A Wisconsin news anchor for WKBT-TV, Jennifer Livingston was subjected to fat shaming via a viewer who thought that her appearance needed criticizing. Livingston’s husband–also an anchor was so upset about the viewer’s comments that he posted it the station’s Facebook page. This viewer isn’t the first, nor the last to complain about someone else’s weight. I’m curious about society’s disdain for fat and more specifically fat women. Why is our very existence an issue?
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This is what the viewer had to say to Livingston:
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.”
This is how Jennifer Livingston responded:
“Yes, the truth is, I am overweight. 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. So you know nothing about me, but what you see on the outside. And I am much more than a number on a scale.”
What I love most about Livingston’s response is that she fully admitted to being overweight, but she didn’t apologize for it. She let the viewer know that her contribution to the world goes beyond the number the scale displays. The viewer attacked her physical appearance in the attempt to break her heart. Obviously the viewer doesn’t think that Livingston should be or even consider herself a role model for young girls.
What about those chubby little girls that pray that they will one day get to see someone like them on TV? Livingston represents a revolution. With the exception of Oprah (you know she’s the exception to every rule), there aren’t many women of power that you see on a normal basis on our screens. Sure, we have stars like Queen Latifah, Jill Scott and curvy girls as small (in size) as Kim Kardashian and Beyonce who gracefully embrace their curves and show young women that it is perfectly fine that there’s no size 2’s in their closets.
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I wonder how Livingston could possibly show a healthier lifestyle (as the viewer requested)? I wonder if they would prefer that Livingston do jumping jacks on air through her entire broadcast? Like she said in her response we know nothing about her. As far as we’re concerned, Livingston could be eating three well-balanced meals a day and taking yoga twice a week and Zumba classes every weekend. Fat doesn’t mean unhealthy, even though both of these terms are often thought of synonymously.
I love the point Clutch Magazine’s Renee Martin made, “When a skinny person is pounding back a double cheeseburger and washing it down with fries cooked in lard and a jumbo size pop, you can be sure that they won’t be subjected to stares and rude comments. This doesn’t mean that they are not walking around with high blood pressure, clogged arteries, or diabetes.” We know nothing of this viewer, but there’s a possibility that Livingston’s health is more in tact that theirs.
Women often diet and I know that I am perpetually monitoring my caloric intake because I’ve fought for three years to lose 100 pounds and I am still on a journey to maintain. I didn’t do this because I felt I would be more accepted in society with a trimmer waistline. And it certainly wasn’t because I thought men would appreciate me more. Heck, they prefer the curves. I just want to ensure that my future years aren’t plagued with high blood pressure, heart attacks or diabetes.
I deal with judgmental stares when I’m ordering a salad instead of the burger and fries that folks think I’d rather be ordering. I catch confused glances when I’m commuting to work without enough time to eat breakfast at home, so I’m chomping on oatmeal or fruit. I know this isn’t my problem. It’s society’s problem for thinking that just because a person is fat, they spend their lives doing fat things. Livingston’s critic assumed the exact same. “I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”
And health aside, I’m sick of defending myself and my fellow fat chicks because we’ve got more jelly than that catchy Beyonce tune! When celebrity women like Jessica Simpson, Tia Mowry and Lady Gaga have to defend themselves for gaining weight or better, “letting themselves go” because as a society, we’re brainwashed into thinking a little extra jiggle is an issue. There’d be no such thing as Photoshop and Spanx if that wasn’t true.
Gaga’s recent Body Revolution 2012 was an inspiration from me. Because non-fans thought Gaga was looking a little chunky lately, she felt it necessary to open up the delicate conversation about women who struggle with their body image and eating disorders. Without even thinking about Gaga’s gimmicks, she’s an artist that turns the idea of beauty on it’s head. And that is appreciated by little girls that don’t feel pretty. They can look at Gaga and realize their beauty is just different, not nonexistent.
I’m sure Livingston had second thoughts about pursuing a career that would place her in the spotlight, even if it was local in Wisconsin. When you place yourself in the public’s daily view, you become a piece of real estate to be scrutinized. Livingston doesn’t deserve the comments from the viewer, however everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no matter how hurtful.
This is America. This country is a melting pot, and like you, I learned that in my 6th grade Social Studies course. I’ve always understood that there’s so many of us from different walks of life, which makes accepting those that are unique, easier. Not only is America the place where acceptance should be king, this is the land of the free. Home of the brave. Livingston is brave for putting herself out there as a woman that’s larger than average. She’s also brave to address her critic on air.
Jennifer Livingston left her overly critical viewer with these daunting words of advice for anyone out there that’s been discriminated against:
“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.”
What do you think about Jennifer Livingston’s critic?