Self editor-in-chief Lucy Danziger has apologized after mocking a brain cancer survivor Monika Allen in a recent issue of the magazine.
I’ve never read Self, but I popped by their website today. I didn’t stay long, less than a minute, but it was enough time to get the basic gist—Healthy Salad Recipe; Commit to Dropping Ten Pounds; Makeup To Make You Look Like You Don’t Wear Makeup. You know, just the essential elements that comprise your average Self.
And, yeah, it’s pretty bad when you make fun of a person for running a marathon in a tutu and then find out that person has brain cancer and makes the tutus herself so that she can sell them and donate the proceeds to a charity for children.
You know what else is not that great? Making fun of a person for running a marathon in a tutu even if it turns out that person is a run-of-the-mill healthy chick who bought her tutu from the soulless, foreign-owned corporation Tutus R Us.
But the fact that this publication, which allegedly promotes Women’s Health, would take pictures of women running in a marathon, then print them in a magazine and make fun of their outfits—that doesn’t seem to be the issue. The issue, the one that has ignited rage and lit up the Internet, is that the woman they made fun of has brain cancer.
Which makes me wonder—what the fuck is wrong with all of us?
Is it the Internet, you think? Or all those chemicals they put in our food? Or the drugs we’re all on so that we can go to sleep at night and get out of bed in the morning and have sex whenever we feel like it without having to worry we might get pregnant?
How did we end up in this culture that decrees we must Express Ourselves and Be Individuals and Try New Things and Dare to be Different and Just Do It while simultaneously encouraging us to mock and shame each other for looking silly or being weird or—God Forbid—fucking up?
I have actually, even in the not-so-distant past, been known to use the word “mean” as a compliment. ”S/he’s so mean!” I’ve crooned admiringly of someone whose trash-talk I equated with humor or intelligence or fearlessness or wit.
Lately, though, there’s been a shift. Now, when I hear someone say something unkind about someone else—even if it’s funny, even if it’s true—I sometimes feel a twist of physical discomfort in my sternum, a tightening in the back of my throat. That could be me, a voice whimpers in my head, or, more often, That has been me. I’ve said stupid things, made careless choices, worn silly outfits, posted inappropriate things online while under the influence of alcohol or anger or insecurity or fear.
The person I really feel sorry for in this whole tutu thing isn’t the chick with brain cancer (except for the part where she has brain cancer—that’s a bummer). Otherwise, though, she’s a cute girl who runs marathons, rocks a tutu, and has a charity that is now gonna get a shit-ton of attention and support—I bet Self Magazine has made a fairly sizable donation in the last twenty-four hours. No, the person I feel sorry for is whatever little staff writer got paid to come up with the several snarky lines that ran alongside the tutu-girl’s picture. I mean, that’s not anybody’s journalistic dream job—making fun of strangers’ clothes in a women’s magazine. It would be like finishing your MFA at Sarah Lawrence and announcing that your ultimate goal was to move to the big city and scrap together rent by writing recaps of Two and a Half Men for the Huffington Post.
But the lesson, I think, is one that can benefit all of us. Because we can all think of mean things to say about other people—it’s easy and expected and sometimes kind of fun. So I have decided to embark on the following challenge: From now on, whenever that critical comment or derisive dig scurries across my thoughts or perches on my tongue, I’m going to pause before I speak and ask myself, “Would this Mean Thing I am about to say at the expense of someone else still be as funny or clever or deserved if the someone else had brain cancer?”
Because here’s the thing: She might. She might have brain cancer.
Of course, it’s always going to be much more likely that the someone else will be just a regular person with regular problems who often makes regular faux pas while navigating the regular waters of a regular day. You know, someone like me.