Image: Shutterstock

Goal 5: Gender Equality

What Is The Meaning Behind The Black & White Instagram Challenge? 

How the message of #challengeaccepted got lost

By hannah rochell
29 july 2020

If you’re an Instagram user, you will have noticed over the last few days your feed being flooded with flattering black and white pictures of the women you follow, often with the cryptic hashtag #challengeaccepted or #blackandwhitechallenge, as well as the rather more enlightening #womensupportingwomen. Perhaps you’ve even posted one of yourself. But somewhere along the line, the true message of this chain mail-style challenge seems to have got lost. Even Friends megastar Jennifer Aniston captioned her picture ‘Truth be told, I don’t really understand this #challengeaccepted thing…’ before encouraging her followers to vote for issues that affect women. So how did this Instagram phenomenon originate?

The hashtag #challengeaccepted accompanied by a black and white picture first began doing the rounds back in 2016 as a message of cancer awareness, and has since been used in various guises as a tool for spreading positivity. In 2020 when the world and its inhabitants are under so much stress for so many reasons, it’s understandable that people are keen to do just that - uplifting other women in our lives has to be a good thing, right? But the current incarnation of the movement has also garnered some criticism. So what are the issues?

Raising awareness of Turkish femicide

It’s thought that the latest trend for #challengeaccepted began in order to raise awareness about the high numbers of Turkish women being murdered every week. In July alone, there have been 40 femicides in the country. The killers, often known to the victims, are usually let off lightly for their crimes, if punished at all. Campaigners began using the black and white photo challenge because Turkish people see so many black and white pictures of women who have been murdered on the news, in the papers and on social media. It was meant to be a way of standing in solidarity with the women who have lost their lives, and acknowledging that it could have been you. To find out more follow @auturkishculturalclub.

Uplifting other women, rather than ourselves

Many argued that by posting “a picture of yourself looking beautiful”, as the request was often phrased, women were in fact joining in on a vanity project, rather than uplifting the women that have inspired them. This sparked another trend of posting a black and white picture of someone else instead, as our Goal 8 #TOGETHERBAND ambassador Halima chose to do with a picture of Amina Hersi Moghe. ‘I want to shine light on a woman who inspired an entire generation of women,’ she said in her caption. ‘She will forever be my woman crush everyday.’

Using the hashtag to trick the algorithm

Instagram is a tricky beast, and when the likes become your business, numbers really matter. But the lazy use of a trending hashtag in order to get the algorithm on side, rather than to spread an important message about violence against women, was problematic for many. ‘Social media is such a powerful tool for enacting social change,’ says the author Otegha Uwagba on Instagram in a statement on the subject. ‘But it honestly feels like a lot of us are lost in the sauce when it comes to what can truly be considered ‘activism’ or merely productive.’

There are more effective ways to support women

For the most part, anyone criticising the movement did so with grace, without overtly slamming other women for posting pictures of themselves, giving people the benefit of the doubt for not knowing the true origins, and taking the time to explain why they found it problematic. When people posted black squares mistakenly with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter instead of the intended #blackouttuesday, it caused issues with people trying to find helpful information about where to donate and how to protest. Perhaps this latest trend serves as a reminder to do some research before joining in with an Instagram challenge. 

And if you really want to support other women, there are probably more effective ways of doing so. Donate to a women’s charity or shelter. Have difficult conversations with people who pander to the patriarchy. Support trans women’s rights. And then, by all means, post that picture on Instagram, too.

100% of profits from sales of Goal 5 #TOGETHERBANDs go to the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative