which seems like a reach at best. Blogger Yomi Adegoke objected to the #nomakeupselfie trend in the first place, saying:
Thinly veiling vanity as philanthropy more than irks … the pretence these images are for anything other than an onslaught of ‘natural beauty’ acclamations, coupled with pats on the back for ‘fighting the cause’ makes the no makeup selfie mania even harder to stomach.
So Adegoke doesn’t like no make up selfies, and I think there’s some validity to that. While I certainly don’t think they’re inherently problematic, I can absolutely see the argument that passing off makeup-less faces as something revolutionary would actually further instill the idea that made-up beauty is “normal” beauty. Still, I don’t think it’s worth begrudging these women who probably did feel some sense of liberation in taking these pictures.
But I sort of lost Adegoke when she got into the problematic nature of the #nomakeupselfie and raising money for cancer connection.
If women not wearing makeup is deemed as brave when held against cancer, it does say quite a bit about society today. I know the campaign was to normalise women not wearing makeup, but to suggest that by doing so is being exposing and leaving somebody vulnerable, that is problematic.
I think the issue here is that nobody ever said that going makeup-free and battling cancer were the same thing. When people wear shirts that say “Get tested for HIV,” nobody’s equivocating wearing a shirt and suffering from HIV itself. We do all kinds of silly gimmicks to raise money, and some are actually quite problematic (see: bros motorboating for breast cancer). While criticism is valuable even when it comes to fundraising events that have a good cause, this controversy seems like grasping at straws.
I spend most of my day on the Internet for my job, and if we’re being really honest with each other, I have to tell you that the majority of what I see is pretty awful. The Internet is a place where all of the horrors of the world go to magnify themselves, and it can be a bleak place to call “the office.” So things like XOJane commenters raising money for a woman in an abusive situation or people donating over millions of pounds in less than a week for cancer research all because of selfies is pretty amazing. While those “will restore your faith in humanity” headlines are trite and annoying, they at least play into something real about the Internet. Sure, it can be a nightmarish underworld, but it can also be amazing.