#nomakeupselfie: noble action for a worthy cause, or narcissistic crowd-pleasing

As my Facebook feed starting filling up with #nomakeupselfies last week I waited for the inevitable. Like most women, it wasn’t long before I was nominated by one of my friends, and ever since I’ve been trying to analyse why this social media campaign has irked me a little.

After all, I work for the Citizenship Foundation and my job involves encouraging young people to start social action campaigns. And, as many people have pointed out in the comments section on most articles about this phenomenon, how can anyone be negative about something that’s all for a good cause?

Perhaps some of my initial reasons were rather trivial: the nomination aspect of this campaign struck me as a similar form of blackmail to the familiar chain letter style campaigns that frequently do the rounds on Facebook suggesting that if you don’t re-post a status or pass-it-on to friends you will be struck down by ‘bad luck’; I couldn’t see what posting a selfie had to do with cancer; I have an adverse reaction to being told to do something because everyone else is and I couldn’t help feeling I would rather support a charity a little less well funded than Cancer Research UK which is the third wealthiest charity in the UK.

I also struggled with the concept that posing for a photo with no make-up was somehow brave or unusual. Doesn’t this just pander to the gossip magazine-style obsession with how women look rather than what they do and who they are? Some commentators have said it was a ‘liberating experience’ posting their #nomakeupselfie but aren’t we still just focusing on image and how we (women) all look?

However, feeling the social pressure to jump on the bandwagon, I posted my selfie and made my donation. Within seconds the photo was receiving ‘likes’ and nice comments from my friends and within minutes I was feeling guilty. There has been a lot written about selfies and narcissism and no sooner had I posted it did I feel that my own reasons for joining in were probably more down to peer pressure, conformity and vanity than about raising awareness of cancer and supporting Cancer Research. It’s not that I don’t feel these things are worthy causes, they clearly are, they just aren’t at the top of my personal list.

Maybe motivations don’t really matter if you subscribe to the idea that the ends (lots of money for a good cause) justify the means but I’m not sure if I buy into that. I wonder if by encouraging people to feel social action is about doing something quick and easy then getting on with life it may be simplifying things a little. Doesn’t being an active citizen imply something more than just following the crowd? Or is the paradox that all effective social action involves mobilising people and there is no better way of doing that than with something simple, fun and a good dose of peer pressure. Perhaps we could try tackling global inequality next?

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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