Jennifer Livingston, anchor on Wisconsin’s WKBT News 8 This Morning, recently received an email, written by a man, titled “Community Responsibility.” It 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 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.
Yikes — We never realized that sexism, cruelty, and fat-shaming could all fit under the unconvincing guise of public concern. In fact, so many things about this message disturb us, we find it difficult to refrain from responding in an incoherent, profanity-laced rant. Amazingly, if Ms. Livingston was inclined to respond that way as well, you’d never know it; she managed to muster incredible grace, dignity, and, humor by replying to her bully (there’s really no other word for him) in a manner that not only made her own voice heard, but also sent a powerful and inspiring message about bullying behavior in general.
Her response, shown in the above video, went like this:
The truth is: 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? 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 but what you see on the outside… And I am much more than a number on a scale.
October is is national anti-bullying month, and this is a problem that is growing every day in our schools and on the internet. 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. Now I am a grown woman, and luckily for me, I have a very thick skin — literally, as that email pointed out, and otherwise. That man’s words mean nothing to me. But what really angers me about this is there are children who don’t know better… The internet has become a weapon. Our schools have become a battleground. And this behavior is learned. It is passed down from people like the man who wrote me that email. If you are at home, and you are talking about the fat newslady, guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat. We need to teach our kids how to be kind, not critical, and we need to do that by example.
*Applause!* When individuals whose jobs place them in the public eye are personally attacked, the easiest way for them to to respond is to hit back–or to ignore the matter altogether. Ms. Livingston has set an excellent example by doing neither–instead, she reminds us how much words matter by responding to those meant to scathe and wound with those meant to inspire and unite. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to watch the video again and cheer some more.