News Anchor Strikes Back: “Do Not Let Your Self-Worth be Defined by Bullies.”

Posted October 3, 2012 by

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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.”

Here, here!


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. oh dear Report

    i shouldn’t be surprised that people are defending a man who is judging a woman’s physical appearance. History shows that men feel it is there place, but we are now living in the 21 century where woman can stand up for themselves. She is a bold woman to whom I believe is a strong role model for my children.
    Bullying is when one feels superior to another and has no self control to stop them from belittling the other. Giving unsolicited advice about one’s physical appearance is bullying.

  2. looking deeper Report

    I was concerned that this person took a private email and decided to post it out for the world to see – a teaching moment I believe. If the definition of a bully is a person using their position of power to berate and belittle another, then the email writer is not the bully. He wrote a private email which was taken public by the bully – the anchor. To teach the writer a lesson the anchor went public and nearly every news agency who carried the story bullied the writer – to the point of tracking him down at work to ask if he was sorry. No one I saw asked if the anchor went too far because her feelings were hurt – not because she was called fat, but because she was labeled a poor role model. I guess she taught her daughters to lash out at those who disagree with them and get others to help. I don’t get it.

    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      To Looking Deeper: You make a good point. Here’s my take. Often, letters from viewers/listeners are read on the air on TV/radio. I think when you write to a news media outlet, you do so with the understanding that it might be read on the air, and I’m guessing the man who wrote the letter might have had an inkling that would happen, since he offered the news anchor “advice” on how to get fit. (Also, he didn’t have a personal relationship with the news anchor or ask her not to broadcast the letter as far as I know, so I don’t think there was a betrayal of any kind of trust here.)

      Saying that, this whole incident has really made me think about how we define bullying. I believe it’s a conversation worth having, because if the term if used too loosely, it will eventually lose its meaning.

  3. Another fat lady Report

    I think that newscaster Jennifer Livingston was very brave to speak up, “fat-bashing” has become very acceptable in our society lately but it always hurts. I believe that she is a great example to young girls because she shows that you don’t have to have a model-like appearance to be a successful woman, she has the job that she does based on her abilities. Good for her!

  4. mtm Report

    HI. I have been following this pretty closely and I honestly do not believe she was “bullied”. As inconsiderate as the letter she received is, it was well-reasoned and factually true.
    The fact that I have been bullied my whole young and adult life gives me some insight in to this, and honestly, I would love to get such a well-written letter, despite the painful content. The author’s intent was to help, not hurt, and that is the difference between misguided concern and bullying.

    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      Mtm: I think this whole incident has made people think harder about what the word “bullying” really means. I think the writer of that letter was trying to shame Jennifer Livingston into losing weight, (so-called “fat shaming” — which I think is not helpful and is usually hurtful) but I see your point. It begs the question — how should bullying be defined? And does bullying need to be public in order to be considered bullying?



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