Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
‘Selfies’ – self-taken photographs – are currently coagulating our social media streams. Spreading by nominations, hundreds of thousands of women are taking pictures of themselves, denude of makeup; donating small amounts to cancer research groups and claiming to raise cancer awareness. In six days, Cancer Research UK has received over £8m, and £135,000 was given to Breast Cancer Campaign. The Institute of Cancer Research has similarly benefitted from this campaign.
Despite receiving a large bounty of donations, Cancer Research UK did not initiate this particular phenomenon. According to Jemima Kiss of The Guardian: “The idea itself appears to have begun last week when American crime author Laura Lippman tweeted a picture of herself without makeup in support of Kim Novak, the 81-year-old actor whose looks had been criticised at the Oscars.” When the charity was alerted to the social media trend, it asked users to include donations and the text code with their photographs, thereby resurrecting an earlier failed campaign.
James Elliot, the Head of Digital Engagement at Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “It’s great to see so many people getting involved and coming together to help raise money and awareness of cancer.” According to a British population survey in 2008, 68% of the public openly recall that a lump or swelling is a tumour symptom, compared to just 5% that recognised the symptom of an unsealing sore. Unusual swellings are typically associated with breast cancer, making it the most recognisable form of cancer in Britain. Breast cancer is also the most common cancer, even though it is rare in men. In this survey, less than 20% of participants recalled that a persistent cough is a sign of lung cancer. There is now a National Health Service campaign focussed on unrelenting coughs, as lung cancer accounts for one in four of all male cancer deaths.
If it exists, the link between taking a photograph without makeup and the nebulous goal of raising cancer awareness is opaque. If the claim is that appearing with no makeup is ‘brave’, like fighting a deathly disease requires bravery, then stepping into a bath must be quite similar to drowning in a torrential river. Furthermore, makeup often masks beauty – a somewhat subjective ideal – rather than enhancing it. A Bangor University study concluded both men and women “found faces more attractive when they were wearing less makeup”.
Despite any moral gelatinousness, the campaign has garnered a substantial amount of money for cancer research and demonstrated the power of social media. Through sharing amongst friends in sprawling networks, spontaneous order can be created. Large organisations can latch onto existing trends. This is particularly potent with charitable groups, where charity may be induced by social pressures and expectations. Cancer Research UK raised about £460m of donated income in 2012-13, and has reaped over £8m in just six days of a single promotion.
Cerian Jenkins, a University of Bath politics student who is currently writing a dissertation entitled ‘Social Media and the Evolving Nature of Third Sector Engagement’, said:
People are quick to dismiss the notion of online activism as nothing more than ‘slacktivism’ but, whilst this may be true in some cases, we shouldn’t ignore the potential of online campaigning and engagement. We need only look at the sum of money raised for cancer charities by this latest campaign to see that social media campaigning hold a viable place within fundraising.
As the mortality rate for cancer swells when the diagnosis is later, cancer awareness movements should ideally recognise the major symptoms. The ‘no makeup selfie’ campaign fails in this regard, but it has raised a fantastic amount of research funds.