This post first appeared on my previous blog, The Wren's Nest on Friday, 21 March 2014
So, I did it. You probably did it. And as a direct result Cancer Research UK has raised over £2 million so far. I have read, seen and heard a lot of people criticising the campaign - suggesting it is flippant, saying that the last thing a woman with cancer cares about is her appearance so what has going without make-up got to do with supporting women suffering from cancer? There have been words like 'narcissism' thrown about, that the women posting these pictures are 'missing the point'. I think they're wrong. And here's why.
The subject of women's cancers is an especially emotive and complex one. Cancers of the uterus, cervix, ovaries and breast are destroying parts of the body that are meant to give and sustain new life - the very essence of what it is to be female. I think there is a reason why breast cancer charities are some of the most high-profile in this country that goes beyond the statistics showing it is the most common cancer in the UK with 55,000 diagnosed every year. It is because the female breast has forever been held up as the ultimate symbol of femininity. Just look at the Venus di Milo, Barbara Windsor in the Carry On films, Marilyn Monroe, every buxom wench in every period drama ever made, Kelly Brook even. Women's feelings of attractiveness, of their sense of self, their sense of feeling womanly, are hugely bound up in their relationship with their breasts. And we really do have a relationship with them - some of us even give them names. Ask any woman who has gone from a voluptuously bosomed young childless woman to flat-chested post pregnancy and breastfeeding and they will tell you they hanker after those boobies of yore. That they could cope with the stretch marks if only they still had big boobs. I know. I'm one of them.
So, when a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer it can feel like a particular kind of betrayal by their body. A part of their body that is intrinsically part of their being a woman.
And then comes the surgery when at best they may lose a part of it, at worst they may lose a breast. Or both. And, as grateful as they are for being alive, it is incredibly difficult to feel womanly without them.
And then there is the chemotherapy and the radiotherapy that leave you looking and feeling exhausted, that result in weight loss and very often hair loss. And again, as grateful as you are for being alive you have lost another intrinsic part of your femininity.
If you are fortunate enough to make it into remission, the tamoxifen prescription often results in early onset menopause, and again, as grateful as you are to be alive...
A woman who undergoes treatment for breast cancer has to cope with feeling terribly ill, feeling incredibly scared and with feeling unfeminine, with feeling less like a woman. Through these silly little photographs, we are saying that we respect their grace and dignity, that we are prepared to step out of our safe, comfortable lives and put our naked faces in the public domain. That we want to try and understand, in the smallest of ways, for the briefest of moments how it feels to face the world without a part of our perceived womanliness. By stripping ourselves of the face paint, the smoke and mirrors artifice of our beauty and femininity, we are attempting to show our solidarity. To stand shoulder to shoulder with our sisters. Surely this is the true meaning of womanhood.