My 'no make-up selfie' was a liberating experience
Last week, I noticed a trend starting online. Women had begun posting pictures of their bare faces on social media under the hashtag #nomakeupselfie, and nominating their friends to do the same to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. My instinct upon seeing the posts was blase. I didn't understand how a picture of a woman without her slap could help, and if I'm honest, I thought it was a novel way for some of the usual online show-offs to brag about their clear skin. But if charities were benefiting, what harm was it?
However, as the week went on and the campaign gained traction, with hundreds of thousands of euro being raised for the Irish Cancer Society, I realised this wasn't just something the genetically blessed among us were doing for attention. The hashtag was genuinely getting people talking about cancer, highlighting the issue and fundraising all at once.
Instead of jumping on board, I secretly hoped the whole thing would go away before I was nominated. It wasn't that I didn't want to do my bit, I was simply terrified that doing my bit would involve revealing a part of me I didn't want the public to see.
Look, I'm no shrinking violet. I'm a big selfie fan, and as I'm a dab hand with a make-up brush there are hundreds of me online in various states of glam. There are zero sans slap, though. The truth is, while I write about my feelings for a living and tweet without limits, the idea of revealing my bare face filled me with dread. People often think that vanity means loving yourself a little too much – it's quite the opposite. Vanity is what was preventing me from showing people what I really look like. I only wanted the public to see the version of me I'm comfortable with presenting.
Make-up does a lot for me. Some women don't look very different when they take off their day's face, but I really do. I've honed my make-up skills over time, and now an eyeliner flick and contoured cheekbones is my daily look. I wouldn't even feel comfortable going to the gym without some BB cream to even out my complexion, and my brows filled in.
A groomed look is what I present to the world, and I always like to put my best face forward whether at work or play. So the thoughts of shattering the illusion – and my crafted online persona – with a harsh dose of reality felt genuinely frightening.
Upon reflection, I was amazed by the reaction the #nomakeupselfie provoked in me. I've felt curdling envy at an old school friend's gorgeous skin, and inadequate at the sight of other people's full lashes and brows. I will even admit to an unkind smugness at the sight of unflattering pictures, and real annoyance at girls claiming to be slap-free when they were anything but. Oh and let's not forget the frustration at those hiding behind Instagram filters, designed to lessen the glare of an au naturel snap. Who do they think they're fooling, I fumed.
However, what I felt most was guilty, and nervous – the more people that posted a photo, the more obvious it became that I was in the minority. I donated without a selfie early in the week, but an odd pressure set in – if this many women can be okay with their bare-faced self, why can't I? What am I afraid of, other than people thinking I'm unattractive? If cancer patients can post pictures not just make-up free, but wig free, why am I so cowardly?
So on Sunday morning, fresh out of bed with messy hair, and sleepy eyes, I took a selfie. Okay, I took several. I posted the least off-putting one. It sounds corny, but I actually felt liberated. So what if my complexion is blemished, the beginnings of crow's feet are visible around my eyes and my paltry excuses for eyebrows are on show? I'm no natural beauty, but nor am I hideous – just rough around the edges. I won't be making a habit of it, but at the same time I'm glad it's out there.
My reluctance seems foolish in hindsight. Ladies, it has to be said – fearing your own mug is just about the biggest #firstworldproblem I can think of. This revelation doesn't mean I'm throwing out my MAC collection. But if I'm okay expressing my innermost thoughts online, I'm more than able to stand by my face without shame when a good cause calls for it.