You couldn’t make it up. Actually, you could.

Okay, so my latest rant is about the selfies women are posting on Facebook and Twitter without wearing any make up. This is what I said yesterday on my wife’s Facebook page –

‘It’s a gimmick, I detest selfies, what next? Now people are posting ‘selfies’ of their pets for cancer awareness (can your pet REALLY take a selfie?) BE AWARE OF CANCER FOR WHAT IT IS NOT WHAT IT ISN’T. And I know I am being affected because of my wife and my father and countless members of my family and friends who have died – but I honestly think a selfie of a woman without make up undermines the hell cancer patients go through. If you want to make people aware of the chaos it causes, physically, emotionally, mentally, go see the people who have it, hear their pain (my dad in hospital bashing himself to try to stop the excruciating nerve pain), or the damage it has caused Stella, a wound that mostly will not heal, or the face of one of my friend’s fathers, from jaw cancer – look at the reality, the awfulness, and then become aware – the truth is that a woman without make up is still pretty compared to the harsh reality that cancer often leaves in its wake – and people don’t want reality…they want pretty. Well in my experience CANCER IS NOT PRETTY.’

My dad called late last night. For those who don’t know, my dad, Jack, has metastatic cancer (that means it’s spread) in his lower spine, pelvis, liver and liver lining. We don’t know where the primary cancer is, we will probably never know. His time is limited. But he was in pain last night, he has been in enormous pain, extreme, unbelievable, unbearable pain. That is the effect cancer can have on patients. I can only imagine how he feels. I can also only imagine how my wife Stella feels. She’s been cut and stitched in a recent breast cancer recurrence, and six weeks on from surgery, her breast wound would make most people I know cringe, cup their hands over their mouths, turn away, or just stare in disbelief. Because (much as I don’t care what it looks like, she is my wife, I love every piece of her, wounded or whole, but she cares, it is happening to her body, she has to deal with it every second of every day), that is the reality of what cancer does. It’s not about pretty pictures of pretty women without make up. It’s about something entirely different, it’s about life and death, about knowing you’re going to die but not when (yes, that could be applied to all of us), but cancer (just like other life threatening illnesses) brings that whole process forward with alarming speed. I’ve just been on the phone to the north London hospice, to sort my dad’s pain management and I have had to hold back the tears, because I have a good idea of what’s coming and it feels me with fear and sadness. I went through this with my sister, the thought that I will go through it with my dad is a tough one.

When I see pictures of women without make up, taken specifically for breast cancer awareness, my natural and immediate response is, ah, but you still look beautiful. Anyone else have the same response? I don’t think I’m supposed to think that. It doesn’t make me more cancer aware, in fact all it does is confirm that in my opinion, no make up is really lovely. Those who know me, know that I often go out without make up, I only wear it for events, parties, when I want to (not need to) look glossy. But I really like the natural look. I don’t get a reward for not wearing make up practically every day, nor should I. People don’t look at me and think…ah, no make up, she’s trying to convey something about breast cancer. Not wearing make up has NOTHING to do with breast cancer (wife, cousins and countless friends), bowel cancer (sister), lung cancer (father-in-law and brother-in-law), fallopian tube cancer (another cousin), bone and liver secondary cancer (father), brain tumour (friend), kidney cancer (cousin and friend) ovarian cancer (friends), lymphoma (friend), mouth/jaw cancer (friend’s dad), another rare cancer which affected our neighbour’s father, the result – his leg was amputated. If you saw the physical and emotional effects of all these cancers on all these people, you’d realise that selfies are no more than self promotion, people saying LOOK AT ME WITHOUT MAKE UP, whether they mean to say that or not. If you want to do something, do something real.

I admit that the walk I took part in a few weekends ago, the walking I will be doing for CARE, the swim for SPORT RELIEF, are actually about ME, albeit me doing something for a cause. If I really wanted to help I would volunteer my services in a cancer charity shop (or any other charity shop), give my time to those who need it – as any one of us could do, and some probably already do, rather than putting selfies on Facebook without make up. To make matters worse, all the selfies I have seen are accompanied with trepidation…how could I possibly let you see what I look like without make up. See how brave I am? Well you’re NOT brave. See how it becomes about how brave you are, rather than the cause you hope to raise awareness for.

Everyone wants to do something, our friends have rallied round, they have actioned their need to make a difference, they have not taken photos of themselves, they have not put themselves in the spotlight. As another friend said on Facebook, if you want to do something, offer to drive people, cook for them, take them for a coffee, sit with the patient while their wife/husband/sons and daughters can go out and spend some time for THEM, away from illness and all that comes with it. Putting up selfies does nothing, other than say, we can look beautiful without make up. CANCER IS NOT BEAUTIFUL.

