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January 13, 2021

That Viral B&W Photo Challenge—First, I was Hurt. Now, I’m Mad.

If you are a woman and active on Facebook, you’ve likely seen this post in your feed:

“Challenge Accepted! #24hrs. If I tagged you, don’t disappoint me. If I didn’t tag you, please, no offense. I tried to choose people I thought would make it fun! With all the negativity out there, let’s do something positive!

Upload 1 Black & White Picture of yourself…just you! Then tag so many beautiful women to do the same. (FB only allows 50.) We will build ourselves, instead of tearing us apart.

Copy and paste…

I was tagged by…(fill in the name of the beautiful woman who tagged you).”  

I apologize ahead of time to the women who have responded to this challenge, posted a black and white photo of themselves, and tagged other women asking them to do the same.

You may find my views upsetting and may possibly want to lash out. So be it. I will also try my best to not make this a rant, but speak out I must.

#ChallengeAccepted started out on Instagram in 2016. People posted photos of themselves, some black and white, some full color, with the #ChallengeAccepted hashtag. They tagged their friends and encouraged them to do the same.

This challenge began with the intention of raising awareness about cancer—an important cause. Although anyone who has been alive in the 20th and 21st century has likely been touched by the big “C” in one way or another, supporting cancer patients and researchers through social media is preferable to spreading things like white supremacy hatred, for example.

Since then, different communities have used the #ChallengeAccepted hashtag and morphed it into #24hrs. Sometimes, it’s about posting an “ugly” picture of yourself, or a photo of your “imperfect” body, or your face without makeup.

There is a #womensupportingwomen hashtag to raise awareness for #femicide in Turkey. The caption reads:

“Too often, some women find it easier to criticize each other or themselves instead of building each other up. With all the negativity going around let’s do something positive! Upload 1 picture of yourself…ONLY YOU. Then tag 10 more women to do the same.”

Some men are apparently spreading a similar message, although none have passed through my feed.

Now that you have some background on the social media challenge, I will share my story.

In the early 80s, I was a fresh immigrant in Canada. My family settled in a small, northern Alberta town and I started my first year in Canada as a student in eighth grade. I did not speak English. I did not have a best friend, or any friend for that matter. I had one pair of denim overalls my parents purchased for me in Vienna the previous winter, which was all the fashion craze in Europe, but in Edson, not so much. I give you this background to paint a picture of my state of mind and heart at the time.

One of the popular games in physical education class was dodgeball. The teacher would select two team captains who would call out names of students for their teams. It’s no surprise that I was usually one of the last to be picked, with other unpopular kids. I vividly remember the feeling of being invisible. I tried not to care, but I did care about not being picked. It hurt each and every time.

Looking back, it was the kids who were the most sensitive, with the least amount of athletic ability, who were left standing, not making eye contact, and pretending their hearts and spirits were not bleeding.

Sure, there are those out there who would say this was character building, that it thickened our skin and made us who we are today. If you are one of those people, I’ll let you in on a secret: it did the opposite. It forced us to climb deep inside ourselves and build walls around our tender hearts. It caused us to withdraw and disappear completely. We were not chosen. We were not picked. We were singled out and laughed at. Not fun. It’s taken me years to heal these wounds and become the woman I am today.

“If I tagged you, don’t disappoint me.”

When the latest #24hrs challenge started flowing through my feed, more and more women were posting their black and white pics and tagging their friends to do the same. The challenge warns the one who has been tagged, “to not disappoint whoever tagged them.” Talk about pressure. If you are a codependent like me, you will want to please the Facebook friend who chose to tag you without thinking too much about what the challenge is actually supporting.

“If I didn’t tag you, please, no offense.”

I’m back in eighth grade, not being picked for dodgeball. The fact that the post actually asks you to not take offense will bring attention to the sharp feelings of exclusion. Let’s get real. I did take offense, and I am baffled by how many women fail to realize that while choosing some, there’ll be others you’re leaving out. This is nowhere more obvious than on social media.

“I tried to choose people I thought would make it fun!”

This line. Ouch! The tagger is in charge of deciding who is fun and who isn’t. If, in their mind, you are not “fun,” then sorry, hun, but this one’s not for you. Don’t take offense. Talk about creating polarity.

I’ve stayed with my feelings about this particular challenge gone viral for seven days now. At first I was hurt, not realizing that it was my wound of being picked last that had been activated, and I’d sigh and move on with my day. But as more of these posts filled my feed, the sadness I felt initially was replaced by curiosity at my reaction, and then frustration, and now anger.

#24hrs is far from inclusive. It’s divisive.

I miss the point of how posting a black and white pic of myself is going to “lift me up,” or any other woman out there for that matter. Sure I could start my own challenge and be the picker this time, the one choosing players for my team, but for what cause? No thank you.

Have you asked yourself: what is this challenge actually asking and is it of benefit to anyone?

Instead of cluttering Facebook feeds with black and white selfies of ourselves, I challenge all those reading this article to log off Facebook and Instagram right now. Pick up your phone and dial your friend’s number. Call someone—no plans, just dial—and when they pick up, say, “Hi, I was just thinking about you. How are you, really?” Connect in person if you can do so safely.

Make a difference by engaging in true connection.

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