Note: This is neither in defence of, nor a criticism of, the current make up free selfies for cancer awareness craze. It is a look at how we can actually make a campaign like this work and also address why some people have taken exception to it, either rightly or wrongly.
People are generally good. Despite the wars and bombings, despite the murders reported and the assaults taking place. Despite all of this, I still believe the majority of people are generally good. And they care. I’ve addressed before that people like to share things on Facebook because they care and want to raise awareness.
But this raising awareness is a tricky thing. What exactly is it? Is me standing in the middle of Princes Street Gardens shouting “Depression exists” raising awareness of it? People are aware it exists, people might not be aware of what it is or what it causes in people who are depressed though, or how to see the warning signs. But then maybe as a result of me shouting that, one person might go and look it up. Have I been successful in my awareness raising? I don’t know. Is there a certain number of people we have to reach to be considered a success?
Posting on Facebook is the digital equivalent of shouting in the street, but has one serious advantage- you can easily share links and details with people in a way you cant shouting in a public garden. I’ve seen recently people posting pictures without any make up on to raise awareness of cancer. I’ve seen people chastise them for it, and I’ve seen people chastise the chastisers. Much of the criticism is fairly straight forward, some of it even valid. But sometimes it can be nasty, and I really don’t think discouraging people from what they feel is a good cause helps, not if no alternative is suggested and crucially if they are not harming anyone. And I don’t think these images are harming anyone, though I will mention later how they might be upsetting to some.
I’ve seen people making the following observations of this current craze (A craze so current this blog may be the first you hear of it):
1- That people are already aware cancer exists. True, of course. But I don’t think a swift reminder from time to time is a bad thing.. And this does miss that by bringing the subject up it may encourage people to think deeper. If the worst case scenario is one or two people check their boobs or balls then I’d consider the few seconds it takes to post an image having been worth it.
2- Some people are simply posting selfies without any explanation. Now this really doesn’t help anyone – though nor does it harm. Very much like the idea a few years back where women secretly messaged one another telling them to post just the colour of their bras as a status and nothing else. This was supposed to raise awareness of breast cancer but unless you knew what the status was about it didn’t raise awareness in anyone. And if you knew what the status was about you were already well enough aware. But this is a sin of omission nothing more and can easily be rectified.
3- Some people are using this meme and posting selfies JUST for likes with no regard whatsoever for cancer awareness. This is a dick move and you’re a dick for doing it.
4- Why not encourage people to check themselves / donate. I think this is something people should be adding as an addendum to their pictures. I think this is the fairest criticism of them all, not because the selfies themselves but because this crucial bit of advice was missed out.
So the biggest problems, really, are that these images aren’t giving enough information. I think regardless of criticisms, with the exception of number 3 (you’re still a dick), people are posting these selfies because they genuinely care and they truly believe they are doing something good. And they are stimulating debate and discussion. I’ve seen several threads descend into real and honest discussion about how best to check for certain types of cancers and to not skip out on things like smear tests. So the images, maybe in spite of themselves, are doing what they set out to do albeit not in the way they may have intended.
Now I can understand why something like this meme (something that isn’t – to be fair to it – that well thought out) may anger some people, and that does need taking on board. I can see why those who have lost people to cancer may see this as a hollow gesture, no matter how well meaning. I have lost people to cancer, but I don’t see it as hollow, just something in need of some tweaking.
Recently I lost my granddad to lung cancer. Two years before that someone I knew died of a cancer of the abdominal area- I saw this person in their final hours pumped full of medicine and also after they’d passed away. Neither of these experiences were pleasant. As such I think raising awareness of the warning signs of cancer and donating to places like Cancer Research UK is important. It is also important to remember that raising awareness of “cancer” is a bit more complex than just saying its about “cancer”. Cancer is not one thing. It is a variety of different medical problems. Stomach cancer is different to lung cancer, brain tumours are different to leukaemia, skin cancer is different to testicular cancer. This is something too that the selfies don’t take into account. I have seen some people saying its about breast cancer awareness, but most just generalise “cancer”. Either way, it is very important to remember that when it comes to cancer, we do need to be a bit more specific.
I think these make-up-free selfies could be a good tool, but only if people use them effectively. As such I have a proposal. Campaigns tend to get more attention and traction if they are focused. Trying to eradicate cancer is a noble goal, but ignores many key factors – like above, cancer isn’t just one thing and also we are pretty damn good at treating certain cancers. But money and indeed understanding of the different types of cancers are needed still. I think the Make-up-free selfies lend themselves to a very specific type of cancer that goes largely ignored- Skin Cancer.
Skin cancer, though not as common nor as frequently fatal as other cancers is still an issue. In the UK around 100,000 people a year contract some form of skin cancer and although only around 2% are fatal that’s still more than is desirable (Clue: Anything over 0% is undesirable). And the crazy thing is, the biggest cause of skin cancer is something we can take measures against. Exposure to the sun, specific types of UV light, can increase your chances of skin cancer. Spending hours a day lying out sunbathing with zero protection is not a wise move. And sunbeds are dangerous too- is being a bit browner really worth the risk? It used to be common to hear the phrase “Slip, slap, slop”- Slip on a shirt, slap on a hat and slop on some sun screen. Now of course this isn’t going to guarantee you avoid skin cancer, like not smoking doesn’t guarantee you avoid lung cancer, it does none the less help you decrease the risks.
But how many of us head out in skimpy clothes the second the weather is anything but grey? And how many campaigns do you usually see about skin cancer and taking care in the sun?
So here is what I suggest- those people who want to post selfies- you caring and concerned people that you are- how about this? I present to you:
The “My Skin Is Win” Campaign. Post up a “make-up-free-selfie” (or as most blokes call it “a selfie”) with the following text accompanying it:
“My Skin Is Win! Each year around 100,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer. There are many causes, but is most commonly a result of spending too much time in the sun without adequate protection. Sunbeds also increase the risk. Though more common in older people, anyone can develop skin cancer and we’re heading in to the summer season when even here we get some sun!
I’m sharing this make-up-free selfie to show My Skin is Win, and I want to keep it that way. Please do the same and share this message. And remember this summer to slip on a shirt, slap on a hat and slop on some sun screen. Maybe consider giving that sunbed a miss too whilst you’re at it. And please do consider donating to Cancer Research UK because every penny raised helps fund research into all cancers. www.cancerresearchuk.org
More information on skin cancer can be found at: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/type/skin-cancer/about/skin-cancer-risks-and-causes”
This way your selfies really will be helping to raise awareness, encourage people to donate, and give you a reason to tell the nay sayers that you actually are trying to help.