Playing a Character and the Make Up Free Selfie


It’s the latest trend. As if a selfie wasn’t bad enough – hampered by poor lighting and camera angles limited by the length of your arm. Now women have to be stripped bare of the face they wear every day, accompanied by their dignity.

It works like this. Remove all traces of make-up. Take said selfie. Post on Facebook. Nominate others to do the same. And I almost forgot the most important part (the point) – donate to cancer charity and ask others to do the same.

Love it or loath it, the make up free selfie has got everyone talking. More importantly it’s got everyone joining in. The latest explosion of photos started on the back of a belated misunderstanding of a cosmetics company’s campaign to go without it’s products for a day in exchange for a donation to charity. It’s turned out better than any marketer’s dream, with over a million pounds raised for cancer charities to date. Those who questioned the point at the start have been vilified, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted it’s success.

There’s no denying some of the pictures are shocking, perhaps depending upon the degree we hide ourselves underneath make-up day to day, and the extent to which we let others see behind that mask. I think men in particular haven’t understood the level of bravery required. Comments that compare a newsfeed full of such photos to a succession of “dead Victorian prostitutes” demonstrate the ingrained views in society about the image women are expected to portray to the World.

It’s at this point I have to admit that my courage has failed me. My nomination is sitting in my inbox. I’ve tried but I can’t do it. It’s not that I don’t support the charities. In fact they’re very close to my heart.

Just under three years ago my mum passed away due to complications associated with brain cancer. An encounter with this terrible disease is not something I would wish on anyone. Not only did I lose a parent and a best friend, I had to watch a clever, funny, caring and beautiful woman rapidly decline. I was left to care for the broken shell of an individual who couldn’t remember their full name or what a toothbrush was for. It pains me to say that death was a release. I would do almost anything to get her back. Yet taking and posting a photo isn’t going to help. I’ve raised for the charities before in my own way. This time I’ll be helping by making a private donation. Hopefully I won’t be made to feel guilty for not participating.

In his latest post on change management (see here), David D’Souza refers to Sartre’s concept of “Bad Faith”, by which the pressures placed on us by society mean we don’t act with authenticity. I don’t always find it necessary to follow what society expects, however, it’s impossible to live in a way unaffected by society. If I take the selfie I am conforming with part of society, if I don’t take it I am conforming with another part. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Sartre thought his waiter character played his role in a way that was too “waiteresque”. I’ve met plenty of bad waiters in my time, who didn’t comply with society’s views, who ignored me or told me to get my own drink because they were too busy. In organisations we sometimes refer to positions as “job roles” – we all have a part in making our company a success. I’m a Human Resources Manager, that’s what I am. It’s part of me, and if I leave it will still be part of me. In the same vein, my face, fully made up, is who I am and how I want the World to see me. If Sartre would say I’m just playing a role then I don’t mind. That’s me.

Life isn’t a play. It doesn’t have a plot line or a pre-determined script. If it did, we would struggle to know how to act when something unexpected came along, like cancer or death. I’m not a character but I do (hopefully) have character. I just want to be able to grieve and give back in my own way.

Photo credit:

2 thoughts on “Playing a Character and the Make Up Free Selfie

  1. ChristopherinHR

    Helen, your writing is poweful and personal and the character you display in your blog is far greater than the courage to post a selfie, made or unmade. Thank you for your very meaningful share: it has got me thinking.

    1. Thank you so much Christopher, you know how I value your opinion. Really the blog is just a collection of my thoughts and feelings – I’m glad some of those have found a resonance with you.

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