There have, for a few years now, been a wave of cryptic “games” sweeping social media with the aim of increasing awareness about breast cancer.
I’ve had family members who were affected by breast cancer and who subsequently lost the fight, so I have had an interest in the movement previously.
I have only recently come to understand more deeply what it means and how it works.
A few years ago, the “games” seemed to be status updates about where you put your handbag, or the colour of your underwear. This year it’s been a series of pre-written status updates to choose from and post without explanation, as well as the “no make-up selfie.”
My initial thoughts about them, for a solid few weeks, were: “yeah right. That won’t do anything,” and to find them mildly offensive and generally irritating.
But then, I looked deeper.
I saw the courage that some of my friends were demonstrating in their battles with self-esteem and body image by revealing themselves without make-up, and I realised something.
When we’re affected by cancer, or any other life-threatening or serious illness, it can shake our world. We come to realise the things that are important in life and we shed the facades.
We have the real conversations, we realise who our true friends are and who are only along for the ride.
Somehow, along the journey of life, we seem to get used to our facades. We might even use them to draw a line between our “out there” life and our more intimate moments with close friends and loved ones.
For women (not exclusively), we “put our face on” before we go out into the world.
At some point in my own life, I began to feel that I would only really be taken seriously or found attractive if I had my makeup on. Don’t get me wrong here—I can be authentic and the “real me” with or without cosmetics, but I slipped into this dysfunctional relationship with the mask it provided me.
I guess I have the beauty industry to hold accountable for that to some degree, but that’s a bigger battle for another time.
When I finally posted my “no make-up selfie,” it was half-hidden behind a camera, so nobody could see the acne scars on the right hand side of my face, which are much worse than those anywhere else on my face.
I found that, despite my desire to be able to show myself, to be naked and trust that I would not be judged, I could not overcome.
But I persisted anyway, for if yoga and research have taught me nothing else, it’s that progress is more important and valuable than perfection, so even if I only made it halfway, it was a step forward.
It certainly felt like a big step forward, and the flood of comments that followed made me laugh, made me weep and sniffle, made me feel accepted and supported in a strange way. It had nothing to do with the way I looked, it was taking the step and not being judged for it outright that mattered.
I’m glad I could share the journey with other courageous and truly beautiful women.
For me, this whole “no make-up selfie” fad does hold meaning.
It has helped me to realise that we are all humans, that being authentic and naked is something to be respected, something to strive towards, not only when our lives are threatened. There are many influences that teach us that comfort behind masks is easier, that changing ourselves to ‘fit in’ is worth it, but the reality is that it’s not.
Sometimes we realise that when too late, but sometimes, we shed the layers of our onion while we still have time.
The gratitude and intimacy with ourselves, our loved ones, our friends and acquaintances that this brings can be rewarding.
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Photos: elephant media archives, Delphine Savat, Flickr Creative Commons