Anyway, we’ve all been taking pictures of ourselves for YEARS, and now that someone has named them selfies it has suddenly become a new and fashionable activity. Unfortunately all the selfies are of women, because generally men don’t tend to wear make up, but that’s a whole other blog which I will save up and let out in a balloon of rage at a future date.

I’m adding this, because someone posted about my blog, and mentioned men and Movember and growing a moustache. This is my response:

‘…generally, men are so far behind (IMO) talking about most things let alone illness, God knows most of the more mature (70+) women I know who had cancer, couldn’t bring themselves to say the word, Cancer, until recently. So if men become more aware of their health and what could affect them, then good. But Movember is about growing a moustache for the whole of November, it’s not about taking a photo of yourself without something that society deems women must/should do in order to look like…women. (V garbled…) I’m delighted at the ££ the campaign has received, but such a shame it takes photos of women without make to make that awareness happen…how about women go without makeup for a month…every day…that would work for me. Any takers?

34 thoughts on “You couldn’t make it up. Actually, you could.

  1. The point, long since forgotten, was that the women are supposed to donate to a cancer charity when they post. Therefore it should have achieved great good.

  2. I feel quite humbled by this Shelley. I confess I saw a selfie on facebook this morning from a friend on behalf of her sister who died of cancer last year and immediately thought ‘awwww nice thing to do’. I didn’t think ‘brave’ but I guess I did feel empathy. Now I feel a bit stupid…you have made me think differently and I feel a bit ashamed of my initial, and frankly what it boils down to,thoughtless response. It’s good to be brought up short though. To have to consider more carefully. I do thank you for that. We do need to live in the reality of things, the reality for others as well as for ourselves.

  3. I understand your pain, helplessness and rage about what is happening to your loved ones and I sympathise. My Dad had terminal cancer, so I know what it’s like to watch someone you love slowly crushed by this horrible illness. However, I think you are misdirecting your anger and frustration. People are trying to help. They are doing so in a harmless, simple and easy way which makes it more likely that others will join in. Why should it matter what they are doing as long as many people get involved? Comic Relief uses comedy to draw people in to helping worthy causes, many of which are to help those who are subject to great suffering. Any help is a good thing, let people do what they can. Peace to you and your loved ones.

    1. Thanks for responding. You confuse my sadness with anger and frustration. I’m not angry or frustrated. I’m sad. I have no issue with people trying to help. I haven’t seen any links on those selfie pages to donations.

      1. If you don’t feel angry and frustrated that your loved ones are suffering, then you are a calmer and gentler person than I am, because that’s how I felt when my Dad was dying. I think the idea behind the selfies is that the poster donates before posting and the post prompts others to think about doing the same. Perhaps some people have forgotten to point that out when posting, but if you can post your own selfie, you can presumably google for the address of a cancer charity. I doubt any awareness campaign is 100% effective, but isn’t even a little success better than nothing?

      2. Yeah, seen it, delighted so many have donated, but you miss my point. it’s the way we glamorise cancer, we can’t seem to look at it for what it is. A photo of a woman without make isn’t shocking. It’s normal, except now it’s been made sensational. That’s for another blog. Appreciate the dialogue.

      3. I feel it is what it is. I feel lucky to have the time to spend with my dad and mum before he heads off to a new place. Most don’t have this chance, I do. I can say it all and ask him everything. I’m more angry at the time it all takes rather than the illness itself. The endless appointments and fatigue and how it eats into my work time – no one’s fault, it’s circumstance. So yes, angry at that, but not angry. As my dear dad says, he will live out the natural course of his life.

      4. I too greatly appreciated the time I had left with my Dad, so I agree with you there. Silver lining. 🙂

  4. I read a piece about how grateful cancer research is really grateful for the donations it is receiving as a consequence of this idea of make-up free selfies: it isn’t a campaign.
    People feel powerless when they are met by something as dreadful as cancer and quite frankly don’t know what to do. I accept likening personal beauty to the image of cancer didn’t occur to us all, but nor does it have to. If hundreds or thousands of people are now more conscious of cancer (one of my friends added “don’t forget to look for lumps and bumps on your tits and bits” to her picture), if people are making donations to a charity which might be the first donation they’ve ever made, then I believe it has done good.

  5. As i lost my 16 year old son to cancer i understand pain like no other!!! but as i have be nominated to do this i have asked all who do to donate to this link it a Charity that helps and gives financial help to families that have children with cancer! and all ur donations go to the families and children!! so even if i raise 20 euro and some awareness of this Charity well it so worth it!!!

