Jennifer Livingston, a TV anchor at WKBT in LaCrosse, Wisconsin has become the news headline. She received an e-mail from a local man regarding her weight and appearance entitled “Community Responsibility.” The viewer expressed his opinion that Ms. Livingston isn’t a suitable example or role model for the community’s young people. “Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain,” the viewer wrote. “I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”
As would so many people, Ms. Livingston took this viewer's e-mail as a hurtful and personal attack! There is no doubt that she represents millions of overweight kids and adults, who are frequent targets of ridicule, cruel jokes, mean remarks, and discrimination. She explained in a recent interview that the criticism that she was a bad role model was a low blow.
Ms. Livingston’s husband posted the letter on Facebook, which quickly went viral. Overwhelming support poured in.
On Tuesday morning, Ms. Livingston read the letter on the air, blasted the viewer, and referred to him as a “bully.” "The truth is, I am overweight," she said. "But to the person who wrote me that letter, do you think I don't know that?" You don't know me ... so you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside and I am much more than a number on a scale."
Is this actually bullying? Bullying is deliberate, and the persistent hostile and abusive words and actions are intended to harm…whether it be face-to-face or electronically. Bullying is characterized by an imbalance of power. Although there is no question that Ms. Livingston felt attacked by the viewer’s opinions, do you regard this as bullying? Do you think the e-mail was meant to be malicious?
I raise this point because I think that the word “bullying” is sometimes misused and overused. In my bullying prevention work with children, I differentiate between teasing and bullying and view them on a continuum. Read more about the differences on a previous Patch blog, Is it Teasing or Bullying? Yes, There is a Difference.
Nevertheless, both cruel teasing and bullying are disrespectful and can be a sharp and direct attack on one’s self-worth. As Ms. Livingston stated, “These attacks are not okay.”
Whether we agree that this is bullying or not, Ms. Livingston takes a strong stand against the cruel complaints about her appearance and delivered an empowering, bold, and valuable message to her viewers. She urges kids who are struggling with their weight, the color of their skin, sexual preference or a disability not to let their self-worth be defined by bullies.
I couldn’t agree more with Ms. Livingston’s point that kids learn from example! If kids hear their parents refer to her as the “fat news anchor,” they are likely to go to school and call someone “fat.” Ms. Livingston concluded, “Cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many.” What a powerful and inspiring message….and very timely as we begin National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month!
About the blogger: Judy S. Freedman, a licensed clinical social worker and bullying prevention specialist, is the author of Easing the Teasing – Helping Your Child Cope with Name-Calling, Ridicule, and Verbal Bullying.' She lectures and conducts workshops for parents, educators, and mental health professionals throughout the country.. Learn more about Judy and her work at www.easingtheteasing.com.