Posted on April 1, 2014



I wonder if cancer survivors everywhere, like me, cringed when Lucy Danziger, the editor-in-chief of Self Magazine, issued an apology last week.

I’m sure you’ve heard about what Self did, but if you haven’t, the story is this: A woman named Monika Allen, who was undergoing chemotherapy, ran a marathon in a tutu. (The tutus were part of a fundraising effort for the organization Allen co-founded.)  Self Magazine took a picture of Monika and her friend in their tutus and used it in one of their spreads as an example of a “lame” current trend.

“I am personally mortified,” Danziger told USA Today. “I had no idea that Monika had been through cancer. It was an error. It was a stupid mistake. We shouldn’t have run the item.”

{Ah yes. Of course, Ms. Danziger. We see what you mean. You created a PR disaster by making fun of the girl with cancer. That is a pretty insensitive thing to do. So what you’re saying, essentially is that next time, you’ll make sure that your magazine only makes fun of the girls who don’t have cancer.}

Danzinger’s apology pissed me off for several reasons. It wasn’t a real apology, of course and fake apologies are infuriating. Then there was the  implied pity for the woman with cancer, as if Allen was a victim that Self magazine was kicking when she was already down. Victims have no power and the last thing someone with cancer needs is for you not to acknowledge her power. Pity is insulting to those of us who’ve overcome the incredible challenge of facing and fighting a life-threatening illness.

But mostly, Danzinger’s apology pissed me off because she didn’t address the fact that her magazine had a monthly section devoted to women being mean to other women, which really is the core problem here.

This story about Self Magazine’s snafu has gone viral. It’s amazing to see the comments people are making underneath the articles about it. “Women should uplift each other!” and “Women need to have each other’s backs!” and “Self should be empowering women not bringing them down!” and so on and so forth.

All of this would be pretty inspiring if I really believed these women would act on their sentiments. But I don’t.

See, being mean to someone else is not something women do alone. I’ve never, in my entire existence as a woman, had a mean woman confront me one-on-one. Never has a bully pulled me aside by herself and said, “Let’s fight this out, just you and me.”

That’s because mean girls are weak. They need someone to whisper to or snigger with or join them in their raucous laughter. They will never lead anything by themselves because they lack the power that leadership requires. They will always be on the sidelines making cruel comments or criticizing those in the game. And they will always, always, always have other women there, doing this with them.

So, although the backlash against Self has been nice to see, the truth is that the only reason they have a little snarky column in the first place is because other women want to read it. And I guess the only reason women want to read what ‘lame’ things other people are doing and wearing is to make themselves feel a little less lame.

I’m going to be mean to you for something I feel insecure about within myself. That’s the real meaning behind the mean-ing.  And yes, it is as juvenille as it sounds.

If women really want to make the world a better place for women, if we really want the mean-ing to stop, then we all need to stop enabling the mean girl. Stop buying the magazines with the snarky columns. Stop laughing at the mean jokes. Stop being friends with the women who are nasty to other women. If we all stopped allowing this, then the meanness would eventually dry up.

By letting it continue, by not speaking up, by not speaking against it, you are, essentially, contributing to it. No amount of well-intentioned platitudes posted under an article will substitute for the courageous action it takes to be the kind of woman who changes the world for women.

If you really want to kick some ass, don’t be the weak, passive girl who enables the mean-ing. Instead, be the confident woman who carves out a life full of her own purpose. Someone like Allen who, not only shows others what real strength looks like, but spends her precious life empowering other women as well.