Mamamia Body Positive Project: A make up free selfie won't help Malala.


Taking a selfie without make-up will not close the pay gap (Australian women earn 83.5c for every dollar men earn).

Nor will it improve life expectancy for indigenous women in Australia (72 years compared to 82 for white women).

It will also not help brave girls like Malala Yousafzai to fight against the evil Taliban who violently oppose female education in Afghanistan.


Because I thought photos like this would fix all of that shit:

Make-up free me in bed with my daughter on the weekend


Since we launched our Mamamia Body Positive Project last week, the response has been overwhelming. Overwhelmingly positive. It’s something we’ve been planning for a long time as part of our ongoing campaigns around body image and it’s a broad, long-term project of which last week’s make-up free selfie challenge is merely one aspect.

Not everyone is a fan of our body positive initiative, though. Which is to be expected and in many ways encouraged. Debate is good.  Here’s a sample:

HELEN RAZER:  Fuck the shit that you are writing. Fuck your fucking assumption that most of us are as intellectually sluggish as you and are so fixated by the pain of Not Feeling Pretty that we cannot identify what needs to be done: radical change to our labour conditions. We do not make change by asking for praise about our twats, mams or makeup-free faces. To pretend that there is ANY benefit—even at the cultural level—in appeasing our own vanity is hypocrisy of the worst order. All I see, in the case of the Body Positive campaign is the desire of silly women to commodify themselves.

Social commentator Helen Razer.

CLEMENTINE FORD: I’m at a loss to understand how a body image campaign, however well intentioned it might be, can tackle the complex issue of women’s relationships with their appearance by asking women to focus on their appearance – particularly when it just creates another standard of comparison between those participating.

There has to be a better, sounder, more intelligent way to move beyond these essentially vanity driven, privilege ridden exercises and prioritise a value in ourselves that has nothing at all to do with how we look. ….The exhaustion of thinking about ourselves all the time cannot be solved by hosting make-up free days or campaigns that focus on rejecting beauty regimes.

LANA HIRSCHOWITZ: I look at the galleries of makeup free woman and find the whole thing a little sad. It’s like a beauty contest but instead of the swimsuit competition it’s like some kind of “freak show”.

BRONWEN CLUNE:  What lesson is this sending to anyone other than what we already know – that a women’s value is defined by her appearance, a value we derive at from an accepted set of norms? Is taking a photo without make-up and posting it on Twitter really an act of bravery for women, as many have suggested it is? Try telling that to Malala Yousafzai.

Three of these women I know and like. Bronwen, I’ve never met, but I read her post with interest too. No hard feelings. Conversations like this are good and an important part of trying to shake things up.

After two decades of working on the issue of body image, I’m very familiar with the perverse way you attract the most strident criticism when you do something proactive and swim against the tide.

Dove uses women of different shapes and sizes in their advertising.

Whether it’s the government appointing a National Body Image Advisory Group, Sarah Murdoch refusing to be airbrushed on the cover of the Women’s Weekly, Dove using women of different shapes and sizes in their advertising, Lena Dunham baring her body on her TV show Girls, Deborah Hutton posing for a magazine cover aged 50 or the launch of our Body Positive Project, the criticism is always the same: you’re not doing body image RIGHT. In fact, you’re probably making it WORSE.


How very DARE you.

Women are more than just our faces and our bodies and the way we look! Isn’t it hypocritical to try to improve the body image of women with images of women?  Isn’t that the whole PROBLEM HERE?

Well, sure. I guess we could remove people’s eyes. That would prevent anyone making judgements about appearances. Would that work?  Or we could encourage women to send in photos of their brains. Or their hearts. Or their CVs.

Because we need to stop judging women by the way they look and start focusing instead on what’s inside.

Totally true.

Except that’s a different – valid, important but different – conversation.

Body image is not about who you are and what you can do. Or even how you look.  Body image is how you feel about your looks.

Body image is about self-perception.

Says wiki:Body image refers to a person’s feelings of the aesthetics and sexual attractiveness of their own body. The phrase body image was first coined by the Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst Paul Schilder in his book The Image and Appearance of the Human Body (1935). Human society has at all times placed great value on beauty of the human body, but a person’s perception of their own body may not correspond to society’s standards.”

So body image is the way we feel about how we look. And yes, our body image is massively affected by how society tells us we should look. And by society, I mean the mainstream media, fashion and advertising industries because they continue to be the gatekeepers of what our culture thinks is physically attractive, desirable and ‘normal’.

Our body image challenges – no make-up last week, ‘a body part I used to cover up’ this week – are just that. Challenges. Challenges to a society that tells 99.9% of us that we don’t conform to some pre-determined standard of what a woman ‘should’ look like. Challenges to ourselves because so many of us have bought this crappy idea after decades of being exposed to impossible images.


Body image is not the same thing as self-esteem but it’s totally disingenuous to think they’re not related. For as long as humans continue to have eyes, body image will continue to effect our self esteem. Should it effect it less than it does? Hell yes. HELL YES. And we will continue to write about that too.

Are there many, many things in the world that won’t be changed by a few hundred women in Australia posting photos of themselves to celebrate diversity?

Well sure. Female genital mutilation, I’m looking at you.

But just because things could be worse doesn’t mean they can’t also be better. And caring about small things doesn’t mean you can’t also care about big ones.

Posting an #mmbodypositive selfie or taking a look at our Body Positive Project doesn’t mean you can’t also have a passionate view about paid parental leave policy or fertility choices or any of the other myriad issues affecting women.

But I disagree that it’s pointless or hypocritical. What a cynical, pessimistic position to take. Even if it makes one woman feel more normal and less excluded by a media who portrays us in one glossy, tiny, Photoshopped, plastic package …. or makes one woman reject shame about her body, it’s worth it.


Do you think encouraging positive body image like through the Mamamia Body Positive Project, is an important cause? Can you think of a different way to be doing it?