Monday, March 24, 2014

Like This! It's For Breast Cancer!

So there's a couple of trends going around Facebook right now that I really need to comment on at some length. Both of them ostensibly have something to do with breast cancer, although I can't think what.
A work colleague got me today with one of those bait-and-switch status updates. If you've been on Facebook any length of time, you've probably seen at least one of these things. The person puts something in their status that's guaranteed to elicit some kind of reaction amongst his/her friends, something like "the damn condom broke last night and I think I might be pregnant" or "has anybody got a remedy for excessive flatulence" know, like that. Then when you like or comment, you get a private message telling you that you now have to perpetuate the meme.

I played along with one of these things a few months back--'haha, you got the riddle wrong, now you're a giraffe'--and I'm sorry, once was enough. What really irked me about this particular iteration was, well, a couple of things, really.

One, I fell for it. Somebody tells the world on Facebook that they think they're in love and they don't know what to do, and I immediately think of what seems like dozens of people who have come to me in real life with that exact problem over the years. (Often, but by no means always, they're people I'm in love with at the time and the person they're  in love with has never once been me, but hey, what are friends for?) And so yeah, I'm pretty much morally obligated to weigh in on a status update like that. And so I did, and even got complimented twice in the ensuing comment thread for being a 'smart cookie'...that fine, fine Facebook ego-stroke we all know and love.

Except the comment thread was booby-trapped, as I soon found out. When the bait was switched, one line of the 'haha, now you gotta play too' message stood out, not in a good way. "This is the 2014 breast cancer awareness game", it said, and I thought ah, so it's a game, now?

I ignored the message...and actually felt kind of bad for so doing. The person who sent it is very nice and I really didn't feel like I should express this anger. I mean, it's irrational. It's just Facebook, it's just a silly little game, and why do I have to take everything so fucking seriously, et cetera, et cetera.


I know breast cancer survivors. More than one. You could say I'm quite aware of this disease; really, I'm surprised there are people who aren't. It's not a game and it's not funny and it's not the sort of thing that should lend itself to trifling Facebook pranks. I'm sorry to burst your balloon, actually, I'm not. What does 'why is nobody around when I'm horny' have to do with breast cancer, or anything else, really? Is that about cancer just because you say it is? How about "I really don't know how 2 tell anyone and I'm sick of hiding it I'm gay." There, you've managed to trivialize breast cancer and someone coming out of the closet all in one sentence.

You know what "games" like this do, at least for me? They make me very leery of commenting on anyone's status update, in case what looks like a cry for help is actually a stupid game of hot potato. And while I'm sure someone will say that people crying for help on Facebook are just narcissistic attention-seekers...tell me one other way to reach your entire support network at once. I think Facebook really is the best way to seek solace, empathy or advice, and I really don't like things like this ruining that perception.


Then there's the 'post a selfie without makeup for breast cancer' meme.

This one I'm really torn on. I have to say, first off, I'm perversely glad that Google Chrome's spellcheck still highlights 'selfie'. It may be an official English word -- it's in Oxford, now -- but I absolutely detest it. Maybe I'd feel differently about it if I were in any way photogenic,, really, it's a stupid sounding word for a stupid obsession.

One friend--who could post a makeup-less self-portrait that would make a whole bunch of men go weak in the knees--posted this instead to explain why she was opting out. As I read it, I found myself agreeing vehemently in places and yet going "but but but but!" in others.

Emily Buchanan's argument is multi-pronged here. First, she says something I could have said word for word myself:

It was all very well meaning and inoffensive but, as far as I could tell, absolutely nothing to do with breast cancer awareness. If anything, it was trivialising a very serious issue and using it to justify a vanity project.

Hear, hear. Then she notes

If you need to tell people how much of a good person you are, it's time to question your motivation for doing good at all. Goodness should permeate throughout life and in every decision we make, not because a trend on Facebook tells us to.

And that, too, resonates strongly with me: are you genuinely concerned or are you just looking for the attention?  

But but but but!

There is something unutterably refreshing about seeing all these photos--okay, damnit, selfies--of incredibly beautiful women without makeup, being visually true to themselves. For many of them, I suspect, it takes a whole lot of courage to actually post such a thing: there are entire nations of women who wouldn't think of leaving the house and GASP being seen without makeup. It's offensive to even suggest that this courage in any way mirrors the kind of courage someone living with breast cancer must summon to get through every hour of every day, true...but the courage to post a bare-faced selfie shouldn't be entirely dismissed, either. 

You know me, folks. I wish "makeup-free" was the default setting. It's not that I think women should feel fantastic about their appearance (although I do)'s that I firmly believe that they should feel fantastic about the inner beauty they have, which will by definition make them beautiful. While I generally don't go around thinking any one gender has got it right, in this case I think men actually do. We don't wear makeup, as a rule. Why? It's not because we think we're all George Clooneys or Daniel Craigs or (insert hunkahunkaburninglove here)s. For most of us, it's because it simply doesn't occur to us. We're not our bodies. 

(Mind you, we shouldn't be falling into the common man-traps of (a) thinking women ARE their bodies and (b) thinking we are our job, no, it's not that men have it right, we're just a different kind of wrong.)

And as for the narcissistic self-validation of these pictures? You know what? People need that ego-stroke. They do, or it wouldn't feel so good to get it. They especially need that ego-stroke when they do something outside of the ordinary, such as posting a picture of themselves as they really are. People, women in particular, need to know they're beautiful. I believe that with all my heart. 

So please, continue to post these things...I smile each and every time I see one. But can we maybe divorce this from breast cancer? Can we maybe call it cancer of the confidence instead? That kind of cancer is only fatal in its most extreme cases, but it's even more widespread than other kinds...and it's worth fighting.

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