Last Tuesday, the selfie received a new meaning thanks to a campaign called #nomakeupselfie for Cancer Research UK. Women from all around the world started engaging with the idea of taking a photo of their natural self and posting it on social media (Twitter, Vine, Facebook, Instagram and Google+) with the #nomakeupselfie hashtag and a text code for donating.

But what really helped to turn this effort into a viral success, was the idea of encouraging others to get involved as well. 

In just 24 hours, the campaign brought 800,000 text donations and raised £1m. But was not the end of its virality, as the next 24 hours saw another lift in donations, bringing the total up to £2 million.

It is a surprise to find out that the campaign wasn’t planned or introduced by Cancer Research UK, considering how well it did. 

But why did the ‘no make up selfie’ campaign become one of the hottest social media phenomenons?

The fact is, realistically, not many of us are capable of running a marathon and becoming an athlete in just a matter of a few months. The success of this campaign shows that people want to become part of a fundraising activity and on this occasion taking selfies has become a way of allowing people to feel involved.

For some, the #nomakeupselfie is also a way of remembering the loved-ones who were taken away by the disease, as they see the campaign as a way of adding something personal to the act of donating. 

What also helps make this campaign more special is the strength of feeling behind the fundraising process from a financial point (through donations) to personal influence and authority (by raising awareness through personal social media channels to spread the word).

The momentum of this trend has also received support from big names and brands, who wouldn’t have gotten involved in the cause otherwise. 

Virgin Atlantic Supports No Make Up Selfie for Cancer Awareness

While some find the campaign encouraging, others have misgivings, seeing it as a virulent trend that might lead to further vanity. 

There is a worry that some photos are ego-driven items of self-interest and people’s acts are missing the point of what the donations are for.

Others argue that ‘a donation is able to help, but not a photo of yourself’, a photo that is unrelated to the problem of breast cancer and lacks a raising of awareness. 

No make up selfie tweet

However, the potency of this campaign lies in the combination of the power of social networking and user generated content. It is also proof for those who have a love-hate relationship with social channels like Facebook, that something good can come out of them.

Without a doubt, our society is constantly challenging the image of a woman, and many people took part in this campaign despite their own struggles with a lack of self-esteem and confidence. 

On this occasion, embracing #nomakeupself turned into an empowering solution to fight with our own ghosts and do something out of our comfort zones. 

We all know that those who have to fight with cancer on a daily basis are brave. But to show off our ‘vulnerable self’ may help younger generations rethink the whole idea of beauty and help understand the need of freeing ourselves to be more natural and genuine. As those who suffer from cancer understand the true value of life and the unimportance of fakery.

The other point which needs raising is the fact that every little donation helps in finding a cure and helps thousands who are suffering and fighting with cancer. By getting individuals from different age groups involved, we are reminded that we should know our bodies and check them more often. 

Cancer Research Vine post

You can say that the #nomakeupselfie is both a narcissistic act and imaginative philanthropy, but we can’t argue with £2m in donations. The campaign is maybe not something that Cancer Research UK would introduce, but it was good to see the charity spotting the trend and hijacking it to strengthen the donations.

As it wasn’t a coordinated campaign there are some visible problems in its implementation but you can never predict that the public will apply your call-to-actions and follow the rules.

The #nomakeupselfie is an enlightening experiment worth following and learning from for other charities and brands on how to prompt a viral campaign. Still many charities feel reluctant to involve their supporters in the idea generating process but maybe this is what they have been missing so far?

Often supporters are willing to demonstrate their solidarity, and their personal experiences combined with popular trends may help in reaching new and untapped audiences. 

Irish Cancer Society tweet

The #nomakeupselfie is not finished yet and it is growing with more volunteers, including men taking snapshots of themselves wearing make-up.

Hopefully the campaign will keep going for longer as it will allow other charities like Macmillan Cancer, British Lung Foundation and Irish Cancer Society to get involved too. I really hope there will be a chance to raise more money and also further raise the awareness of cancer, encouraging people to visit and pick up the phone to get checked too.