Thursday 27 October 2016

Orla Tinsley: Being make-up free in public is a big deal for some women

The task was simple, but it was the reaction that was a little complex

Orla Tinsley

Published 24/03/2014 | 12:47

Journalist and campaigner Orla Tinsley
Journalist and campaigner Orla Tinsley

Last week the Oxford dictionaries word of the year clocked up some impressive cash for cancer.

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From Tuesday onwards the selfie rocketed one of the most controversial past times of a generation into a transformational force for good. In 24 hours people raised over 200,000 for the Irish Cancer Society. By yesterday the count had surpassed €600,000.

The task was simple - snap a picture of yourself with no make-up on and post it up with the hastag #NoMakeUpSelfie - but it was the reaction that was a little complex.

The online campaign has rattled some people in ways that are both interesting and confusing. Firstly because the campaign was unplanned it allowed for blurred interpretations of what it was all about.

Cynics questioned how it actually benefited cancer given the absent notes on how to donate by many initial participants. This then led to accusations of narcissism which studies frequently tell us is more prevalent in those who partake in excessive social media usage. Worse still were the disgruntled misogynists who were repulsed by the unmade faces and made damaging but sadly predictable comments aimed at the women taking part.

The negative flare in a mostly positive campaign basically told women they are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

In the context of cancer a bare faced selfie obviously does not compare. But being make-up free in public is a big deal for some women. My social media timeline was flooded with pictures of friends who I realised I had never seen without at least full eye make up on. And they looked gorgeous.

 The display of real untouched images was not just beautiful it was exhilarating to see because it was such an unusual spectacle. It did look like a striking act stacked against the dominating airbrushed glamazons we are bombarded with today.

This year the NU project a photography experiment by Matt Bloom and Katty Kessler will tour Europe. The duo who have photographed around North America and South America has been tackling images of female beauty in all its forms since 2005. Women over 21 are invited to be photographed in the comfort of their own space with no make up and no glamour and professional models need not apply.

The comments on the projects website speak volumes. 'I mean this.. Thank you. I have never seen breasts anywhere in the world that look like mine' said one commentator. Another says the shot of a confident woman with scars on her body helped her conquer her crippling insecurities after radical surgery.

Whether its #NoMakeUpSelfies or participating in something like The NU Project learning to be comfortable in our skin cannot be a bad thing. We can't yet control Cancer and we can't control what happens in life. But we can deal with how we treat one another and how we treat ourselves. And we need to talk about beauty. Hashtag Solidarity.

No Make Up Selfies are as good a place as any to start. Because it is that solidarity and a commitment to that which makes us unique that provides a pathway back from illnesses that attack our bodies. Illness shines a powerful light on the absurdity of gender construction in society because it can move so fast to strip it away. If you're lucky you get to rebuild from the ground up. Because you are not your illness. Nor is any woman's beauty a commodity to be streamlined.

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