NEW YORK (MainStreet) Recently, certain public displays such as the "selfie" have been trending on social media as a means for spreading awareness of chronic illnesses. The public has begun to use outlets like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to post photos of all sorts, claiming that they are an expression of solidarity in fighting various diseases, the majority of which are cancers.
The discussion on the table now is this: what is the driving force behind these photos? Are they purely altruistic, or instead fueled by vanity? While spreading awareness for chronic illnesses is, in itself, considered a noble action, these new demonstrations are enough to make a person wonder where the line is drawn between the two forces. While some of these photos can be powerful and moving, others, such as the "no makeup selfie" for breast cancer, call into question the motive of the photographers.
Michal Ann Strahilevitz, professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California, is a researcher on the topic of charitable giving. Strahilevitz weighs in on the subject by explaining how donating to charities and spreading awareness can sometimes be a selfish, not selfless act, making people feel good about themselves. So, while helping out different causes is known to be generous, people also enjoy the feeling of satisfaction that it gives them internally.
"We can say that people's motivation for good deeds should be pure altruism, but research shows that often there is more than one motive for giving," says Strahilevitz. "There is a warm glow we get from helping others. There is also the fact that it improves our self-concept and potentially our self-esteem. Finally, there is improving our image to others, if others learn of our efforts for charity. All of this is the truth about giving-- we don't just give to help the cause, we also give for the good feelings it gives us."
And, while this self-gratification can be considered vain, drawing attention to a charity can still generate an overall positive effect.
Focusing in on the other side of things, Dr. Ramani Durvasula, licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology, finds that these modern times have brought about an epidemic of narcissism and now, more than ever, people are focused on gaining attention from others. She finds that people who tend to have a weaker ego require more attention and continue to push the envelope to the point where their actions become less about the charity and more about the hope of self-promotion.
It is her professional opinion that people most likely maintain that if their inappropriate or outrageous actions are done in the spirit of charity then that lends greater nobility to them. Durvasula explains that she "finds it hard to believe that these bizarre and at times inappropriate or just too disclosing images are really bringing in all that much money and instead are giving what feels like a legitimate platform for attention seekers to attention seek."
That can, in turn, do the charitable cause a disservice.
"The proliferation of this kind of thing is making the shock value less shocking so it will lose its novelty and its power over time anyhow," Durvasula said.
Lending to her point, there isn't always proof that these photos and posts are actually assisting with the monetary donation portions of the charities, and therefore may be more advantageous for gaining attention than they are for helping the cause.
By now you're probably wondering about the kinds of campaigns have been circulating the Internet for charity purposes. If you've even so much as skimmed the Internet over the past few weeks, there's a good chance that you've discovered what men have been doing with socks to raise awareness for testicular cancer. (Hint: the new trending hashtag is #cockinasock.) While the hashtag doesn't exactly require an explanation, here is one anyway: men are taking full-body selfies, mostly naked, with the exception of a sock covering their genitals and posting the pictures on social media.
These pictures are being said to promote awareness for testicular cancer, however something tells me that if a good-looking guy goes posting his cockinasock for the world to see, most people don't have "testicular cancer" as the first thought springing into their minds.
Keeping in tune with male cancers, let's not forget about how hairy all of our men get during the month of November. Now commonly referred to as "Movember," it is now the month that is known to raise money for prostate cancer and male health in general. Mustaches, beards, you name it guys morph into modern-day cavemen in order to raise such awareness. While many participate in raising actual donations for the cause, it extends some thought as to why we need to spend the last half of November brushing the leftover sandwich crumbs out of our boyfriends' 'staches instead of just donating money.
Women have also joined in with the movement of posting self-photos on social media. The "no makeup selfie" has since taken the world by storm in order to promote breast cancer awareness. The concept is that the women who participate in this promotion should be sponsored to go makeup-free, and the donations they receive will then be forwarded to the cause. However, since the trend started to grow, many social media users are forgetting to involve themselves in the donation side of the bargain.
Also in support of breast cancer, there have been private messages circulating Facebook that claim to be in support of the disease. These messages consist of funny phrases or words that users are supposed to post as their status, and then when their other Facebook friends comment on that status, the user is supposed to send them the private message with all of the rules. The message explains the game and why it's being done, and gives choices of outrageous, far-out phrases, such as "I have really bad diarrhea," or, "I lost my virginity last night" to post as the status.
Obviously, if one of your friends or relatives puts up a status about diarrhea or sex, chances are you're probably going to comment, just to find out what possessed her to write something like that on social media. Your comment will then be your ticket to receiving the message and continuing the chain. If anything, this is a great game that brings on a ton of laughs, but as far as what it does for breast cancer, that's still to be determined.
While it can be argued that modern times have created a worldwide obsession with people going above and beyond to gain attention from others, it must also be noted that if the attention is bringing awareness to charities for cancer or other chronic illness in the right manner, then it may not be such a terrible trend.
--Written by Ciara Larkin for MainStreet