  6. While reading this I could not but think of my mam, aunt and grandma who have all gone through cancer one way or another. We as a family have the worry that it could happen to any one of us in our family because they say it is genetic. I have not but admiration for these people who have gone through this fight and may have to again and again – my mam has had it 7 times and thankfully has survived each and every bout – these are the people who should be posting their bravery and survival good luck to everybody around the world who has conquered and beaten cancer……….xx

    1. Yes, I am aware of this – it’s great, but it shouldn’t take women with no make up to make women (and men) aware of their bodies. It suggests that women not wearing make up is such a big deal…what a message to give our sons and daughters about being a woman in the 21st century.

  7. I think two different things got conflated as they do in social media. A couple of weeks ago I was aware that women were putting selfies online of themselves without make up, but it was to make a point about the way we look at femininity. It was intended, I think to be thought provoking, and say women are beautiful in their natural state, and society pressures us all to tart ourselves up. Similarly, a few months ago, Kate Kerrigan, a writing friend was talking about Invisible Women – how after the age of say 40, women get ignored. Again several of us posted pictures of ourselves in our natural state to celebrate women our age the way we’re meant to be. I only was aware of the link to unmade up selfies and cancer yesterday, as lots of people I know started posting pictures. The men were posting pictures with make up, the women without. And most of them were either making donations to cancer charities or raising awareness. I don’t think any of them were trying to glamourise cancer in anyway. One of my friends who did so, is my ex nanny who has recently lost both a family member way too young and the headteacher of her children’s school, also very young. I am sure her intention is simply to make people aware and raise money. And I really don’t have a problem with that, and to be honest cannot quite understand why you are so angry about it. Social media can be a force for great harm, but in this case I think it’s done a lot of good. And yes, I have also lost people to cancer, including a very good friend who died at 34 leaving behind a two year old daughter, my brother in law who died at 29 of leukaemia, my mother in law who also had leukaemia, and currently my mother who has inoperable brain tumours. Cancer is a hideous disease which will affect most of us in one way or another at some point in our lives. Anything that can raise awareness and raise money to help find a cure is a good thing in my book, but I appreciate that you feel differently.

  8. “Everyone wants to do something” – no, no they really don’t. For most people who don’t have to deal with the harsh reality of what cancer is, they want nothing more than to forget it exists. Out of sight, out of mind. That’s the point of the whole raising awareness thing – to make people stop and think. Which I’ve seen it do.

    There isn’t any link between the selfies and cancer, there isn’t meant to be, it’s just a silly little thing to linked to a serious thing. It’s a meme with an unrelated message. Is it somewhat sad that photos of women without make up on are so rare as to make a meme? Sure. But that’s got nothing to do with the cancer angle. It’s like criticising people doing a charity run for wearing Nike trainers, or someone sitting in a bath of baked beans for wasting food. Reasonable points, but in the end good is being done.

  9. I love you. I love your thoughts and and the fact that you are so brilliantly able to put it all down. I am so pleased I haven’t done a selfie. I won’t. And if you want me to go without make up for a month – I will.

    Shellala my thoughts are with you for Jack and Stella and your mum but most of all for you…..


  10. This is such an angry post. Initially I was against the idea, what has a makeup free selfie got to do with cancer awareness? Are they saying “aww you lost your hair/breast/health and feel and look like crap so here’s some sympathy for you”?? And I too, don’t like being rAilroaded into giving a barefaced selfie, but in the end I did. Because firstly, it is an ingenious way to spread the word and simultaneously raise money, and as a byproduct it makes girls and women of all ages realise they are beautiful and the inner beauty reAlly does shine out ( cheesy as it sounds).
    We all have hangups about our looks but this campaign can help us realise what is important in our lives and become maybe a little less focused upon tying up our self worth to our appearance (which is something I’m sure FB has had more than a smAll part to play in. )
    I have had relatives with cancer, and myself was diagnosed in 2008, so I fully understand the anger and fear, but having cancer does not give you some kind of high horse of superiority to climb upon.
    I applaude the wonderful girl who conceived of this idea, who in doing so helped raise awareness and money.
    Let’s really look at the bigger picture here.

