Yesterday I read a disturbing story involving Self magazine. Apparently Monika Allen was contacted by Self magazine. Self wanted to use a picture of Ms. Allen running the LA marathon in a tutu. Monika Allen consented to the use of her image in the magazine thinking it would be great publicity for her company Glam Runner. Glam Runner makes tutus and a percentage of the proceeds supports the girls running program “Girls on the Run”. Ms. Allen was mortified when she found out that she was featured in a segment called the “BS meter” that belittled running in tutus, saying they were only successful in making people run away from you faster.
The thought of any female runner being ridiculed in a women’s magazine was upsetting to me. I will never understand why women think it is appropriate to be unkind, hurtful and cruel to one another. The aspect of this story that was personally horrifying to me is the fact that Monika Allen was undergoing chemotherapy for brain cancer when the photo in question was taken. When I first read the story, I thought, “Whether or not she was undergoing chemo is irrelevant.” However, I could not stop thinking about this story over the last 24 hours.The fact that Ms Allen had brain cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy does matter. I will address that in a moment.
Magazines that are aimed at women often attempt to keep their readership loyal to their content by using thinly veiled fear tactics. The message is that women have to keep reading the magazines in an attempt to be pretty enough, sexy enough, thin enough and stylish enough. For any woman to find herself featured in the way that Ms. Allen was would be horrifying. As someone who is currently undergoing chemotherapy, seeing her being publicly shamed makes me feel outraged on her behalf. Cancer or not, it was wrong for Self to do. The gross insult of what cancer does to our bodies makes it much worse.
Cancer survivors have already had to endure so much indignity. We have our bodies cut open. We have organs removed. We have multiple tests, some of which are quite invasive. We have radiation treatments. We have chemo ports inserted into our bodies, sometimes for many years. We endure chemotherapy. Though the chemo drugs have different side effects, we often deal with outwardly obvious issues, such losing our hair, weight loss, weight gain, nausea and severely changes. Our bodies are altered forever both internally and externally.
While I have not been shy about showing people my surgical scar or my port, I have, in my moments of insecurity, wondered what people think. I remember when I first got my port put in, I wondered if people could see it or if I somehow just seemed different. I have wondered if the chemotherapy is going to have life long effects on my body besides just the cancer it is targeting. I am not ashamed of my scars, but I am aware of how different my physical being right now is from what it was six months ago. As a cancer survivor, we are proud of ourselves for fighting, and yet we still can find ourselves in a state of disbelief over the rapid changes we have physically endured.
There are other seemingly small aspects of life that may make cancer survivors feel like we stand out. When you have cancer or any other serious illness, you have to take steps to protect yourself from getting sick. I know when I go into school or go grocery shopping, I often wear gloves to protect myself from acquiring an illness. Having been sick already once during chemo, I am hoping to avoid being sick again. Wearing gloves attracts unwanted attention, though. I think at first, my kids were embarrassed to see me coming to their schools that way. I understand this because I know I hope no one notices them when I am out in public. This week I had not one but TWO grocery store employees comment on the fact that I was wearing gloves. I was very embarrassed by what felt like negative attention and a reminder that there is something “wrong” with me.
Because I understand the physical and emotional impacts of surviving cancer, I do think it is somehow “worse” that Self’s target for snarky insults was a woman who was undergoing chemo. Monika Allen is both brave and beautiful. That she chose to tackle a marathon while undergoing chemo makes her a rock star in my book. That she chooses to wear a tutu that she designed because it makes her feel empowered and pretty is pretty damned cool. Furthermore, the fact that she has used her negative circumstances to financially support a running program that benefits young girls is commendable. Women’s magazines should be showcasing women like Monika Allen for exhibiting strength and grace in the most difficult of circumstances.
Publicly humiliating any other human being is wrong. Publicly shaming a human being who has already suffered enough insult and injury is cruel on a whole other level. To my fellow human beings, please do not tolerate this kind of nastiness no matter who it is directed towards. To those of you who have lived through cancer or any other serious illness, I say let’s follow Monika Allen’s example. Be proud of yourself for surviving. Keep living full lives, challenge yourself, hold your heads high and take every opportunity to turn a negative situation into a positive. I have never worn a tutu in a race, but thanks to Self magazine, I just may start.