When Jennifer Livingston, the morning news anchor for WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wisconsin, got the email last week, she was stunned.
"Now those of us in the media get a healthy dose of critiques from our viewers throughout the year, and we realize that it comes with having a job in the public eye," she said. "But this email was more than that."
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It was from a local man who took issue with the fact that Livingston is overweight, trying to make her feel ashamed about how she looked. Her husband, the station's evening news anchor, Mike Thompson, was so upset by the email that he posted it on his official WKTB Facebook page.
"I've posted about negative emails the station has received in the past, but this one delivered specifically to my wife, morning anchor Jennifer Livingston, has just infuriated me," Thompson wrote. "Seriously, the fact that there are people out there like this (and I understand this person is a lawyer in town) makes me sick to my stomach."
The Body Fat to Worry About Most
The public fascination with celebrities' weight and body image is nothing new. Just last week, after speculation about a big weight gain, Lady Gaga admitted that she's "struggled with weight and eating issues my whole life" and launched a "Body Revolution" to encourage fans to embrace their flaws. Earlier this year, supermodel Kate Upton defended her curves after a "thinspiration" blogger called her "lardy" and "a squishy brick."
But for Livingston, the email made a public issue very personal. Instead of criticism, her husband's Facebook post garnered thousands of "likes" and hundreds of comments -- the vast majority of them positive.
"My compliments to Jennifer for taking the opportunity to address this issue on the air," wrote Jay Johnson on one WKBT-TV Facebook page. "That took a lot of guts. And my hat's off to WKBT as well, for allowing her to use air time for this purpose. Obviously your station has good people with integrity, who care for their community."
"What an AMAZING woman you are Jennifer!" viewer Felicia Nelson Koth chimed in. "I think you are excellent role model for everyone especially your girls."
Livingston says that she was stunned by the outpouring of support. The Facebook discussions inspired her to address the issue on Tuesday morning, when she took a took a deep breath and, her voice trembling just a little, read the email out loud. On air.
"Hi, Jennifer," she read. "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 conniption 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."
She didn't identify the writer of the email, saying only that she received it on Friday from a La Crosse Man, and that the subject was "Community Responsibility."
"Yes, the truth is, I am overweight," Livingston responded as the cameras rolled. "You could call me fat and, yes, even obese on a doctor's chart. But to the person who wrote me that letter, do you think I don't know that?"
"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 this show," she continued. "So you know nothing about me, but what you see on the outside. And I am much more than a number on a scale."
October is National Anti-Bullying month, she pointed out to her viewers. "It is a major issue in the lives of young people today, and as the mother of three young girls, it scares me to death," she said. While the cruel words "mean nothing to me," what angers her is the fact that kids are bullied, in person and via email and social media, every day.
"This behavior is learned. It is passed down from people like the man who wrote me that email," she pointed out. "If you are at home and you are talking about the 'Fat News Lady,' guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat."
"We need to teach our kind to be kind, not critical, and we need to do that by example," she added, thanking viewers and Facebook fans for taking a stand against a bully. "We are better than that email. We are better than the bullies which try to take us down."
She wrapped up her editorial with a word to kids who find themselves facing bullies of their own.
"To all of the children out there who feel lost, who are struggling with your weight, with the color your skin, your sexual preference, your disability, even the acne on your face. Listen to me right now: Do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies," she said. "Learn from my experience that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many."
As for her not being a responsible or suitable role model, her viewers beg to differ.
"I'm a 20-year-old college student, and a young lady. I believe that Jen is a great role model and definitely someone who makes getting ready for my 8 a.m. class at WSU a little better, especially on a Monday!" Mianna Nichole Sobotta wrote on Thompson's Facebook page. "Shame on whomever wrote that email, because clearly they don't understand what a positive role model is. In a society where girls focus on the Size 0 models, and struggle with self confidence, we need more women to show young girls that you need self confidence and to love yourself for who you are!"