I know what it’s like to go on air and have people focus on everything except the health message I am usually delivering. I will often get positive comments like:
- Loved your outfit
- Love your new hairstyle
- Where can I get that gorgeous necklace?
I also get many negative comments:
- You’ve got to get more sleep – huge bags under your eyes
- Go a little too blonde this time?
- Could you talk a little slower?
Well a huge maelstrom has erupted in the last forty eight hours, thanks to a letter sent to a WKBT Wisconsin morning anchor. The viewer’s letter, sent privately, suggested that the anchor had clearly not addressed her weight issues over the years (the viewer only watches her occasionally) and to then quote the viewer, “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.” Jennifer Livingston says she was shocked by the cruelty in the letter, initially tried to laugh it off, and then, decided to address it on air (her husband, a fellow anchor posted the full letter on his Facebook page and received numerous supportive comments).
Ms. Livingston says the part that really upset her was the reference to her not being a good role model. She offers that she is “more than just a number on a scale…she is a mother of three daughters herself.” Her husband offers that she has run triathlons…she just ran a 5K last weekend…she works out two or three times a week…she has a thyroid condition that makes losing weight more difficult.” He admonishes the man who penned the letter because “he decided to attack her (his wife) for no reason.” Husband and wife agree that “this behavior (of cruelty and bullying) is learned and kids learn from these examples and then make critical and unkind comments, perpetuating this cruelty.
I guess I have mixed feelings about this incident. Having been exposed over the years to numerous tweets and public comments that are quite critical and unkind, the idea of getting a personal letter actually seems quite forgiving in nature. When a viewer expresses themselves privately to me, I can choose to respond or ignore it. And when the comments are sent privately and worded “somewhat cautiously,” I’m not sure that it would elicit a public outcry of bullying from me. That’s just me. I might have sent a query to ask if the viewer was truly concerned about my well-being or not, and if the answer had been “not,” then I might have sent back a pretty harsh and in-your-face comment – but again, I would have considered it a one-on-one private discussion. I also know that to be in the public eye is to lend oneself to serious and unkind scrutiny – so again, if I were to gain weight – it wouldn’t surprise me to receive an email or letter harshly commenting on the excess pounds. It kind of comes with the turf. As far as the reference to role model goes, again, I did not take the way the comment was worded as a form of bullying, though I found it very unkind and judgmental. What I do know is that the words clearly touched off some very painful feelings in the news anchor and she felt compelled to respond to it for the world to hear.
I was a fat child and a fatter teen. I had an Aunt who would ask me at every family gathering, “When are you going to lose all that extra weight you’re carrying?” My aunt was a toothpick, an Audrey Hepburn look-a-like. Needless to say, when I lost 50 pounds during my sophomore year in high school and saw her at a family gathering, she looked at me and said, “What the heck happened to you??? You look like a starved rabbit.” Lesson learned? You lose weight for yourself – for your health or even for your vanity, but you do it because you realize it will make you happier, healthier or both. Not for the critics, and not because critics are cruel or state obvious truths. And recently when menopause instigated a ten pound weight gain, and a fellow expert pointed out my extra weight quite unkindly, I did not react like Ms. Livingston, though the comments really stung. I actually let the words light a fire “under my butt” and reconfigured my eating and exercise to lose the weight. Yes, I too had seen the extra weight on camera and in the mirror. Yes, I too take thyroid medication and now I also have the diminished metabolic rate that typically comes with menopause, to cope with. I also know that it’s my mouth taking in the excess calories and my willingness (or not) to diligently exercise and stay active. And as a lifestyle coach in private practice, I am constantly forced to ask people really difficult and sometimes painful questions in order to inspire change. I’m also paid to confront a client’s weight gain in a truthful and forthright manner.
So do I think telling someone they are overweight by private email is OK? Knowing that it could have been delivered in the public forum, I think the choice to do it privately is acceptable. Do I think suggesting that they are not a good role model because they are overweight is OK? No, but again, I assume that in a private communication the person has the right to express a private opinion. And he is not the first viewer to suggest that a public figure has to live by some pretty rigorous standards. Would I have revealed the name of this person? Not based on the specific wording of this letter. Would these words he chose have made me sit up and do something about my weight issue? It might have, because I am sometimes inspired by harsh truths. Ms. Livingston was inspired to highlight her pain and sense of feeling bullied, and to use it as a lesson to viewers. As of this morning, the lawyer who wrote this letter stands by his words and indicates that he hopes the public discussion will fuel Ms. Livingston to indeed, modify her lifestyle and be a role model.
What do you think??
Published On: October 04, 2012