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Look at that fabulous picture up there. Does it make you smile? Think it’s a story about motivation and joy and taking back your own power?
Sorry. It’s a story about a “self help” magazine asking a woman if they could use her photo in their magazine and then pulling a total hater move and making fun of her in the captions.
Apparently Self magazine contacted San Diego runner Monika Allen seeking permission to use her photo in the April issue of the magazine. Monika said yes, and was understandably excited to see her picture in the magazine. The online version of the magazine is already out. And she’s excited all right, but not in a good way.
The photo appeared in a section of the magazine called the BS Meter. Next to the photo was this copy:
“A racing tutu epidemic has struck New York’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.”
Cue rimshot. Slow hand clap. You see what they did there? Run from you faster. Makes you wonder why magazine circulation numbers are crashing, right?
Now I’m sure the writer from Self was feeling pretty proud for their little moment, except maybe there’s a little research this writer failed to do. Like the research that indicated this was Monika’s first run since being diagnosed with brain cancer. And she was wearing this costume to help her feel motivated to keep running while she was undergoing chemotherapy. And she makes and sells the skirts to raise money for Girls on the Run, a charity that sponsors exercise and confidence-building programs for young girls.
Not surprisingly the backlash online has been sort of epic. This is what we in the biz refer to as a public relations nightmare of epic proportions. This is a “hey kid, you’re fired” kind of maneuver. Monika sent an email to Self saying how upset she was for the way the picture was used. And she took to traditional and social media to tell the world how upset she was as well.
Since the story originally aired and went viral, the Editor in Chief of Self magazine “apologized” on her twitter account and sent an email apology to the local news station with this little gem:
“in our attempt to be humorous, we were inadvertently insensitive.”
“I have sincerely apologized both directly to Monika and her supporters online. 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 would like to cover her good work in a future issue,” the statement reads. “We wish her all the best in her road to good health.”
Let’s deconstruct, shall we? “We thought we were being funny but we didn’t know that she would have a disease that people don’t think is funny. Had we known that this woman had the “Big C” we would have written a tear-jerker style exploitative piece instead of a snark piece. I mean come on! How were we supposed to know she had cancer. If we had known, that would have meant we were overtly insensitive, but since we didn’t know, we were inadvertently sensitive. We have sincerely apologized in public because the public is mad and it hurts when people write mean things online. (Although when people are mad they do comment more and our engagement numbers are up, but you can’t have everything.) At our publication we support women like Monika when it suits us and humiliate women like Monika when we feel like it. We have donated to her charity because hey money makes everything better and we’re kinda terrified that we will get sued. We’d like to cover her in a future issue because usually promising “exposure” to people gets them to accept just about anything. We wish her all the best in her recovery, because frankly, if this broad kicks the bucket, a few of us are going back to copy editing at Pennysaver.”
Speaking of being sued, please note that the above paragraph is not actually quoted from anybody at Self magazine. I made it up. And if it’s insensitive, I did it very much on purpose.
I wish Monika the best. I think she is frankly going to sell a LOT more tutus after this. And I think she is a woman we can all admire. But I think this is an indicator. It is really, really bad out there. When a newsstand publication thinks that they can get permission to use a photo depicting a conventionally beautiful woman and shame her in front of the world, it’s pretty bad out there. And for those of us who don’t meet the conventional standards of beauty, it’s a field day. If you are a fat, gorgeous, tattooed woman who dares to post a picture of yourself in a fabulous polka dot bikini, you just might find your picture used without your permission to sell diet ads. And when you go after the company, they will just make some excuse about how it’s the fault of their affiliates. Because they feel pretty confident that they can do whatever they want to you. Because if you are not conventionally beautiful, you are fair game.
In fact, no one is safe from being abused online. Nobody. Don’t believe me? Check out this amazing Ted Talk from the gorgeous and talented Maysoon Zayid, “I have 99 Problems…Palsy is Just One.” When you have a minute, I encourage you to watch the whole thing. It is well worth your time. It was especially touching to me to hear her say, at about 12 minutes in to her presentation:
“The doctor said I would never walk. Yet here I am in front of you. But I grew up with social media, I don’t think I would be. I hope that together, we can create more positive images of disability in the media and in every day life. Perhaps if there were more positive images, it would foster less hate on the internet. Or maybe not. Maybe it still takes a village to teach our children well.”
I wonder. I wonder how many powerful and world-changing people are being crushed under the need for some hater to get their three seconds of fame in the comments section. I wonder how the search for snark is helping to foster the utter disregard for people’s lives and their well-being. I wonder how many of our generation’s revolutionary leaders are smashed when their photos are misappropriated and tagged in an amusing meme. I wonder how much more I could accomplish if I didn’t get nasty comments and hate mail every freaking day of my life.
Here’s hoping we can be part of the village that helps to lift one another out of the battle ground of the comments section and fight the good fight of making the world a better place.
Love, Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
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Want to learn to face the spring holidays with more joy and less trauma? My dear friend and colleague Golda Poretsky is offering a HAES for the Holidays course just for spring. I am an affiliate, so if you join her class, you can support me at the same time. Win, win WIN!