Are flattering celeb photos really empowering? Why the 'women supporting women' Instagram challenge is dividing opinion

Marie Claire Dorking
·6-min read
Celebrities are taking part in the women supporting women challenge on Instagram. (Getty Images)
Celebrities are taking part in the women supporting women challenge on Instagram. (Getty Images)

Elizabeth Hurley, Jennifer Aniston and Holly Willoughby have joined millions of women taking part in the latest Instagram challenge.

If you’ve been wondering why your normally colourful Instagram feed has been taken over by beautiful black and white portraits, it’s all part of a new women supporting women challenge.

From the pillow challenge to the me at 20 challenge, we’ve seen plenty of Instagram challenges take over the site during the coronavirus pandemic, in a bid to raise spirits during lockdown.

The latest is the women supporting women challenge, a chain of black-and-white portraits, which aims to promote female empowerment – but not everyone is convinced that it achieves its aim.

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What is the women supporting women challenge?

The challenge is being spread via DM with the following message:

“There is a woman empowerment challenge going around on Instagram. I think you are so bad ass and amazing and I was careful to choose who I think will meet the challenge... but above all I chose women I know who share my values and views of the world. You are one of those women. Post a photo in black and white alone, written “challenge accepted” and mention my name. Identify 50 women to do the same, in private. I chose you because you are beautiful, strong and incredible. Let's ❤️ each other!”

Participants share a black and white photo of themselves on Instagram and tag other women to keep the chain going.

Once you are tagged, you use the hashtag #womensupportingwomen and write “challenge accepted” in the caption for your black and white portrait.

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Where did the challenge originate?

While it isn’t known exactly where or how the challenge started, the “challenge accepted” aspect of the trend isn’t entirely new.

As Metro UK reports, sharing black-and-white photos with the phrase can be traced back to a 2016 challenge to raise cancer awareness. And the hashtag has popped up several times since then, most recently back in March, as a way to stay connected with loved ones and sprinkle a little online positivity.

Despite not knowing the origin, the challenge has quickly gained traction, with #challengeaccepted gaining over three million tags on Instagram, #womensupportingwomen clocking up over six million tags, and #blackandwhitechallenge having just over a million uses.

Which celebrities have taken part?

Jennifer Aniston, Kerry Washington, and Eva Longoria are just a few of the Hollywood stars that have accepted the challenge and kept it going.

Many who have taken part, including Zoe Saldana, have shared their pride in the solidarity being demonstrated through the challenge.

While Reese Witherspoon used the challenge as an opportunity to show her thanks to the empowering women in her life.

“Thank you to all the magical women in my life for the endless love and support. May we all continue to shine a light on one another,” the actor wrote.

“This is what sisterhood is all about.”

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Brits Holly Willoughby, Victoria Beckham and Elizabeth Hurley also joined the celebrities backing the Insta trend.

Beckham also posted a snap of her daughter Harper, while Willoughby shared a stunning selfie in black and white.

Hurley opted to share a risqué topless shot for her own black and white selfie.

“It’s the season of silly challenges, but this is a sweet one,” she wrote in the accompanying caption.

Read more: People are taking part in the 'Vogue challenge' to promote diversity in fashion

Where does the criticism stem from?

While those taking part in the challenge are likely to be doing so in good faith and to celebrate the female role models in their lives, some criticism has emerged online, with people questioning the validity of the challenge in terms of whether it actually helps to empower women.

In an article for the NY Times, writer Taylor Lorenz questioned the impact sharing flattering selfies was actually having.

“Though the portraits have spread widely, the posts themselves say very little,” she wrote. “Like the black square, which became a symbol of solidarity with Black people but asked very little of those who shared it, the black-and-white selfie allows users to feel as if they’re taking a stand while saying almost nothing.”

Others shared their confusion about what the challenge actually stood for and hoped to achieve.

“What is the point of this #ChallengeAccepted thing?” Camilla Blackett, a TV writer tweeted on Monday.

“Do people not know you can just post a hot selfie for no reason?”

Others questioned whether a timeline of beautiful images (because of course you’re going to pick a good shot) can really help other women feel empowered?

But those defending the challenge argued that it is perfectly ok to share your favourite image in the name of the sisterhood and that questioning the point of the challenge was in fact missing the point.

Despite the criticism, many commenters on social media have pointed out that if the challenge helps to encourage women to feel good about themselves and spread female love, then it will ultimately have had a positive impact – and surely that is only to be celebrated?