I’m still struggling with the fact that all of this actually happened.
So, this newscaster and her husband are anchors for WKBT, La Crosse, Wisconsin. The wife, Jennifer Livingston, receives the following letter…
It’s unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years. Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.
…from this guy:
…which her husband then chose to post on his facebook page. The response was an outpouring of support from the pair’s supporters, and even strangers who aren’t entirely sure who they are but know full well they don’t support people writing letters like that.
The abundance of support compelled Jennifer to give a four-minute on-air response to the letter, as well as a polite reminder for us all to consider how our words affect one another, and what those words teach our children:
…and, you’d think it stopped there, right?
Of course not.
Our lovely letter-writing friend responded with the following:
Given this country’s present epidemic of obesity and the many truly horrible diseases related thereto, and considering Jennifer Livingston’s fortuitous position in the community, I hope she will finally take advantage of a rare and golden opportunity to influence the health and psychological well-being of Coulee Region children by transforming herself for all of her viewers to see over the next year, and, to that end, I would be absolutely pleased to offer Jennifer any advice or support she would be willing to accept.
In a move that absolutely no one found unexpected, our lovely letter-writer has declined to sit down on-air with Livingston.
I can’t be the only person dumbfounded by this, right?
At first, I couldn’t help but wonder why this was playing out in front of my eyes. Why would you write a letter about someone’s weight? Why would you respond to said-letter on air? Was it a slow news day?
But then, you take a closer listen to what Livingston actually said on-air, and it starts to make more sense:
“While I tried my best to laugh off this very hurtful attack on my appearance, my colleagues could not do the same, especially my husband, our 6 and 10 anchor Mike Thompson. Mike posted this email on his WKBT Facebook page and what happened next has been truly inspiring. Hundreds and hundreds of people have taken the time out of their day to not only lift my spirits, but take a stance that attacks like this are not okay.
She didn’t post that letter – her husband did. And, when thousands of people speak out and comment in support of your personhood, it feels like “the right thing to do” to speak out and speak up in solidarity with them. Furthermore, if you must speak up, why not turn it into a teachable moment?
Many may write off the letter as just “kind words” from a “concerned citizen,” but – again – taking a second look reveals a more condescending, insulting tone that left me wondering what the hell this dude’s life is about.
“Surely, you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community, girls in particular..”
“…your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years…”
“…obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make…”
…seriously? She might be humanitarian of the year, might’ve saved a baby dolphin from a hunting net with her bare hands then rode it back to shore, rescued a baby from a well, and saved the entire state of Wisconsin from financial disaster by flooding the state with money… it doesn’t matter what she’s done with her life, she can’t consider herself a role model because she’s fat?
And, yes, the “girls in particular” part just ruins my morning. The message we want to convey to young girls is that all of their successes as human beings are mitigated by whether or not they’re fat? Do we genuinely believe that this is the way to encourage them to be more fit? Not even fit… but appeasing to the male eye?
Because, really, let’s keep it 100 – that’s what this is about. A thin woman who smokes a pack a day off-camera is alright as long as she is appeasing to the male eye. A fat woman, denying our lovely letter-writer of his morning opportunity to view some eye candy, is deserving of being denigrated and told that she can’t consider herself “a suitable example for this community.”
Do I think she was wrong? Not at all. We need to stop telling people who are wronged that they need to be silent, turn the other cheek, “let it go and move on;” we need to start telling people who do this rude foolishness that they need to know their place and stay in it.
I asked you guys, once upon a time, who you allowed to call you to the carpet on your weight. Sooooooo many people said “Nobody, damn it!” But what saddened me even more, is the number of you who had stories about how cruelly and rudely a loved one told you that you were gaining weight. (Not getting fat.. just gaining weight.) We’ve created a society that is so anti-fat, that now any old stranger feels emboldened in approaching you about something so deeply personal as your weight.
I also feel some kind of way about people snarking on the letter-writer, smug though he may be. Either dissing folks because of their appearance is okay, or it’s not. We don’t have one set of rules for men, another for women… or do we?
I have to admit, though… I have to think about what “bullying” looks like in the digital era, and how it correlates to size acceptance in society. If bullying “is defined as the use of force or coercion to abuse or intimidate others,” then do we not all know of countless examples of where someone has tried to coerce us to do something we didn’t want to do? Does “sabotage” count as bullying? Saying to someone, “you couldn’t possibly think of yourself as a role model” and then implying that losing weight would grant them the pleasure of that title… is this bullying? Do the countless e-mails I get calling me various forms of unintelligent, unappealing, and un-white count as bullying, as well?
What were your thoughts on this whole situation?