The Vixen Thinks: Those Cancer Selfies



So, around the 17th March, all of a sudden, my Facebook newsfeed was suddenly littered with selfies of the various females I've befriended on the social network wearing no makeup. At first, I was confused. I could see no discernible reason why people were suddenly going barefaced. Eventually, I noticed one hashtag referencing cancer and I realised it was yet another Facebook "awareness" campaign.

Sorry, but this caused me to emit a groan.

Just like that ridiculous fad where the women in my life were posting "I'm going to [THIS PLACE]" or vague statuses about where they "like it" - I'm not overly impressed by the latest trend to hit Facebook, allegedly in the name of charity.

Now where do I start? One issue was that I'd seen a good 10 selfies before I saw any mention of a donation to charity alongside a naked face. At the end of the day, awareness is great, but it's cold hard cash for research and patient care which is going to make the difference in the end.

Secondly, I have an issue with the concept of awareness itself. It's 2014. Everyone knows what cancer is now and everyone knows it's bad. In fact, I'm not sure I know anyone who hasn't been affected by cancer in some shape or form. Awareness of the disease itself isn't the issue.

I'm also annoyed at the idea of taking a selfie with no makeup. While I don't doubt it's a big deal for some girls to post a picture of themselves wearing no makeup - hell, I'd die if a picture ended up on the Internet of my face right now in all it's adult acne glory - if we continue to act like girls wearing makeup is the norm and that going naked faced is a big deal, then it will continue to be a big deal. The last thing a supposed charitable campaign should be doing is teaching young girls that their naked face is something to be ashamed of.

On the other hand, are we likening daring to go without makeup to those women who have lost their breasts to breast cancer? I really bloody hope not, because you don't even need a random blogger like me on the Internet to tell you that a mastectomy CANNOT be likened to removing your makeup, however low your self esteem might be.

Look, I'm not slamming you if you took part in this. Good on you for wanting to help and especially well done to those of you who have donated alongside your selfie. But we really need to take a look at HOW we are trying to help.

First of all, we need to make it damn clear that in most cases, it's money that is going to help. Without money, we can't fund the nurses who look after cancer patients. Without money, we can't fund the research that discovers life saving drugs. Can't afford a donation? We've all got old clothing etc we don't want, why not donate that to a charity shop where someone will pay money. Worried about animal testing? There are cancer charities that do not test on animals. Everyone can make a contribution in some shape or form, but sadly, taking a picture of yourself isn't all that helpful - in fact, in a lot of cases it's just narcissism. Not only on the level of "oh look at me, I'm so charitable!" but I also suspect many people were looking for confidence boosting "you're soooo pretty without makeup" type comments.

As for the issue of awareness, like I said, everyone knows what cancer is now. What we need to do is raise awareness of how people can help. I mentioned above that everyone can help in some shape or form. This is what people need to know. They can help and they should be shown how they can help.

We also need to start catching cancer early. It's most treatable when it's caught early so why don't we start teaching people how to check their breasts? Why aren't we campaigning to get the minimum age for a smear test lowered? In fact smear tests in general - as I was living in Wales when I was 20 where they start offering smear tests at this age, I've experienced this and yes, it's uncomfortable but I would so much rather experience that and have the relief of knowing I'm healthy. This is the message that needs to be spread! We need to remove the stigma around men's health. We need to remember that there's more types of cancer just breast cancer and teach people the warning signs for cancer that hits us in other places. This is the awareness we need to be raising.

I'd also like to point out cancer charities (especially breast cancer charities) are not the only charities out there. Breast cancer awareness gets so much publicity that smaller, lesser known charities are often forgotten about. There are charities out there to help sufferers of any number of things, whether it be motor neurone disease to domestic violence victims. I'm not doubting the importance of cancer charities, I just don't like seeing other causes lost in the fray.

I love social media, I really do, but I worry about the effect that it will have on charity. Posting a picture or updating your status in the name of charity is so problematic. We all know it feels really good to help other people, but this false charity is making people feel good for doing nothing. We all want to appear as good people on the Internet, so we join in with these viral campaigns, but in actual fact, how much change are we actually creating? Until people are absolutely clear about what they are raising awareness for, until people are under no illusion that it's cold hard cash that makes the difference, until people start doing real things that cause real difference, I worry that Facebook "charity" is just people trying make themselves look good.

Of course, in the end, this selfie campaign did actually raises millions of pounds, so despite my criticism, I am starting to see some value in the effect the Internet has had on charity. I'd also like to point out that there's a difference between boasting about being "charitable" and promoting yourself to raise money for a good cause, for example, asking people to sponsor your mountain climb. In fact, I imagine you'll be seeing me asking for donations for something quite soon...I want to make it quite clear it's people "raising awareness" in questionable ways such as taking a selfie that I'm criticising, not people who donate and raise money for charity.

Are you doing anything exciting to raise funds for charity? I want to hear about that!