Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows! Puppies and kittens and unicorns!
There. I just wanted to conjure some warmth and fuzziness for you before I go and say something you might not like. Okay, so there’s a strong likelihood that you won’t like it. But I’m going to say it anyway. Someone has to.
Have you ever felt like the odd one out on a joke, and though you try, you just can’t grasp the punch line? That’s how I felt when I first learned of the latest trend in social media. Behold: the makeup-free selfie. I’ve thought about keeping my mouth shut about this, but it turns out I can’t. I just can’t. And I may be alone in this, but does anyone else out there stop to think about what they’re doing in the grand scheme of things before they jump on an internet fad bandwagon?
I’m sure you’ve seen this phenomenon on the interweb. From the celebrities of Instagram to the commoners of Facebook, women are taking self-portraits sans makeup and posting them to the World Wide Web. The point of this, so far as I can surmise, is ostensibly to assert that women shouldn’t be so concerned with their appearance. Would you agree?
Something you should know about me: I pick things apart. I tend to overanalyze. I’ve been called skeptical. Too critical. Cynical. Someone who should probably be wearing a tinfoil hat. If something sparks my interest, I want to know how I feel about it; I don’t want to experience thought vicariously by riding on the coattails of someone else’s cognitive process. You wouldn’t be the first person to tell me how frustrating and annoying I can be in this regard. I’m sure you won’t be the last.
I hear things like “Why do you have to dissect everything?” and “Why can’t you just accept things at face value?” with surprising regularity. My personal favourite though has to be what I’ve been hearing my whole life, “You’re NO FUN.” Well, if looking critically before taking the leap of social allegiance makes me no fun, then I guess I am no fun at all. Everyone was having so much fun and then I had to go and wreck it.
It seems that there are a lot of women out there making a feminist issue out of the au naturale selfie. When this trend flashed onto my radar screen, rife with proclamations like let your inner beauty shine and show your true self, with hashtags galore, it made me feel extremely uncomfortable. At first I couldn’t figure out why. That’s because it’s tricky. But we’ll get there.
To be clear, the feminist perspective is not my gripe. Au contraire. If you want to stand up for women’s issues, fill your boots. Here’s the problem: the makeup-free selfie is not a women’s issue. Sure, it represents many of the issues women in our society face, but I’m not at all convinced that it is in itself the core issue it’s painted to be. The ideological jump involved from a bare faced photo to an act of feminism is fraught with missing and erroneous pieces. Although a nice gesture, it is severely misguided.
Let’s be real. People post things online because they want to share; they’re looking for a reaction, for validation or a sense of connectedness. Some seek approval or attention. It’s all a big pony show, modern day recreation. Posting a photo of yourself and saying things like everyone is beautiful and show your natural beauty absolutely, 100% reinforce the notion that beauty matters, that it is meaningful and important. Especially for women.
There are many definitions for objectification, but the take home meaning is regarding something or someone as an object. In the age of social media, a recent phenomenon has taken the internet by siege – women intentionally objectify themselves. There are various schools of thought as to why women would want to self-objectify. Some say it’s a means to compete with the onslaught of scantily clad, sexually charged images of women plastered everywhere we turn. Others contend that it’s more innocuous; that in the context of the internet, a visual representation is required. Selfies provide the perceived bonus of being in control of what images of us are out there. Still others claim it’s empowering, that women are beautiful and we should be celebrated. And we should – but is it just me or has female objectification become an arms race? This shit is getting way out of control.
Naturally, the ceaselessly churning media machine has something to say. Ever consistent, it resorts to its standard modus operandi: headlines screaming gorgeous this and stunning that, replete with scores of images for us to scrutinize. BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL! Celebrities in a semi-nude state, apparently fresh from the shower. Celebrities with their cleavage taking up half the shot. Now I’m really confused. I thought the point was that you’re not wearing makeup? On your face.
I have seen more than I care to of women partially obscuring their bare faces or grimacing as though in pain, some even apologizing for their appearance. Let me get this straight. You’re posting a picture of yourself to empower yourself and other women while berating your appearance? Please help me to understand how that is good for you, or anyone for that matter.
And let us not forget our old friend Narcissus. One really can’t contemplate the nature of self-imagery without him. Some women claim that posting a selfie without makeup is proof that they are not vain. Say that a few times to yourself until the irony sinks in. Are we really so self-absorbed that we don’t see the contradiction?
Did you know that this whole idea was actually spawned from an ad campaign created over a decade ago by a multi-billion dollar international consumer company? They have been working on getting into our collective consciousness since their brand’s inception. Does Celebrating Real Beauty ring a bell, or do you actually think some teenage girl just thought up the sweeping internet fad that has been years in the making? The human psyche is very good at retaining messages that appeal to our emotions, and it would be incredibly naïve to pretend that’s not the way marketing operates – basic reverse psychology, the oldest mind game in the book. And it seems to be working. Surely you must realize that the people who created the campaign aren’t doing it because they care about how you feel. They want your money.
There exists tremendous pressure on females in our society. The landscape? A celebrity fixated, porn imagery saturated, sexually objectifying, largely narcissistic (often misogynistic) consumer machine, predominantly geared toward achieving the all-important male gaze. In our society women are pressured to be attractive, but not too attractive. Funny, but not too funny. Smart, but not so intelligent that they are perceived as a threat. When you nominate (read: dare) a friend to post a makeup-free selfie on the internet, the implications are that if she doesn’t do it, she’s not all of the things you claim to be: beautiful, free, confident, brave. More pressure. This is the definition of intimidation.
Continuing to draw further attention to women’s appearance – with makeup or without – only emphasizes how important what we look like is. It feeds the obsession. Any social scientist can tell you that because of female objectification at large, women are increasingly seen as objects – not only by their betesticled counterparts, but by women as well. What do you think that does to us all? I for one don’t want to be seen in this light, the way we look at the images of women smeared everywhere. I am so tired of it.
Why does it matter what we look like? Who cares. Do you know that there are women around the world being treated atrociously? Do you care that the same is true of women in your city or town?
As a woman you want to do something brave to help women? Volunteer at a women’s shelter. Donate clothes, furniture and housewares to women in need. Raise funds for illnesses that affect women. Petition to stop the mistreatment of women around the globe. Make your way in a predominantly male industry. Teach your daughters and nieces and granddaughters not to base their worth on how they look. You can do so much better than posting a picture online.
In the end, if you’re more comfortable wearing makeup, then do. If you’d prefer not to, then don’t. Wear high heels or flipflops, sexy lingerie or boxer shorts. Shave your head or dye your hair platinum blonde. Wear a tinfoil hat. Wear a clown suit if that’s what makes you happy. You are not your appearance. You are not your face. Do some work on what’s inside you. Do what makes you happy in your life. Put your best foot forward, whoever you are and however you appear to be.