One of the main stories in the news this week involved Jennifer Livingston, the current morning news anchor of CBS WKBT-TV in LaCrosse, Wisc. Livingston received an email criticizing her weight and decided to take a stand against bullying.
The admirable and successful woman could not have been more shocked to find that a non-viewer had the audacity to let her know that he found her appearance, or “physical condition,” to be a major problem and particularly unsuitable for the young girls in his community. Livingston decided to let the public know about the incidence during the show and created an upheaval in the media.
It is a known fact that most television reporters, being public figures, receive much criticism about their appearance and their actions. Nevertheless, this stir in the media can be a teachable moment because serious issues like bullying and sexism are at the core of this affront. Livingston’s experience makes it obvious that people continue to try to intimidate and humiliate others. It also shows that women are still judged by their appearance and expected to fit a certain look and part of society.
Many can relate to Livingston and it is disheartening to hear such a story. It is shocking to hear that someone as respectable as Livingston could be bashed about something like being fat. It is a reminder of how many people are offended by anyone who is overweight and how bashing or ridicule can follow these negative attitudes. This leads to bullying and its continuance as an alarming issue in our society. People continue to redirect their anger toward others and enjoy causing harm.
Another issue that no one really focused on was the overlying sexism involved in the assault. The aggressor was offended that Livingston is overweight because she has the potential to influence the appearance of women in her community. Because she is not incredibly thin she is assumed to be encouraging women to be obese and unhealthy which the aggressor believes to be devastating and disgraceful. The aggressor is only focusing on her appearance, not her ability to do her job properly, nor her potential to influence young women’s career choices.
The best thing about this proceeding has to be the attitude that Livingston took. She shared the email with everyone, illustrating that it is okay to stand up for yourself and to have self-respect. It also placed an end to any further aggressive acts by the contemptuous non-viewer. Livingston did not internalize such comments but took control of them and owned it. To make things even more interesting, she encouraged others to stand against bullying.
What really bothers me is when I think of young women that are bullied for being “the fat girl.” It is not a great experience and it is not something you forget very easily. Growing up is very hard for everyone and being a teenager is a crucial yet confusing time to develop a great relationship with oneself. For a young woman, it becomes very important to become physically appealing in order to catch the attention of a man and later procreate. As their bodies change, peers provide blunt criticism everyday and can cause self-esteem struggles.
I am sure that many women have had through similar instances related to weight. When in groups, they begin to talk about their bodies, pointing out each others' flaws instead of saying something nice. This leads to sharing stories about the source of their insecurities and the never-ending torture it is to not have the perfect body. I have heard plenty of this and try to change the conversation as best as I can.
The worst, however, is still when this type of bullying has affected women that I truly care about. I remember my sister coming home late one day crying and ashamed because of the taunting she received by some strangers in a car on her walk home. She loved wearing shorts at the time and she did not looked bad at all wearing them. However, these strangers slowed down to yell at her about being fat and never wearing shorts again using foul language. It really hurt to see my sister cry herself to sleep and lose confidence because of people like that. It took her a while to get back to wearing shorts and she still feels bad about being overweight although she does not speak about it.
I can also relate to Livingston at a personal level. I am a very curvy woman and will probably be all my life. I am very athletic, which often surprises many, but I will never have the “perfect” body. I will never be able to stop loving food and/or have my metabolism work at super high speed. I am beautiful and will have a great career but will also face the same type of bullying issues that Livingston received. I can only hope I will have the same attitude she did when facing the issue.
The most inspiring thing to hear Livingston say was; “But to the person that wrote me that letter. Do you think I don’t know that? That your cruel words are pointing out something that I don’t see. You don’t know me. You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family and you have admitted that you don’t watch the show. So you know nothing about me than what you see on the outside. And I am much more than a number on a scale.”