    1. Let’s get something straight, I am only angry that it has taken women not to wear make up to raise awareness…there is NOTHING spectacular about not wearing make up, you are not brave to go without make up. AND I don’t have cancer, did you read my blog? The idea was initially conceived to do with a make up campaign last year and has now been adopted and confused with this current campaign. Yet again it’s about women’s bodies and image, but if you want to look at the bigger picture we can do that – let’s look at how women want/need/are looked at and want to be looked at – this is what it’s all about. I’m fed up of all the self deprecating words that go with some of the selfies…OH I WOULD NEVER LET PEOPLE SEE ME LIKE THIS BUT IT’S FOR A GOOD CAUSE. TURN AWAY NOW. I CAN’T BELIEVE I HAVE TAKEN A PICTURE OF ME LOOKING LIKE THIS. That’s the bigger picture. Your response has made me more angry!

      1. It obviously doesn’t take much. I feel for you. Instead if seeing all the good that has come from this you are raging for no good reason. So now you want to generalise all the women who did this as accompanying their pics with a self depreciating quote? Congratulations on reading the words which have accompanied the hundreds of thousands of pictures posted. You must be superhuman to have read them all. Otherwise you are a horrible person belittling women in general, and worse still, the ones who care enough to post and donate, and give support to a wonderful project which has, whether you like it or not, raised a hell of a lot of money for a damn good cause. The project was not ” confused” it was ” conceived” hence the attachments of text numbers to donate to. I’m not saying it’s brave to go without makeup, but in society which has become so focused upon physical appearance it does nonetheless make a bd statement for girls and women to go barefaced. No comparison has at any time been made with the bravery of those with cancer or the pain of their friends and relatives. Unless of course that was also tagged onto the self depreciating comments made by the contributors. It seems my argument that it had a two fd effect of also making girls be less tied up in their validation of self with their perfect appearance has flown over your head also. How can one person be so self consumed as to be so angry about a project that had done so much good? SMH

      2. Look at the group” no makeup selfie for cancer awareness”. It is full of pics by young and old, both genders and the tags are not self depreciating. They are touching, open, and show the bravery of those sharing their cancer stories. You really should read them. If they don’t humble you and calm your anger, nothing will.

  11. What’s your name? SMH? Sounds like you’re more angry than you accuse me of being. I won’t continue this discussion, over 3000 people have read my blog, and everyone is talking about the issue. Dialogue is what I strive for in everything I do. Me, horrible? Me, belittling other women? Do I know you? Show yourself.

      1. There’s nothing more frustrating than someone using a pseudonym when attacking. It’s really interesting Lioness, you should make so many patronising assumptions above and yet not have the decency to use your own name when doing so. You may not agree with what has been written here, but at least it has a name to it.

  12. I am neither a supporter nor a condemner of the’ selfie for cancer’ fad. After reading the blog I have to ask the following questions-
    What value has publishing these judgements brought to the cancer charities, the patients and the individual fundraisers? Has anybody benefited from those negative statements?
    After reading will people feel more or less inclined to venture from their comfort zone to raise money for charity? [Knowing they are subject to heavy condemnation such as this].
    Can any charity afford to turn away positive publicity, no matter that it is judged to be facile by some?
    And lastly, what about the ladies themselves who have posted pictures? Does anyone honestly think they joined in to ridicule or attempt to destroy the dignity of cancer patients? How many of those women have had cancer themselves, or witnessed first-hand the suffering of a loved one? Couldn’t it just possibly be their motivation comes from a different place to vanity or a wish to offend?
    The person writing the blog clearly is hurting, badly. I understand it is born more of a need to vent their pain and frustration with the unfairness of life’s lottery than really wishing to undermine others. (Even if they refuse to acknowledge it now, pain does that to us)Venting is a physical need, however whilst making judgements is a natural hardwired process the decision to act upon that judgement is not necessarily a wise thing. Mindfulness is hardest to achieve when we need it most.
    I wish you peace and the ability to come to terms with what is an appallingly hard time.

    1. Not angry, not venting my frustration or pain. The person writing the blog is me, I have a name. You talk about ‘they’ as if it’s someone else. I’m allowed to have thoughts and opinions just as you have about my blog. You clearly missed the point. I’m actually getting on with my life, I really don’t need to be told to find the ability to come to terms with anything. If you knew me you’d know that I accept everything as it is.

      1. Thankyou Shelley for the reply, apologies for the third person. I thank you for the opportunity to express some alternative perspectives on your blog All the best for you and yours.

  13. Thanks Sara. At the end of the day we all strive for the same thing, better health and peace. It’s great the campaign has received so much money. All good wishes.

  14. Dear Shelley,
    Can completely understand how difficult it is for you seeing your beloved father in pain, as it was the same for me with my mother in 2011. I agree with you, there are better ways to show compassion and support than taking a selfie …it’s the small gestures of kindness that mean the most; a home-cooked meal, a cake, a bunch of tulips.
    Sending you and your loved ones all best wishes. Karen

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