Is it worth posting a ‘no-makeup selfie’ for cancer awareness?

Have you taken a “no-makeup selfie” for cancer awareness? Find out why some people won’t.

By Dina Lobo

Cancer survivor Jennika Hunsinger (Dina Lobo / Peninsula News)
Cancer survivor Jennika Hunsinger (Dina Lobo / Peninsula News)

If you’ve been scrolling down your Facebook or Twitter page in the past week, you’ve probably heard of the ‘No-Makeup Selfie’ for cancer awareness.

The idea is to post a picture of yourself without any makeup in support of creating cancer awareness, and then nominating or tagging your friends to do the same. This started in the U.K. after a few women started sharing selfies with #CancerAwareness. It gained more attention after British celebrity Michelle Keegan posted one on her Twitter account.

Even though Cancer Research UK has raised almost $3 million in 48 hours this week, the trend has been attacked by critics who do not find it effective and ethical to raise awareness through selfies.

Meaghan Ashley is one of those critics who refused to participate.

“It wasn’t till a friend nominated me that I decided to post a sarcastic joke and then I messaged her and said, ‘I hope you weren’t offended by my post, but I just think the whole thing is stupid,’” Ashley said.

Instead, she provided a link to an opinion article she agreed with, which blamed the selfie for being self-validating and narcissistic.

“A lot of people mask their personal gain as charity. Too many people think that they are doing good just by liking, sharing or participating in these fads, but really they are just seeking validation for themselves. Whether it’s, ‘Yeah, you look really great without makeup’ or ‘You’re a good person because you care about this cause,’ either way they are looking for a pat on the back,” said Ashley.

Cancer survivor shares her story

Jennika Hunsinger is a second-year Dalhousie student. She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of 15. Hunsinger didn’t know much about cancer, except breast cancer or cancer awareness trends like Movember for men, until she was actually experiencing it herself.

Hunsinger went to a cancer camp called Camp Oochigeas for three summers in a row. Her experience at the camp and the support she received has made her become more involved and determined as a fundraiser and as someone who wants to create cancer awareness. She has created a team and is running 10 kilometres for Camp Oochigeas, something she does every year.

When Hunsinger first saw the no-makeup selfie trend on Facebook, she didn’t want to participate.

“I just don’t usually participate in it, but after being contacted by you and reading some articles, I ended up doing it. I gave my input of what I thought it was and how it could be related. It’s going to get criticized regardless, but I took the time to attach the link for the 10k I’m running for Ootchcamp. I think if you attach some sort of fundraiser to it, it kinda makes it worth it,” she said.

Hunsinger feels that there are other ways of creating awareness and fundraising that are more emotionally effective for her, such as 10k runs.

“I hate running, I just don’t like it and when I train for it, it sucks, but when you’re in it and you’re surrounded by people, you can’t stop. I literally smiled the entire way. Sometimes you cry and there are bands along the way and people along the streets cheering for you the whole way. There are people of different ages and sizes,” she said.

Though Hunsinger admits that the pictures are more self-validating, she adds, “the selfies still contribute to the bigger picture of support and awareness. They are all little pieces that come together. Some are emotional and some are more effective. Even though I thought it was stupid, but the more you accept it and the less you criticize (anything in life), it has good intentions.”

Effective donations

Tammy Grant is an assistant co-ordinator at The Lodge that Gives, an accommodation centre organized by the Canadian Cancer Society, and finds that other ways of donating can be more effective.

“The easiest way to donate is through runs, like Relay for Life or donating your time. Volunteering is a huge part of the cancer society, so if you can’t necessarily donate your money then donate beds, quilts or anything, because everything helps,” Grant said.

Grant does not see the connection between the no-makeup selfies and cancer awareness at all.

“The people that have breast cancer and had a breast removed, I know some women get that area tattooed or something for support. That would be more representative because there is a connection with cancer. If someone shaved their hair for support that would have more meaning too, but I don’t get the connection with no makeup because many cancer patients do wear makeup.”

Hunsinger also feels there is a disconnection as she is one of those cancer patients who wore makeup. “Obviously I wore makeup before I had cancer and then I wore it during and I wore it after,” she said with a laugh.

Look Good, Feel Better is an organization that is dedicated to helping cancer patients with beauty tools, products and tutorials. Its aim is to improve self-esteem for those undergoing cancer treatment. Hunsinger received a bag full of donated beauty products from the group during her treatment.

Cancer misconceptions and the reality

For someone who works with cancer patients daily, Grant feels that there are many misconceptions and stereotypes when it comes to cancer, as some cancers have entered the mainstream world and some have not.

“Some of them look like they don’t even have cancer. There are hundreds of different kinds of cancers and so many popping up every day. They are all different and their genetic makeup is different, so if they find the cure for breast cancer it’s not going to cure all other cancers. There are just too many different kinds,” Grant said.

Camp Oochigeas, that Hunsinger stayed at and is running for, is 100-per-cent run on donations and fundraisers. With no government support and almost entirely volunteer-based, Hunsinger understands and appreciates any form of donation, even if it’s through a selfie.

“As long as it’s going to a foundation where the money is being used. But to just say you raised money and it was for cancer, that is just so vague.  Where is that actually going? Is it going to an actual school or entire hospital? Is it going to a patient? I’m more interested in looking at where it goes because I am an avid (donor),” Hunsinger said.

Just like the camp, The Lodge that Gives is also mostly reliant on donor dollars to keep the accommodation centre open. The Canadian Cancer Society, also reliant on donor dollars, has seen a 240 per cent increase in donations since the no makeup selfie trend went viral, CTV reported. Just like many cancer camps, Cancer Research UK does not have any government support and encourages donations in many forms. Since the selfie trend started it has raised up to 8 million Euros, according to research done by the Guardian.

However, many still find the ethical and moral values behind the selfie questionable.

Ashley said, “I don’t think that your physical appearance is the epitome of who you are, so if it’s about being yourself then I don’t think a picture without makeup tells the story of who you are. So either way for a good cause or not, I don’t agree it.”