This week, I've started to see #smearforsmear pop up on Twitter and Instagram a lot. The idea is that you smear your lipstick, post a selfie and hey presto! Suddenly women everywhere realise they need to book a smear test. Only it doesn't quite work like that, does it?
To me, this seems symptomatic of a recent trend for narcissistic self-promotion disguised as charity work, usually under the guise of "raising awareness". Just like the no make up selfie, supposedly to help raise awareness of cancer (because apparently we're not aware of it enough) and the Ice Bucket Challenge before it, again intended to make people aware of ALS, our social media pages are being flooded with people posting photos of themselves in the name of a good cause. Admittedly, there are benefits to this as both trends did increase donations to their respective causes but research also suggests only 10% of people taking part in these campaigns actually donate. Which raises the question- Why would people join in if they don't intend to contribute?
This becomes even more tricky when the issue doesn't lend itself to charitable causes and instead tries to push people into action like that blooming panic button campaign. Smear for smear is a great example of this. As a young woman over the age of 25, seeing some Hollyoaks actress with smudged lipstick is hardly an incentive to get tested. Do you know what is an incentive? Talking about it!
It's as simple as that. Share your experiences. Discuss the procedure and reassure women that it's not as scary as you'd expect. From what I've seen, celebrities as well known as Rita Ora and Georgia May Jagger are posting their selfies but are not actually talking about their experiences. What does that achieve exactly?
I got the letter in 2013, just after my 25th birthday but I totally forgot to sort it out until I started visiting the doctor regularly a few months later and he noticed I hadn't been screened. All I had to do was go to the receptionist, ask to book in for a cervical screening and she fixed a date. So far, so easy.
On the day I was admittedly a little nervous. However, the nurse I had was absolutely lovely and put me totally at ease. I had to strip my bottom half (I'd recommend wearing a dress as you can just hoik the skirt up and may feel a bit less naked) and lie on my back with my knees up, then let them fall to either side.
I'll admit this bit was terrifying, but only because she had a lamp pointed down there and it was casting a huge menacing shadow on to the wall beside me, complete with a speculum longer than my arm span (it was just the effect of the shadow, don't worry!) She warned me that the speculum may be a bit cold, although it wasn't as it turns out, popped it in and then put the little brush in.
This is the bit that sounds horrible but I can promise you, it's not. It's about the size of a cotton bud so absolutely tiny and, by the time you're aware of the sensation, it's out again. That's it! She pulled the curtains closed so I could get dressed in privacy and then I was free to leave.
The whole process took maybe three minutes. In fact, my mum had dropped me off and was just sending a text before planning to meet me in the waiting room but I got back to the car before she'd had a chance to get out. A couple of weeks later, I called up and was told that everything was normal and that was it. I don't need to go back now until 2016, three years after my first screening.
I totally understand why girls are scared by the process and why they put it off for so long but you have my word that it is no big deal at all. I was surprised by just how quick and easy it was, and was so glad that I hadn't procrastinated and built it up as a big scary thing. If you're over 25 and you haven't booked your test yet, do it now! If it is terrifying and painful, I give you permission to tell me off (because I swear it won't be!)
Now, isn't that a lot more reassuring than a photo of smudged lipstick? Of course I'm not saying don't get involved with the Smear for Smear campaign but, if you do, share your experience. It's only by talking about it that we can really dispel the myths and encourage women to get tested.
If you've written your own post on your smear test experience, please do send me a link. I'd love to create a whole list of honest recounts from bloggers so we can have a huge range of different experiences.