There doesn’t seem to be much motivation for the photo challenge. That may be by design.
Celebrities such as Gabrielle Union, Kristen Bell, and Kerry Washington have accepted the “challenge,” which appears to involve posting a black-and-white image of yourself as a sign of women’s empowerment. There is no obvious social justice here, other than encouraging women to share photos of themselves where they feel safe.
It works like this: Women nominate each other to post a monochrome image of themselves that they allegedly like. They share their photo, usually with the caption “Challenge Accepted” and the hashtag #womensupportingwomen, and tag other women to post theirs.
It’s reminiscent of the Dolly Parton challenge, which encouraged users to post four different images of themselves that they would use as hypothetical headshots for different social media sites like LinkedIn and Tinder (one studious photo for LinkedIn; one more sensual photo for Tinder). That worked primarily as a vehicle for users to post four flattering photos of themselves at once.
Ava Duvernay mentioned that in her “accepted challenge” post. The “Selma” director shared a surprising black and white head shot and said she was “pretty sure this is just a good excuse to post photos,” but relented at the behest of her friends.
Other celebrities interpreted the challenge as a show of brotherly support. Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson shared a selfie and wrote, “It is NOT a challenge to love my sisters, but a gift and bond that we have and that we must value as we walk this earth.”
Critics of the challenge have called it an empty gesture obstructing social media during the dual crisis of protests against racism and the Covid-19 pandemic. Participants defend the photo challenge as a harmless way to support their friends and take a breather from those crises.
So others have tried to incorporate racial justice into their posts. After sharing an image of herself, Padma Lakshmi, host of Hulu’s “Top Chef” and “Taste the Nation,” included four images of black women killed during or after interactions with the police, including Breonna Taylor and Sandra Bland, along with information about their stories and the status of the officers involved in their deaths.
Many more non-celebrities also post their own “challenge accepted” photos – the phrase has been used more than 4 million times on Instagram. But the hashtag reappears from time to time. Recently, international Instagram users were using the hashtag with images to show that they were staying home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.