Photo credit: MagMos/ iStock/360/ Getty Images
San Diego runner Monika Allen was pretty excited to hear from SELF magazine. Someone from the publication asked her if they could have permission to publish a fantastic photo of her running a marathon in a Wonder Woman costume, complete with a tutu, in SELF's April print issue.
Seems nice, right?
Not so much.
Bullying in print
Allen granted permission to SELF to publish her picture… because why wouldn’t she? The photo was of her killing it in a marathon in the middle of chemotherapy, which she was undergoing for a brain tumor. Plus, she owns a company called Glam Runner. Allen's endeavor makes and sells tutus. Proceeds from the sales are donated to Girls On The Run, an organization Allen's website sums up as "a life-changing 12-week program for girls 8-13 years old that encourages positive emotional, social, mental and physical development, all while training the girls for a 5K race."
What Allen didn’t expect was to see her photo published in the April issue of SELF under the headline “The BS Meter.” The caption was equally offensive: “A racing tutu epidemic has struck NYC's Central Park, and it's all because people think these froufrou skirts make you run faster. Now, if you told us they made people run from you faster, maybe we would believe it."
A jerk move
"The reason we were wearing those outfits is because this was my first marathon running with brain cancer," Allen told NBC San Diego. So SELF magazine more or less mocked a woman for what she was wearing in a presumably empowering race in the middle of her fight against cancer.
I'm confident I don't need to explain why that's so awful.
Following much criticism, SELF posted an "apology" on its Facebook page on Thursday:
"On behalf of SELF, we sincerely apologize for our inadvertent insensitivity. I have personally reached out to Monika and her supporters online to apologize for the misstep and tell them we are trying to remedy the situation. At SELF we support women such as Monika; she is an inspiration and embodies the qualities we admire. We have donated to her charity and have offered to cover her good work in a future issue. We wish her all the best on her road to good health.
Missing the point
That apology is weak at best, and two things really bother me. The first is that it implies — or almost states — that had Allen not been battling cancer, it would have been OK to ask her for permission to use her photo, and to subsequently publish and make fun of it.
Come on, SELF. Why are you tearing down women for the way they dress while engaging in exercise and healthy life choices — the very things your publication presumably promotes? Sure, you said you're sorry, but that's clearly because Allen was battling cancer.
The logical conclusion, based on the wording of SELF's apology, is that if Allen didn't have cancer, this mocking would have been A-OK. Saying SELF supports "women such as Monika" and making a donation to her charity doesn't undo the fact that the magazine made fun of a woman for what she wore. So if she weren't undergoing chemotherapy, it would be acceptable to refer to what a woman wears while running as "BS?" (Spoiler alert: No, it's not OK to degrade women for their clothing.)
The second thing that really bothers me is the initial action of the person who reached out to Allen to ask her for permission to use her photo. I curate content for a well-read website. When I contact someone to ask them permission to re-publish their photos, I know that they're trusting me not to misrepresent their work. Surely the individual from SELF who emailed Allen and asked her for permission to re-print the photo in the April issue knew it wouldn't be presented in a favorable light. And yet he or she left that vital piece of information out?
If they intended to tear her down in their publication, the person who emailed Allen should have been honest about what would become of that photo. I tell my kids that lying by omission is still lying. My kids are 5 and 7 years old and they get it. Surely an adult in the publishing industry knows this.
Moving beyond drivel
Shortly after my husband and I adopted our first child, I decided I didn't want my son (and later, my daughter), growing up with drivel lying around the house. So I let all of my many magazine subscriptions, including SELF, expire. While I did it as a parent who was making a choice to create a healthy environment for my family, it turns out that it was an excellent choice for me. Not only did I not miss the junk, I felt better about myself for no longer viewing it.
Incidents like this serve to remind me that even though it's 2014, we are so not past making women's appearance and choice of clothing a source of ridicule — even in a women's magazine. We can do so much better than tear each other down, and I know this because I'm surrounded by women who are supportive. It will be nice when publications like SELF magazine join the rest of us who choose to lift women up.