You’ve probably all seen that list of the top ten professions that attract psychopaths going around by now, right? I’ve seen it a few times, mainly because I run in circles with journalists and TV news people, and those professions both cracked the top ten. As much as I want to lodge a protest on behalf of my profession and say that we aren’t all heartless jerks who view people as little more than fodder to fill our various news holes/magazine spaces/on-air times, sometimes I see a decision made by a media outlet that is so heartless, so cruel that I cannot help but think that the psychopath-career list is more accurate than I am comfortable with.
One of those instances just happened with SELF magazine. SELF is getting called out in a big way because, well, here:
Monika Allen says she was excited to receive an email from SELF magazine asking for permission to use a photo that showed her running the LA marathon dressed as Wonder Woman and wearing a tutu in an upcoming issue.
But when the April issue came out, Allen said she was “stunned and offended.”
The picture appears in a section of the magazine called “The BS Meter,” with a caption that refers to a “tutu epidemic” and basically makes fun of the women’s outfits, she said.
“A racing tutu epidemic has struck NYC’s Central Park, and it’s all because people think these froufrou skirts make you run faster,” the caption reads. “Now, if you told us they made people run from you faster, maybe we would believe it.”
Allen said the photo was “really offensive for a couple of reasons.” The marathon came right in the middle of chemotherapy, and she says the outfit gave her motivation.
“The reason we were wearing those outfits is because this was my first marathon running with brain cancer,” Allen explained.
Allen goes on to say that the tutus are actually made by her company, and that the company donates proceeds from the running tutus to Girls on the Run.
How very Regina George of you, SELF.
But you know what? This story would suck even if Monika Allen didn’t have brain cancer and even if she had just picked up the skirt at a running expo. Because I don’t know about you, but I am so sick of hearing people mock running tutus (and also, running skirts) that I could just about puke blood.
In the interest of fairness, I will admit there was once a time when I used to cut some side-eye at running tutus. They seemed silly and frivolous. I was a serious runner, dammit, and serious runners do not wear frilly shit around their waists! (Never mind the times I wore a running skirt while racing…consistency was not my strong suit.) But around the time I hit my thirties, I found it increasingly impossible to care. And really, why did I even care in the first place? What other women wore while out running affected me approximately none percent. I was just psyched to see them out running and racing.
The idea that serious runners didn’t wear tutus was already whimpering its way to a well-deserved death in my intellectual landscape when I went to cheer on Brian during Ironman Florida. The day afterwards, we found ourselves standing in line in front of a pair of young women, both of whom told me they had worn glittery tutu-skirt things during the marathon leg of the race. They said they decided to wear them because they thought people would be more enthusiastic about cheering for them, which would help motivate them to finish the race. And sure enough, they both kicked ass. One of the ladies ran her marathon in a 4:08. Just let that marinade in your brain for a second. She was wearing a sequined running tutu while she ran a 4:08 in the marathon leg of an Ironman. What was that about “serious athletes” again?
I’ve got to say, it doesn’t escape my notice that the race gear deemed most mock-worthy – running tutus, running skirts, pink and purple gear, flowers and sparkles – are almost always things that are overwhelmingly embraced by women. It’s like there is this refusal to take a woman seriously as a runner and an athlete unless she presents herself in clothes that are similar to those worn by guys. Running skirts and dresses are prissy, gear with pink and flowers encourages women to be less assertive, women who wear makeup to the gym are insecure…the criticism seems to be endless, but the end message is clear: that things normally thought of as feminine are inherently frivolous, silly and stupid. It’s basically textbook femmephobia.
What’s more, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of the criticism is being leveled by women against each other. Perhaps athletic women are tired of feeling like they have to meet some quota of girliness to offset their athleticism and physicality before they are considered a proper woman? Maybe it’s defensiveness about being part of a culture that still struggles to take female athletes seriously? Maybe it’s frustration with a larger system of thought that says women should value the way they look above all else, even if it affects their ability to do things? I don’t know, these are all just theories, and I think these are all valid ways to feel, and I would like to continue to talk about them. But where I draw the line is when that frustration with larger social trends spills over into mocking individual women for their sartorial choices, which is exactly what SELF did.
It’s possible – and necessary! – to keep talking about gender and athleticism and femininity but please, let’s find a way to do it without tearing each other down.