Femininity is no joke: On the #nomakeupselfie and #‎manupandmakeup‬

Perhaps you’ve come across the #nomakeupselfie in your internet travels as of late — the campaign, which Cancer Research UK latched onto after seeing women posting photos of themselves on social media sites, makeup-free, with the hashtag #nomakeupselfie, began with the intention of somehow “raising awareness” about cancer.*

writes for The Guardian:

About 48 hours ago, a number of self-portraits appeared on my Facebook feed. Each was of a woman ostensibly wearing no makeup, with the hashtag #beatcancer (not breast cancer, not ovarian or prostate or bone or lymph – just “cancer”). Nothing else. Simply a selfie, a slogan and a call to arms, imploring other women to do the same.

I was perplexed as to how a seemingly incongruous gesture could influence the fight against cancer in any way. I checked the Cancer Research UK website, and the charity was apparently uninvolved and at that point seemingly unaware of yet another hollow Facebook meme with as much relevance as “like this post if you believe child abuse / animal cruelty / rape is a bad thing”. As the morning wore on hundreds more makeup-free selfies appeared. One example of such a post: “Here’s my no makeup selfie for cancer! It’s a rare thing to see me without makeup but so important for so many people! #beatcancer.”

Apparently, since Cancer Research UK got involved, the campaign raised over £2 million so far. So that’s something. But there are some other things too.

As I’ve discussed many a time, I wear makeup. Pretty much every day. So I do get how it could feel “brave” to post a makeup-free selfie. I don’t even go to the corner store without undereye concealer on.

I wear makeup because I feel I look sickly without it. I learned this mostly via people asking me if I’m sick every time I don’t wear makeup. I also wear makeup because I’ve been indoctrinated by a patriarchal culture that tells me a woman must work — not just to be desirable — but even just to look “normal.” “Normal” women still remove all the hair from their bodies and faces, don’t have pores, have clear skin, don’t look tired, whiten their teeth, don’t sweat, have soft skin, are relatively thin, and smell like baking, fruit, or flowers. What we do beyond that is a whole other ordeal — the cosmetic surgery, the hair products, the manicures and pedicures, the obsessive exercising, the uncomfortable and even physically harmful outfits (see: stilettos), the dieting, the monitoring of wrinkles, cellulite, and grey hair, etc.

Femininity is an illusion and it is work.

Despite claims to the contrary, women’s selfies are mostly about vanity and self-objectification. As evidenced by this campaign. This is a big part of the reason why it feels revolutionary or radical to post a selfie wherein our faces look “normal” rather than beautified. If selfies weren’t primarily about trying to look attractive then it wouldn’t really matter that women were posting uggo versions of their faces on the internet (which is not to say that I believe non-makeupped women are ugly, but rather that this is the message behind this campaign — women look unattractive without makeup, therefore it is “brave” to post no-makeup selfies).

Some feminists have argued that the campaign makes women who don’t wear makeup regularly or ever seem like freaks. But I think what’s more interesting is what it tells us about femininity and the way in which self-objectification has become a normal, everyday part of women and girls’ lives.

Now, this is all bothersome enough, in and of itself. What’s more offensive is what men have done with the campaign. Can I get a fuck you for these bros?

In response to the #nomakeupselfie campaign, the “man up and make up” campaign was launched by Prostate Cancer UK, which asks men to put on make-up, take a selfie under the hashtag #manupandmakeup and donate to the organization.

What mocking women has to do with prostate cancer, I don’t know. But, really, what do any cancer “awareness campaigns” have to do with cancer ever?

Femininity is only a joke if you don’t have to do it. Mocking women is funny if you are a man because HAHA you ladies put all this shit on your faces (some of which actually does cause cancer, natch) so that we will maybe consider you fuckable and what a bunch of SUCKERS you are! Silly women. Trying to do what we told you to do.

Oh to be a woman. Spend hours and days and years just trying desperately to be visible — to be objectifiable. And when you succeed? When you do what you’ve learned, when you spend every waking moment hating and trying to “fix” your face and body and personality? Then we’ll turn you into porn, mock you, harass you on the street, and rape you. Har.

Apparently “bravery” in today’s culture means little more than either daring to not self-objectify in the most traditional way or doing what billions of women have been doing every goddamned day of their lives, for years, for just one moment. For a laugh.


*Edited for accuracy — March 21, 2014

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.