Saturday, 22 March 2014

Now We Are 28: On Beauty and Bravery

This week on the internet women taking pictures of themselves without makeup on has been a bit of a thing. It's supposedly in aid of cancer awareness and the associated donations have raised more than £2 million for Cancer Research UK. Millions of pounds in under a week from one-off donations and goodness knows how much more over the long term from people deciding to commit to regular donations to combat a disease which kills people indiscriminately and whose cure often leaves people maimed and forever changed is pretty incredible. So surely an internet campaign that not only raises awareness of cancer but also funding for research into a cure for cancer is good, right?

Apparently not... I've seen a significant amount of criticism of the campaign for various reasons: people taking photographs without donating, which to a certain extent is fair enough, although given the outcome I can't see how this is a legitimate complaint; and the word "brave" being applied to both bare-faced women and cancer sufferers. Taking a photograph of yourself without cosmetic enhancement is seen somehow as a fluffy, ethereal thing and not worthy of sharing an adjective with people suffering from a life-threatening disease. Whilst I agree that taking a photograph and fighting cancer are clearly not the same thing I really object to the belittlement of people making a genuine gesture for a cause they believe in - particularly in light of the outcome. 

The undertone to a lot of the criticism I've seen is also extremely patronising - silly little girls thinking they are brave for putting a photograph of their naked face on the internet, they obviously don't understand what it means to be really brave. However, for a huge number of women in our hyper-sexualised, image obsessed society, going without makeup or appearing in any way less than "perfect" is a genuinely courageous thing to do. Standing up and saying "here I am, with all my flaws and imperfections naked to the world" is a very hard thing for women to do because we are told constantly that being ourselves is just not good enough. As women we are constantly told we need to be thinner, curvier, prettier, fitter, quieter, happier, sexier, more natural, less demanding, more demanding and so on, ad infinitum. To challenge that in any way, however minor, is an act of defiance. It doesn't make cancer sufferers any less brave, it simply demonstrates a willingness to challenge yourself in support of a greater cause.

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