I’m a running purist. No color runs (runs where you get doused with bright colors of paint) or tough mudders (think of obstacle courses and mud with some running thrown in) for me. But if that’s your thing, hey, that’s cool with me.
I also don’t like to wear costumes when I run, if for no other reason than I like to run without distractions of extra-warm or too-itchy clothes. But I’ll admit that I enjoy seeing the fun ways other runners express themselves with what they wear.
Some runners wear shirts with inspiring messages. Some runners wear funny socks up to their knees. Some runners wear stuffed turkeys or reindeer antlers on their heads when a race celebrates a particular holiday. Some runners wear tutus.
Costumes can make running fun – a good kind of silly – and can distract other runners from the pain or negative thoughts that creep in during a race. As I think back over the races I’ve run, the toughest ones always had moments of awesomeness because of what another runner was wearing. Wearing something that makes other runners smile at a rough point in the course or encourages spectators to cheer louder? Well, that’s a gift.
So when the social media world exploded last week with news of Self magazine mocking two women wearing tutus during a race, I paid a lot of attention – even more when I learned that one of the runners in the photo was fighting cancer, that both women coach Girls on the Run (GOTR), and that they make and sell tutus to raise money for their local GOTR chapter. These are my people, and a national magazine mocked them?
Here’s a quick summary: Self magazine published a photo of two women wearing tutus and race bibs to accompany a short piece mocking runners who wear tutus, calling it “lame.” Social media lit up with fury. The magazine back-pedaled, apologized and has scrapped the snarky column moving forward. To see what else has come of this story, watch this great interview with Monika Allen (the runner fighting incurable cancer) with Katie Couric from yesterday’s show.
In the photo, Allen is dressed like Wonder Woman and her friend like Supergirl, and if you look closely, you can see that her friend’s race bibs says, “Die tumor die.” If the editors at Self had looked closely, they might have prevented the firestorm they brought on themselves. Allen was running the LA Marathon that day, her first marathon since a brain cancer diagnosis several months earlier, and she dressed like Wonder Woman in a tutu to lift her own spirits and to bring joy to others.
The marathon was Allen’s 19th and her slowest, but she ran it and triumphed in more ways than simply completing a marathon. She’s bringing national attention to the ways we tear each other down instead of building each other up. And she’s doing it with grace and kindness and energy while she faces a fight with cancer that she may never win.
Self wanted its readers to judge her for her tutu, to make themselves feel better because they would never wear tutus while running. The magazine apologized because Allen has cancer. But would they have apologized if she hadn’t been fighting a disease, if instead, she had simply been a healthy, beautiful woman who wanted to have fun during a hard race?
They misjudged her because she wore a tutu. They didn’t count on her also being strong and poised and intelligent and willing to speak out for what is right.
Tutus, girls and the media
Like Allen and her friend, I coach young girls who delight in wearing tutus and are just learning to associate running with joy and fun. They’re also learning to examine how media portrays women (and men, too) and how to stand up to bullies. The magazine has given GOTR chapters all over the country an easy way to discuss these topics. But what pains me is that there will continue to be plenty of other examples of the media making fun in poor taste, of tearing others down, of trying to stereotype based on appearance, of crushing self esteem to make a buck.
When do we say, “Enough”? The conversation will continue, and Monika Allen’s role in the conversation has, at least briefly, turned it in a positive direction. Maybe by the time the girls she and I coach reach adulthood, we’ll all be a lot farther down a better road. Be sure of this: If they’re wearing tutus on that road, it would be a mistake to judge them.