Going Make-up-free For Cancer

My Facebook feed this morning has been taken over by beautiful women and girls posting “make-up-free selfies” in a bid to raise awareness of breast cancer.

It has also been taken over by people showing support and by others expressing dislike for the campaign’s delivery.

If you have taken part in this morning’s campaign, well done. Thank you for raising awareness of something so important. I’ve found the response to the campaign fascinating, and I’d love to share with you a few thoughts on it, and on how we can make it more effective together.

Raising awareness about relevant issues is great. We need to talk about cancer because a lot of us have been or are affected by it, directly or indirectly. Cancer is a horrible, horrible thing, and we hate it. It is good to have the space to talk about this on a day like today. People also need to talk about cancer because we still aren’t fully aware of the symptoms to look out for, leading to late diagnoses which can mean lesser chances of survival. Raising awareness of cancer is important.

Facebook is a great tool to use for this – a lot of people use it, and our voices can be heard through it. It is brilliant to see more charities and causes using social media for good.

“Make-up-free” selfies are, arguably, a helpful tool for this…because they add a bit of intrigue, and they catch our attention (you clicked on this link precisely because of that, right?!) But I don’t like that, and I am uncomfortable with the phenomenon being manipulated. Make-up-free faces should NOT be titillating news. We use them for a lot of charity/awareness initiatives, furthering the idea that going without make-up is brave, unusual, selfless. It isn’t. Faces are faces. Women and girls are constantly exposed to messaging in films, shops, street and TV adverts that tells them that they are not enough as they are; that they need make-up/weight loss/that dress to be enough…so much so that not wearing make-up in public is a risk, something that requires emotional energy. Let’s not encourage that. Make-up is fun and can be enjoyed. But bare faces, and people as they are, are enough and normal.

Some have also expressed concern or offence at the apparent frivolity of the campaign and others like it (the bra strap one from last year raised similar issues) – a bare face does not relate to cancer, and some feel it makes light of a very traumatic illness. Others think that the campaign does what those we have lost would have wanted – for people to talk about it/donate to relevant work in order to perhaps prevent others from going through it. Either way, we owe it to those who have suffered from cancer, those who have survived it, and the people around them to get this kind of campaign right.

So, two thoughts on how we can make it a little better:

Awareness must involve information. We are already aware of cancer. This morning’s selfie campaign has not provided information, and so we could be missing an important opportunity. We need to be told what to look out for, which symptoms could easily be missed; we want to know about the services available to people who are suffering loss.

Awareness must involve action. Because I don’t like the make-up-less selfie thing, I’m not going to partake in the ‘nominations’ I’ve received. What else is there for me to do? Suggest a charity I can support financially today. Tell me how to check my body for symptoms. Give me a useful tip in how to comfort someone who is suffering. These suggestions were absent at the beginning of the campaign, but more people are now providing useful links and information about what we can do which is great.

To finish – someone in the office just handed me an invitation to a fundraiser she has organised in memory of her aunt, who died of ovarian cancer 6 years ago. The cancer was discovered when it was at Stage 4, and her aunt died 5 months later. This could have been prevented had her aunt known the signs to look out for. We talk a lot about breast cancer, but as far as I know there is no day for ovarian cancer awareness, so allow me to piggy back? Ovarian cancer can affect women of all ages and can be effectively treated when detected early. A few symptoms which, if identified, you should contact your doctor about:

Persistent abdominal pain

Increase abdominal size

Difficulty eating/feeling full quickly

Excessive fatigue or unexplainable nausea

Changes in bowel/bladder pattern

Unexplained back pain

A great charity working to raise awareness of ovarian cancer, fund research and provide support for sufferers and survivors is Angels of Hope. You can find out more here. This is the charity that my friend is fundraising for (LOTS of delightful raffle prizes to be won, by the way!) – Friday 28th, Haypark Christian Centre in Belfast, 10AM, and everyone is welcome.

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