Wednesday, October 3, 2012

my response to “news anchor fights back against body bullying” - a story about jennifer livingston

when i first heard about this story on the radio during my morning commute, i was ready to call in sick to work, drive to wisconsin and slap the man who wrote this news anchor an offensive “fat-shaming” email. but a few things stopped me:

1) i can’t skip work at this point in the year. its too manic
2) i can’t drive to wisconsin on my own due to my tendency to fall asleep in the car too easily
3) i had second thoughts about whether the man who wrote this letter should be bullied in return and doubts that he was totally in the wrong

you’re probably most shocked about the third statement, and that’s what this blog post is about. for those of you who may not be familiar with the story i’m talking about, you can visit this news article (video included) for a more thorough recap. in a nutshell, a woman tv anchor in wisconsin received a letter from a male viewer telling her she was overweight (obese) and not a suitable example for young people in the community, especially young girls. he suggested she “reconsider her [your] responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle." this anchor made her reply very public (on air) calling the man out, scorning him for bullying and for interfering in someone else’s life and overall, she stood up for herself (her appearance does not interfere with her ability to do her job).

my interpretation of the situation is a double edged sword.

the first edge is the basic story of a man (or anyone, really) bullying a woman based solely on her appearance. women, especially in the media, are scrutinized and given more value to their looks than they are anything else they have to offer the world. it’s the primary concern of the documentary missrepresentation and a huge concern for the standards we are setting for the youth that are exposed to this as a norm, or the standard for how women are to be treated. i wonder, if the anchor had been of the same gender, would the man have sent him a letter telling him he was obese and not a suitable leader for the youth of the community? assumptious or not, my guess is he wouldn’t have. bullying is completely unacceptable (see previous posts on bullying), and if we are to ever set the example that it is not permissible to do to a woman or man in or outside of the media, it is necessary that people stand up against bullying and make it publically seen - just like this news anchor did by making her response public on tv. she is sending a powerful example to the youth of her community, and around the world, by standing up for herself. she is more than her looks - we are more than our looks - and that is a message that  is not conveyed enough to young girls (and young boys) who are exposed constantly with messages about worth being based on outer beauty. i truly commend this news anchor for taking a stand (a scary and brave thing to do), and most importantly standing up for herself, because that is a positive example for our youth and what she stands for (that bullying is not okay) is a message the community at large needs to hear.

here’s the other edge of the sword. this news anchor admits to being overweight, even by a doctor’s standards (not that i think all doctors opinions on weight are 100% accurate anyway). the sad and scary truth is that obesity is a huge (no pun intended) problem: nearly 36% of adults in america are considered obese (as of 2010). it is not just a problem for adults, but it is a very serious and concerning problem for children -  roughly 12.5 million children (2010) are obese in the united states. and childhood obesity rates get even worse in low income areas, where 1 in every 3 children is overweight before their 5th birthday (2009). now i realize some of these statistics are old, but the painful truth is that we (as americans) are not making progress in lowering the rates of childhood obesity (or adult obesity, for that matter). there are great programs out there to help encourage children to learn about the tools they need to be healthy children and become healthy adults, but if kids don’t have adult leadership to put the education in place in the kids’ lives, how will today’s youth understand how important it is to take care of their bodies? where do they turn to for information? i’ll tell you where they turn - multi-channel screens; tv, cell phones, computers, online video, social media, etc. they are getting messages about what they are supposed to do to take care of themselves from the media they consume and the adults closest to them. which means if a parent or adult guardian (including friend’s parents) is overweight or practicing poor habits, odds are the child will adopt the same habits and become overweight, too. if i see you eating mcdonalds, that means it must be the right thing for me to do, too type of message. where am i going with this rant? my point is that as adults, we have a responsibility to our youth to give children the tools they need to succeed (whether that is general education, the right foods, the ability to get outside and play, whatever). we have a responsibility to be positive role models, because even when we think no one is paying attention to us, they are. children are especially observant and they are little sponges that soak up information around them. what this means, in my opinion of the news anchor, is that she does have a responsibility, to her children and as a media personality, to think about how she presents herself and the impact it has on her community. do i think she should go on a crash diet or have a segment about her new weight watchers journey (this is all speculation, btw)? no. do i think women need to be a “perfect size 6” to be leaders and role models? hell no. but i do think this news anchor should have made a follow up comment, or alternatively used this instance as a chance to explain why paying attention to what we consume and how we use/treat our bodies is important, especially as adults in the community. she can turn this situation around as an example to not only educate her children (i have no idea if they are of healthy weight or not), but she should really use it as a way to educate the adults in the community about how important it is to teach children about healthy lifestyles. the adults are watching this morning news program. educate them on why its not okay to bully. educate them on why they need to have conversations about bullying and healthy habits with their kids. this news anchor can still be a leader in her community if she takes the right steps, but after this news segment, i think she needs to become more than the “woman who stood up for herself for being fat.” she needs to become an agent and advocate for education and change.

the bottom line is that if we aren’t educating our children about the risks of treating our bodies (and others) poorly, then we are setting them up for a much harder road (as adults) to find success. and if we aren’t encouraging other adults to do the same, we are losing half the battle. this applies to bullying, to healthy habits, to saying no to drugs... just about everything.

so there’s my two cents and a double-edged sword on the situation. i’d love to hear what everyone else is thinking, what responses you may have to the story or to my opinions. please share through comments, or start a thread on twitter! @acurls


  1. I wouldn't call what the man did bullying, I would call what the news anchor did bullying. She publicly outed him to millions (video went viral) as a bully, when he said she should consider promoting a healthy lifestlye, albeit he didn't say it in the nicest way possible, but like you said obesity is a major problem, including childhood obesity, so when he talks about being a role model to young children, I would have to agree with him. Now this man is probably getting threatened and actually bullied, not what this news anchor calls bullying.

    1. That's an interesting perspective, and I hadn't thought about it that way. I guess my thought is that if you are going to say something to a public figure, you probably need to be prepared for some sort of response, whether its direct or indirect. The whole "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all" idea - there's a risk that there will be reactions, especially with such a personal and emotional topic. Hopefully the man was prepared for that. There is certainly a professionally and irrational way to respond to him, so did the anchor step out of line? Who knows. She probably could have thought through her response better, certainly. Thanks for your comment! Very thought provoking.

  2. I just came across this article, almost 2 years later and could not believe it.
    Was the man inappropriate?
    Sure, its not my or his place to infer anyone is fat unless she asked for an opinion.
    But bullied?
    Not a chance.
    He has no power over her.
    It was a private email THAT SHE MADE PUBLIC.
    It seemed to me he was more concerned with her appearance IN A VISUAL MEDIUM and how it related to the affect her physical conditioning would have with young girls.
    But JL and her henchman sure made his life a mess.
    She could have admonished him privately or tried to educate as opposed to humiliate.
    They are definitely the bullies in my opinion.
    Wonder how they would have reacted had the letter come from a young girl ........


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