It started innocently enough. Roughly two weeks ago marked the beginning of the #nomakeupselfie campaign, which encouraged women around the world to take selfies sans mascara and lip gloss to raise funds for breast cancer research. So far, the campaign has generated over £10 million. As the #nomakeupselfie campaign went viral, criticism mounted: some viewed it as a vain and narcissistic attempt at self-validation, while others saw a sexist campaign perpetuating society’s skewed understanding of beauty.
The campaign took a turn for the indecent as more and more layers were stripped off the selfie-taker’s body. Shortly after the emergence of #nomakeupselfie, the male equivalent started to creep into newsfeeds worldwide: #cockinasock. If #nomakeupselfie is about combating breast cancer, the #cockinasock selfie is apparently about combating testicular cancer. The gist of this campaign is simple: as the hashtag suggests, men worldwide take a selfie with only a sock to cover themselves, then encourage their friends to do the same via nomination. Oh yeah, and there’s something about cancer in there, too.
And so it came to pass: a wave of dudes, hair coiffed and muscles flexed, posing butt naked in front of a mirror save for one article of clothing. Apparently, men are just as vain as women – who knew? As with its feminine counterpart, the #cockinasock campaign seems to have little to no relevance with the cause it is supposedly fighting for. How does a man with nothing but a sock on his penis (or a woman “braving” the world without the protection of foundation and eyeliner) relate to testicular cancer or breast cancer? More than donations for cancer research, participants, both male and female, seem to be fishing for likes and comments praising their bravado.
Though its vain and narcissistic causes cannot be denied, neither can its concrete contributions to an important cause. The fact remains that the viral sensation raised £10 million toward cancer research. For all we know, these funds could save lives. Besides, the doctrine of the selfie trend itself is rooted in vanity: criticizing #nomakeupselfie or #cockinasock as self-centred is like criticizing a lake for being wet. In the face of such tangible evidence for the better, who are we to judge?
It would be delusional to celebrate the altruistic selflessness of our selfie-generation, but something else deserves to be celebrated. For once, men, instead of women, are being sexualized and objectified. Hear that, Jezebel? Men are stripping down, voluntarily and en masse on social networking platforms! There remains an important difference of course between this male sexualization versus the female one: while women are automatically and involuntarily objectified, these men are willingly undressing. It’s not surprising that the reception of the #cockinasock campaign has been largely lighthearted and superficial. I doubt there would be a similar reaction were women stripping down voluntarily for the same cause.
At very least, the #cockinasock campaign comes as a breath of fresh air to the growing debate on gender equality. The #nomakeupselfie and #cockinasock campaigns undeniably bring with it substantial good, but it also brings a sardonic reminder of our egocentric nature: whether we are fighting for a good cause or just pouting into a camera and flicking through photo filters, we can always find a way to make it all about ourselves.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.