As you may have noticed, the latest social media version of a chain letter is here: #ChallengeAccepted, which has resulted in several million black-and-white photos of women flooding everyone’s Instagram feed.
“We rise together when we lift each other up,” say the captions for the global women’s visibility trend, with photos that show women’s faces or full bodies, doing everything from posing — in a bikini, on a mountaintop, on a yoga mat, in bed, with free weights or dogs or babies — to eating, laughing, caressing pregnant bellies or presenting mastectomy scars.
There are endless versions of the caption — “women supporting women,” “stop waiting for permission to be great,” “there is nothing we can’t do!” and even, increasingly, “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.” But the bottom line is clear: Women have value, especially when they lift each other up.
So, how does one get “challenged”? First, you receive a private Instagram message, a sort of nomination, from another woman you know who finds you “amazing,” or “bad-ass,” or “beautiful, strong and incredible” or of similar values, asking you to post a black-and-white photo of yourself. Then, in addition to posting the photo, you are to tag the friend who challenged you and keep the trend going by sending private DMs to 50 — yes 50 — other cool women you know.
The hashtag, which appears to have started several days ago, has exploded. But in addition to being extremely time-consuming for anyone who takes part and providing some beautiful images for anyone paying attention, what’s it all about?
Theories of origin
According to the New York Times, which checked in with Instagram about the trend, there are a couple of explanations: One, that the idea of “women supporting women” as a powerful act came on the heels of last week’s much-lauded speech by Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, in which she lambasted Rep. Ted Yoho for his sexist comments toward her.
But others say that the challenge was actually kicked off by women in Turkey, who recently started sharing black-and-white photos to raise awareness of femicide. “Turkish people wake up every day to see a black-and-white photo of a woman who has been murdered on their Instagram feed, on their newspapers, on their TV screens,” many women have shared along with their photos in response to the viral trend. “The black-and-white photos challenge started as a way for women to raise their voice. To stand in solidarity with the women we have lost… I have seen many of my international friends participate in this challenge without knowing the meaning.”
just thought all of you posting these "black and white" challenges should see how tone deaf they actually are xx pic.twitter.com/WdQzQqMlza
— ايمأن 🇵🇸 (@imaann_patel) July 28, 2020
Further confusing the roots here, a representative from Instagram told the New York Times that the earliest such post the company could find — at least for this current version of the challenge (which was last seen in 2016 to raise cancer awareness) —was posted from Brazil, on July 17, by the Brazilian journalist Ana Paula Padrão.
Who’s participating, and what’s the point?
It’s women, all women, from your best friends to A-list celebs — including Kristen Bell, Eva Longoria, Kerry Washington, Cindy Crawford, Hillary Duff, Gabrielle Union, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Aniston, Ivanka Trump, Octavia Spencer, Jennifer Lopez, Viola Davis and more.
But not everyone’s interpreting the challenge in the same way…
In addition to the many pointing toward the Turkish theory and using their posts as a way to bring attention to the country’s high murder rates of women while also taking aim at women allegedly co-opting the trend for more watered-down reasons, some are taking the opportunity to call for action on social justice issues. Jessica Biel, for example, who posted a playful photo of herself with fat curlers in her hair, seized the chance to talk about the importance of voting, offering a tip on how to check your registration status and get an absentee ballot.
But the most common above-and-beyond use of the challenge is in calling for justice for Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black EMT who was fatally shot in March, in her own home, by Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officers who had busted in, and who have still not been arrested. To that end, Chelsea Handler made that her message, while many other women have started posting photos of Taylor instead of themselves, adding either supportive captions or links to actionable items.
Speaking of shade…
Not everyone’s thrilled with the trend, either, with some likening it to the recent one in which people posted black squares on Instagram as a way to show support for Black Lives Matter — something largely derided by actual activists as being lazy and performative.
This right here is what's wrong with performative feminism. It seeks performance above everything else. It lets oppressors go scot-free as it demands nothing of them. It lets the ruling class co-opt these performances and render them completely meaningless. #ChallengeAccepted pic.twitter.com/Q2WfvkAQrT
— Kafka's K (@Kavzi) July 28, 2020
No one tagged me in the #ChallengeAccepted nonsense because my friends know I don't participate in useless performative bullshit.
— QuaranTisdale (@Jenn_Tisdale) July 28, 2020
#ChallengeAccepted is just another black square. Performative and problematic that we could think something as nuanced and complicated as “empowering women” can be reduced to a picture and a copy/pasted private DM.
— Laura Lape (@Laura_Lape) July 27, 2020
— The Tab (@TheTab) July 28, 2020
The thing about IG is that it is a stage not reality.
This means, no matter your intentions, things like #ChallengeAccepted will always be performative.
Great piece by @TaylorLorenz
— Allies must help now. (@social_allie) July 27, 2020
For her part in the New York Times piece, Taylor Lorenz quoted a handful of influential women who told her they were confused by the challenge, saw it as pointless and suggested instead sharing “photos of books, articles, products and charities that benefit women.”
Of course, there’s also been a backlash against the backlash.
This is my friend, Danielle. She is one of the most passiono and hardest working people I know. Some people may call the #ChallengeAccepted movement "performative" but I see it has giving positivity to a lot of womxn who may need it right now and...so what?? #WomenSupportingWomen https://t.co/al6yeo1Eg2
— Layla: in perpetual state of disappoinment 🌎 (@Bouzoulay) July 28, 2020
Imagine going off and writing a think piece because a group of women decided to make themselves (and others) feel good when they are
1. Not harming anyone
2. Not breaking any law
3. Uplifting and sending kind words to each other.#ChallengeAccepted
— Rich Aunty (@OnyinyeOlufunmi) July 28, 2020
But it wouldn’t be social media without it.
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