Thursday, 27 March 2014

Contemplation: Charity and Selfie-less Acts

[This is a long 'un so I have interspersed it with lighthearted gifs and other pics.]

Now that the #nomakeupselfie craze has subsided a little, and I've seen more photos of my beautiful bare-faced friends (and one or two bare friends, kudos to you) than I may ever see again in my life, I thought it fit to put in my tuppence-worth. As I say with alarming regularity on my social media outlets these days:

As far as I can remember in the time span of social media I've been a conscientious objector to the numerous 'cancer awareness campaigns' that circulate on Facebook.

My least favourite of these is the obscure "I do it on a Friday with a blue handbag on my left foot" status updates that are supposed to be shared by women only to keep men in the dark but also to raise awareness of breast cancer. Word to the wise: men get breast cancer too, so isolating them from this little crypto-joke is futile. Maybe it is just a bit of fun but as a rule I like my fun to be non-exclusive.

I refuse to respond to posts that instruct me to Like a certain photo if I hate cancer. It's actually insulting.

I am also anti-war, but I don't see any benefit in confirming my stance by Liking a photo of a soldier cuddling his baby daughter for the first time.

...I hope this doesn't mean you all have me pegged as a callous, hard-hearted wench -- I just don't respond well to this approach to generating awareness and empathy for causes.

I also consciously avoid 'chuggers' ever since one corralled a far more naive little me, on a pittance of a first salary at 22 years old, to donate £5 a month to the Red Cross. Harsh? Maybe but I will not be coerced bullied into charity in this way. Or in fact into giving my bank details out to a stranger on a crowded high street. (Again.)

When the first few no-make-up selfies appeared on my Facebook Feed, I admit, I was cynical, as those posting them made reference to raising awareness -- and stopped at that. One of my friends who, much like me, will not be swayed by pseudo-cryptic methods of awareness (those blue handbags again), made the valid point, on that same media, Facebook, that the act of posting the selfie alone was not actually raising awareness of cancer – just raising awareness of what a difference a little warpaint might make.

Before long, however, the selfies kept appearing -- but this time with a link to a number to text to donate to Cancer Research UK and other such charities, and in some cases, ways to be made aware of less publicised forms of cancer.

And within just a few days, Cancer Research UK had benefited -- to the sum of £8m. £8m!!!

Finally, quantitative evidence that when done with purpose and context, social media campaigns can do good. Read more here.

Admittedly, a handful of polar bears also benefited when people mistyped 'BEAT' as 'BEAR' and donated to the WWF instead but hey. The polar bears also need our help.

{with thanks to AJ for flagging this up!}

On the flipside, the argument has also been made that the no makeup selfie craze is a vanity project, a way for participants to gather compliments on their appearance under the guise of doing something charitable:

It was hours before the selfie mob questioned what they had actually taken part in beyond a mass exercise in narcissism greeted by adoring comments saying "you still look hot hun".

But for a good number of the people I know (and it is mostly but not exclusively the women!) their makeup is a defence mechanism, a mask, that inspires in them confidence that facing the world barefaced doesn't always allow.

When many of us (and I do count myself in this number) only post those photos on social media that paint us in a moderately flattering light, to post a photo of ourselves without our armour on is actually quite a big deal in terms of how we manage our self-esteem.

But, and this is another layer of the aforementioned flipside, it has been said that losing makeup for a moment is a confusing gesture in the effort to show solidarity to those with cancer:

Baffled by the trend, a backlash began in earnest. One confused tweeter posted: "Because not wearing make up is like... having cancer? I hope I'm missing the point here." Another said: "I don't get the #nomakeupselfie for cancer? How does it help? I'd rather donate money towards it that take a picture."

Which is also a fair point.

At this juncture I have to say, I've never been so torn over an issue as I have been over this. Every argument I hear carries an element of validity and I have been back and forth in discussion with people over this. Hopefully I'll have come to some conclusion by the end of this post!

And to add a little more fuel to this fire, while the selfies are not exclusively raising awareness of breast cancer they are primarily a female-led endeavour, potentially another campaign leaving most men out in the cold, until they are persuaded to donate as a direct result of seeing the females in their life sans maquillage.

Now, in case you're wondering, I haven't posted a selfie (yet). This is for two reasons:

1) I'm not making live, personal posts on Facebook during Lent (my Twitter and Pinterest output have however increased -- I need to reflect on that, I think)

2) Given I don't wear much, if any, makeup daily, the gesture would be futile. Everyone's seen my bare face.

But, in case you're also wondering, I have donated.

And here's where things get sticky again.

There's an unspoken (or maybe it's spoken, I don't know) moral code about charitable giving and it sounds a little like the over-quoted Fight Club quote:

The first rule of charitable giving? You do not talk about charitable giving.

It inevitably leads to social awkwardness:

{Screengrabs from Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason}

When mechanic Neil Trotter won the EuroMillions recently (like, all the EuroMillions, all £108m of them...) I found myself scouring the news coverage for any evidence that Mr Trotter was siphoning off any of that money to charity (after he'd bought his partner a horse of course!).

It was only much later, after the articles I'd scanned made no such reference, that I realised that it's none of my business or anyone else's how he spends that money. It's his money, his choice. And it may well be that he has donated, oh, let's say £100m of that to charity. He just hasn't felt the need to tell people about it. And maybe that's as it should be.

We don't automatically cement ourselves as good people by telling other people of the good things we've done.

But most of you know what I've got up to, so I will mention this here!

Since 2003 I have walked four MoonWalks (26.2 miles a pop):

MoonWalk 2007 | {Blimey, that's a nearly-bare selfie, surely?!}
and one Weekend to Breakthrough Breast Cancer (40 miles over two days punctuated with a night spent in Finsbury Park and about one hour's sleep...):

I've done a 10k walk to help raise money for Mouth Cancer.

In my teens I did a couple of sponsored 24-hour famines for World Vision.

I've also sponsored friends to run and walk marathons, climb mountains, shave off their hair and swim various distances.

I'm not saying this to boast, please understand. If you know me, you'll know that I'm not a boastful person, for the most part. I have many faults (!) but I don't think boastfulness is one of them.

Most recently, with the choice to take on the MoonWalks, I do so because that is my challenge, my gesture.

Same as for many of my friends, showing themselves without their makeup is their challenge, their gesture. It's symbolic, it's not literal.

We all have our causes and we shouldn't judge each other on what those are.

When we take on these challenges for charity and make these gestures we're not saying that it equates in any way, on any scale, to the challenges faced by the people in our lives for whom we're raising funds and awareness. We know it doesn't.

I try to avoid mawkishness in my social media brainfarts, but I will say, what I do in the fight against illness and injury is the least I can do. Every day I am genuinely grateful to be physically sound enough to be able to walk long distances, so to take part in challenges like the MoonWalk is my way of raising both awareness and funds.

Maybe the #nomakeupselfie trend didn't start out with the most obvious and altruistic of intentions but let's recap, it's now inadvertently raised £8m and raised the requisite awareness.

Job done.

And, if I may say, job done by some seriously beautiful people.

I don't mean that on an aesthetic level.

qb xx


If you feel you'd like to donate to, or to fundraise for, any of the other causes mentioned in this extensive blog post, please follow these links:

MoonWalk/Walk the Walk

Breakthrough Breast Cancer

Mouth Cancer Foundation

World Vision

British Red Cross

These two charities are also important to me and to friends of mine:

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

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