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No make-up selfies are not brave

Cancer survivor Kim Stephens says no make-up selfies are making lives "a little bit harder" for cancer patients.

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If someone had shown me their no make-up selfie when I was in the midst of chemotherapy hell three years ago, I would have mustered what little strength I had to beat them with my drip stand.

Violently.

The trend currently sweeping social media, masquerading as a cancer awareness campaign, encourages women to strip their faces bare, snap a selfie and post it for all to see.

Brisbane Times reporter Kim Stephens (right) and during chemotherapy (left).

Brisbane Times reporter Kim Stephens during chemotherapy (left) and as she appears today (right).

Let's leave aside for a moment that I fail to see how this self-indulgent crap actually serves to heighten cancer awareness.

I mean, is there anyone out there unaware of cancer?

More disturbingly, I fear this destructive campaign is only serving to deliver a giant slap in the (make-up free) face to every woman undergoing life-saving chemotherapy right now.

Lady Gaga's no make-up selfie.

Lady Gaga's no make-up selfie.

It's a slap she does not need when cancer is already serving up a regular supply.

By putting down their lip gloss, snapping a picture of their healthy faces and blithely professing their bravery for posting it publicly, women everywhere are indirectly saying "this is me at my least attractive".

The problem is, to a woman at the height of a chemotherapy regime who barely recognises the reflection that greets her in the mirror, these images are not unattractive at all.

Pop star Ricki Lee's no make-up selfie.

Pop star Ricki Lee's no make-up selfie.

She already acutely feels that by being bald, pale and gaunt, there is nothing that deems her attractive by societal standards now.

A stream of make-up free selfies can do nothing more than intensify that awareness and perhaps make that horrendous time that little bit harder than it needs to be.

For me, a little more than three years ago, staring at my reflection became so traumatic, I simply stopped looking.

Beyonce's no make-up selfie.

Beyonce's no make-up selfie.

My body was playing host to a vicious battle between nature and medicine, as a rare and incredibly aggressive form of lymphoma inexplicably set about killing me. Fast.

I spent three months in isolation in a Melbourne oncology ward as doctors chemically annihilated a cancerous, football-sized stomach tumour that, within just four weeks of symptoms appearing, had rendered me unable to eat or breathe unassisted.

The head of the haematology department told me there was only one plan of attack available to him. No plan B. No back-up plan.

"Sometimes the treatment just stops working," he said.

"We don't know why yet and, if it happens, there's nothing more we can do."

His words lingered ominously throughout my treatment, constantly threatening me with death despite the ongoing success of the chemotherapy regime.

It may seem frivolous that in such grave circumstances, appearance should remain such a crippling psychological factor.

But my 20-something face, until so recently the picture of health, quickly and brutally succumbed to the full force of the chemical warfare.

I stopped looking mainly because my reflection returned the undeniable reality that I was critically, dangerously sick. That I could very well die.

But I also stopped looking because, by conventional standards, I was ugly. There was no escaping it.

The person with the transparent skin, with the sunken eyes no longer framed by eyelashes or eyebrows was not the healthy version of myself I still pictured in my head.

On bad days, it made me fall to the floor and cry.

Yet, I felt extraordinarily guilty for doing so because unlike many others, at the end of it all, I was probably still going to be alive.

So forgive me, make-up free selfie posters, if I don't celebrate your supposed bravery.

Washing off your foundation, losing the mascara and posting a photo of a face that remains healthy and attractive is not brave.

It is self-indulgent and offensive in the extreme to those you are professing to support.

I'm sure many people have been genuinely motivated by wanting to do their bit to help and if the campaign has yielded an enormous surge in donations to cancer research, it certainly has some merit.

However, if it has come at the cost of making the most hellish time in the lives of women enduring chemotherapy harder than it already is, it has no virtue whatsoever.

To help cancer research in Queensland, please donate to the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute or Cancer Council Queensland.