I have an issue with aspects of the no-make up selfies that we have seen filling up our Facebook newsfeeds for the past couple of months. Whilst it is undoubtedly fantastic that the social-media based campaign has raised millions of money for and increased awareness of breast cancer research, the process has also highlighted just how uncommon not wearing make-up has become.
We ‘like’ these selfies of our friends and comment on how beautiful they look, as if supporting them through a difficult time. Through this we make being in photos while wearing no make-up a big deal, and I find that unnecessary. Even worse, there are people taking these ‘selfies’ who clearly are STILL wearing make-up. And that’s saddening, especially since I’m pretty sure the original ‘no make-up selfie’ was intended to promote the bare, untouched face of a woman, following the slating of Kim Novak’s appearance at this year’s Oscars. I believe ‘solidarity’ was the goal of Laura Lippman when she posted a no make-up selfie in support of Novak, challenging other women to do the same. And yet through the adapted Facebook/Twitter phenomenon of a #nomakeupselfieforcancer, females have been totally contradicting this original purpose. ‘Come on girls’ and ‘let’s do it for breast cancer’ are some of the captions I’ve read that accompany these selfies where one can see a trace of eye liner and lack of bags under the eyes (somewhat surprising given that it’s dissertation/revision period). The captions promote female empowerment, but the photos tell a lie.
I uploaded onto Facebook a selfie featuring my dog, taken on a walk back home in North Yorkshire. I hadn’t been nominated for the breast cancer campaign, but I quoted the words ‘no make-up selfie’ in the caption, partly because I wanted to highlight how taking a selfie without make-up has almost become only justifiable if it’s as a one-off or for charity. But great as this organisation is, why should we require an incentive to raise money and awareness for a certain cause in order to go bare-faced for the camera? Make-up is a security, giving people the confidence to be seen by others. When it’s taken away, that confidence crumbles like that very powder used to mask one’s face, one’s visual reality.
Why have women become so reliant on make-up? Is it really the case that most fear no man will find them attractive and want to talk to them if they are not wearing it? Or is it just that the ‘like’ culture of Facebook has made us too scared to risk not reaching those all-important double figures? One can simply not afford to leave pimples uncovered and eyelashes unpainted when striving for the sense of appreciation and fulfilment that comes with a Facebook ‘like’. These have become a form of assessment, through which we can think ‘this means I’m considered good-looking’. We evaluate our friendships through this ‘like’ system, even asking jokily (but not really joking) why our flatmates/coursemates/teammates haven’t ‘liked’ a photo. We ask them to top us up to 20 – a favour to help show our ‘Facebook friends’ how many ‘real friends’ we have. Even more tragically, the MySpace days of ‘pc4pc’ seem to be returning, with people ‘liking’ a photo of someone that they don’t actually like in real terms, just because they feel they should return the gesture. It’s also a comparative process, whereby girls find themselves in competition with each other, mainly for male attention. We’ve all been there when we were interested in a boy and felt offended when he didn’t ‘like’ our latest profile photo. “Does it mean he doesn’t find me attractive?” is the natural response. “Why did he ‘like’ her photo but not mine – does he like her?” is the next, even more paranoid reaction. It’s become so ingrained in Facebook-active females to the extent that being told in person that we look nice in the photo is not quite good enough for our ego – we want other people to see that others think this of us.
I’m not going to pretend that I’ve not felt my shoulders rise slightly after receiving quite a few ‘likes’ for a photo. Furthermore, I’m definitely not innocent of uploading a profile photo of myself because I think my face/ hair/legs look quite good, whilst avoiding choices that highlight the bend in my broken nose/chickenpox scars on my face/my weird right eye that always seems to look smaller than the left when I smile. But I think I’m safe in saying that these vain choices are matched by photos from my travels; photos where the landscape is the main focus, and I’m just there to say ‘I was here’/’I did this’ (albeit with a pose that still gets plenty of stick – it’s fine by the way, I can take it…) In that case it is the landscape earning a ‘like’ rather than one’s face – possibly the most genuine and rewarding ‘like’ of them all, because it shows appreciation for something one did or took, not how they look.
That’s one of the positive things I find about travelling. It is the beauty of the landscape, not the person in it, which matters. And travelling alone means there is no pressure from others to look a certain way. There is no need to wear make-up, because being in a place where you don’t know anyone means that there is no sense of having to impress anyone. Seeing and discovering wonders of the world highlights that there are so many more valuable things on the planet than the comfort of being told that someone finds you attractive. A lack of make-up makes the whole experience feel more natural – a detox for the body and mind, skin and brain. One can just get lost in a world untouched by chemicals and artificial light – an image whose beauty is formed from a natural foundation, not one from a tube.
If people I come across whilst travelling don’t think I look attractive, so what? Afterall, I’ll probably never see them again. Of course there are times when you see a good-looking boy and immediately panic about your so-fair-they-mayaswell-not-exist eyelashes and that spot on your chin. But surely it is quite stereotypical of us as females to assume that a man will take into account how attractive we are when deciding whether or not to speak to us? We seem to have forgotten that looks aren’t everything. One of the many things that travelling has taught me is that at the end of the day, guys don’t really care how ‘pretty’ you are, if you are an interesting person who they can have a laugh with. People travel hoping to meet other people along the way. Sometimes when alone in a quiet place, the potential for a companion is nice. How they look is irrelevant. And if a guy does care, is he really worth an hour of putting stuff on your face?
I’ve had some of the most fun travelling whilst hanging out with guys, unleashing my inner tomboy. The fact that I wasn’t wearing make-up at the time meant nothing, and I remain good friends with them. It was the fact that I didn’t let consciousness about my gender and the stereotypes associated with it affect my behaviour that made us get on so well. Long-boarding downhill (complete with one or two falls), swimming in snake-inviting creeks, hiking up steep, muddy paths – they don’t have the most potential for looking attractive, but they are the sorts of activities that make you realise that appearance really isn’t that important when so many other things are going on around you.
From these experiences, I’ve found it even easier back on familiar ground to walk bare-faced through London, the place where everyone supposedly cares about always looking good, exposing myself two or three days a week to the many eyes of people as they go about their business – people who I know will not be thinking about how I look. Someone on social media at 8am is more likely to be scrutinising your face for imperfections, than the lady sat opposite you on the tube at this time. Facebook is now the main forum for our visual judgments, a cyber world of vanity and competition, where the screen keeps us safe from criticism of our shallowness. It is actually in the real world where we are more likely to escape this image-obsession, because believe it or not, here there is so much more for people to look at than someone’s face.
So by all means carry on taking your no make-up selfies to raise money for breast cancer research. But regardless of the campaign, I challenge you to leave your house for a class or work one day with no make-up on, where Instagram can’t protect you, and the Facebook ‘like’ won’t be there to reassure you that you are considered attractive. Let your skin breathe and enjoy not having to worry about smudged mascara. And in doing so, think to yourself: ‘Who really cares that I’m not wearing make-up?’ Because the fact is that whoever does is not going to make your life significantly worse. And if they are, you could just ‘unfriend’ them.