Not All It's Made Up To Be; some concerns about the 'no make-up selfie'

photo of man taking photo

Not All It's Made Up To Be; some concerns about the 'no make-up selfie'

Although we agree completely with the argument that charities should harness social media trends like the #nomakeupselfie to divert donations to their cause, we do have some reservations about charities instigating a trend like this themselves or jumping on the bandwagon without being clear about the implications. For us, the concerns are about two areas: fundraising, but also raising awareness.

To quote Joe Saxton, “the Holy Grail in fundraising must be to maximise the money raised and minimise the aggravation it causes”. With this in mind, it is important to consider the level of aggravation this type of fundraising may cause. Rob mentioned that this is just another advert, like you see on the bus, tube or TV, but to us this trend did not feel like another advert. It couldn’t just be ignored as it incorporated social interaction with other supporters and allowed judgement and condemnation if an individual decided not to participate.

People who decided not to participate found themselves having to justify this choice to friends, family and acquaintances – something you do not have to do with other forms of fundraising. This element of peer pressure to donate to a cause that one might not personally have chosen can put an individual in quite a distressing position. If it becomes a common practice, it may enlist an element of annoyance similar to that caused by doorstep and telephone fundraising.

It is important to remember that social media profiles are very personal yet also very public spaces and people like to be in control of them. Being bombarded by regular nominations to donate to charity would cause more aggravation than something like an advert on the tube; it immediately engages an individual in action for a charity, but reduces their opportunity to make a choice about what this action should be.

With door-to-door fundraising, people have the choice to close the door, and only they and the fundraiser know they declined – with social media fundraising, you can’t close the door and everybody knows you’ve said no.

Although we have seen high levels of short-term gain, this method of fundraising may not generate long-term support or funds for a charity. This phenomenon did not necessarily establish a meaningful connection between the donor and the charity and therefore does not guarantee a reliable charity income. Furthermore, if people feel pressured to give, they are likely to remember that feeling, rather than feeling positive about the charity – certainly a prospect that can harm the long term good standing of charities. As such, it is not a sustainable source of income.

The uncontrollable and sometimes confusing aspect of social media trends also means that branding can be lost quickly. This was reflected in the fact that although the cause was breast cancer, the charity who gained the most was Cancer Research UK - not a breast cancer specialist charity, but simply the biggest player in the cancer research field in the UK.

More well-known charities definitely benefited more – social media hypes can therefore further deepen the division between small and large charities. While these can be free media and advertising for charities, they can also be a free opportunity to lose out to competitors.

Beyond the fundraising argument, it is also important to look at the awareness-raising side of this social media happening. Originally, the #nomakeupselfie was intended to raise awareness about cancer; for us, there are some issues that make us uncomfortable about how the trend developed.

Firstly, the connection between the cause for which you’re raising awareness and the action already give out mixed messages with regard to what it’s about. Cancer – or body image? While it is unclear how exactly the #nomakeupselfie started, all the different starting points are related to body image. Cancer Awareness? We’re struggling to see the link with a bare-faced selfie, and so do others.

Also, now that the campaign has entered a stage further along in its life cycle, cancer awareness has become secondary to celebrity gawking. Type ‘no makeup selfie’ into Google and one of the first results is speculation about whether a picture of Cressida Bonas is a #nomakeupselfie.

Secondly, awareness might have been increased, but hasn’t really caused mass action, such as checking family histories for cancer. It asked them to take a photo – instantaneous – after which, hey, you’ve done your bit, you can forget about it now. Gains in awareness are unlikely to be long lived for the majority of participants. For a social media hype of this size, this looks like a missed chance.

There is a further problem in the combination of cancer as a long-lasting, deeply impactful health condition in contrast to a selfie as a short-lived, superficial act centring on image and vanity. In the social media sphere, expressing your sympathy or ‘liking’ a cause on facebook makes you look good, but can be done at a mouse click. Do you have to change your life, or consider how it affects other people? Unlikely.

Much more impactful for really raising awareness would be a no-hair selfie – a change on a different temporal scale which would enable people to consider some of the difficulties people living with cancer face. The rifts this exposes are much harder to deal with though than a stream of sepia pictures, where you can acknowledge the issue without having to face reality.

The confused message also brings the risk of alienating the people affected by cancer that the charities are there for. With social media hypes like this, charities have to be well-prepared to ensure that their core base of supporters and people they are helping are not alienated by messages that the charities themselves wouldn’t condone. This is especially a risk in ‘organic’ social media campaigns, started outside the carefully considered wording by charities.

Bijal Rama and Dorothea Mueller

Rob has written a blog on why the NMS is great for fundraising. You can read it here. 


Submitted by Flora (not verified) on 3 Apr 2014


I found it it weird that no "Women" charity or feminist campaign organisations - like the Fawcett society didn't become the charity of choice.

Doesn't it say a lot about our society that it seen as a rarity to see a woman without make-up? An organisation seeking to change how women are perceived would have both hit the campaign and the fundraising elements. The cancer link just seemed bizarre.

Submitted by Rich (not verified) on 4 Apr 2014


' "Women" charity or feminist campaign...' Actually, that's not true. See Jeanne Marie’s self-instigated campaign which has raised £16k (and counting) for Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre. She was assaulted in a club and beaten after standing up to the man, telling him it was in no way acceptable. She posted a picture of her bruised face on twitter and set up a giving page to this radical support/campaign organisation. See

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