When Lacrosse, Wisconsin news anchor Jennifer Livingston received a letter from a viewer stating that she was overweight, she fired back with a message to him:
“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 know nothing about me but what you see on the outside, and I am much more than a number on a scale.”
The viewer’s letter said that, in effect, Jennifer was an unsuitable role model for the community because of her weight:
“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.”
Her husband, WKBT news anchor Mike Thompson, decided to post the letter on Facebook, where it received a huge number of responses, most of them supportive of Jennifer. This is when Livingston decided to respond to the letter on the air — also taking the opportunity to highlight the fact that October is Anti-bullying Month.
She went on to say,
“What really angers me about this is there are children who don’t know better, who get emails as critical as the one I received, or in many cases even worse, each and every day. 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 were at home and you were 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 kids how to be kind, not critical and we need to do that by example.”
And I think her point is a good one — our kids are listening to us, reading what people say on the Internet, and learning how to treat people from the adults and other kids around them. So where is our responsibility in all of this? I think it’s time we all started speaking up whenever possible. Cruelty and verbal abuse are not funny and are never okay, not under any circumstances.
Remember, our kids are “watching us for a living.” They don’t miss much, and I don’t know about you, but the lesson of kindness is something I really hope we’re teaching our son by example.
Another thing worth thinking about: We are asking our kids to speak up when they see someone being bullied, but are we doing the same in our own lives? Are we standing up to the office bully, the person in the neighborhood who spreads vicious gossip, the mom in the PTA who makes fun of other people’s clothes or lifestyles? Or are we the ones laughing or remaining silent? Listen, I’m not judging here, because I think we’re all guilty of this kind of behavior at some point in our lives. We’re all human — but each of us also has the chance to be a better human, every day. That’s what it’s all about.
In Jennifer’s own words:
“Do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many.”
Elisabeth Wilkins is the mother of a 9-year-old son and the Editor of Empowering Parents. She and her family live in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.