There is currently a meme on my Facebook stream in which women friends nominate each other to post a self portrait without makeup in the interests of raising awareness of breast cancer. Setting aside the questionable usefulness of the exercise without any attendant links or relevant information*, it raised my hackles in the same way as another well-intentioned initiative - the BBC Children In Need BearFaced campaign did last year.
The idea of the BearFaced campaign is that women are sponsored to go without make up for a day. It is supported by beautiful portraits shot by Rankin of 'bare faced' celebrities (many of whom seem to be to be wearing plenty of 'natural' make up, and all shown bare fleshed as well as faced).
These are both noble causes and raising awareness and cash is great BUT (here comes the grumble...) when did the idea of a woman leaving the house or showing a picture of herself without make up become so shocking that it merits an 'aren't you brave - Go girl!' pat on the back? Let alone actual sponsorship! Is it really equivalent to running a marathon, or even sitting in a bath of baked beans? Given that most sponsored endeavours demand a feat of endurance or public ridicule, which camp does this fall into?
Imagine a similar campaign targetted at men... I can't. It would be a nonsense because men haven't been told that they need cosmetic assistance to make their appearance socially acceptable.
Several of my friends posted that they wouldn't be taking part in the Facebook meme, mainly because of the spurious value of the exercise but also because 'it would put you off your breakfast'. A joke, I know, but I can't help thinking it's based in very real insecurites. I have known people with facial scarring who wouldn't answer the door without their make up on, which I can understand. These friends, however, are beautiful, interesting, accomplished women but seem to feel the same pressure to put on a mask to face the world.
In a society where there is an ongoing debate about the social and feminist implications of the veil, it seems that this approach to cosmetics - apparently accepted as the norm - touches on similar issues about the role of women and the acceptability of their bodies.
I'm not anti make up - like most women I have bought and used it since I hit my teens (though I don't wear it every day - not when applying it is going to eat into my sleeping time!) - but the implications of these campaigns bothers me.
* it has evolved and most friends are now including information on how to make a £3 donation to Cancer Research UK by texting BEAT to 70099. The charity did not initiate the meme but have apparently enjoyed something of a windfall as a result.