This morning my sister sent me a link to the story about Wisconsin news anchor Jennifer Livingston who was contacted by a viewer about her weight and questioned her suitability as a healthy role model for those in her community, and young girls in particular. Her husband is also an anchor on the WKBT network and posted the email on his Facebook wall. Hundreds of people have commented supporting Jennifer and the video has gone viral. This is Jennifer’s full response from the WKBT website.CBS This Morning also covered her story. Check it out here.
After I watched these I sat in silence for a full five minutes just trying to digest all that I had seen, and my reactions both emotional and intellectual. Jennifer’s main statement is that this story is not about her weight this is about bullying, and that bullying is not okay. Ever.
I was bullied at school. I was the chubby kid, the kid with glasses, the ‘teacher’s pet’. I was told by one boy that I should have a ‘wide load’ sticker on my back among other taunts. Luckily I have a very strong family who have taught me to stand up for myself and not let playground taunts define my whole identity. I was also taught that there is much more to a person than the way they look, or the size of their jeans, or the colour of their skin, or who they love. When I left the playground behind those bullies disappeared. I am so blessed that the people who surround me now are positive, encouraging, and life-affirming individuals. I have fought internal bullying, but my family, friends, and colleagues have only ever been a source of support and love.Many others are not so lucky and face bullies at school, at work, and even, sadly, at home. Over the past year alone we have many seen young people who have taken their own lives because of bullying. That is not okay.
Jennifer’s words in response to the bully are powerful; they provide a platform for further action. She says, ‘I am much more than a number on a scale’ and ‘I do a job not worth being critical of my appearance…talk to me about the stories I cover, not about my weight’. Jennifer raises (at least) two important points here. Firstly, we are all so much more than the number that blinks back at us from the bathroom scale; we are more than our quantity of body mass suggests. You cannot measure the weight of someone’s ability to love, their compassion, their humour, their intelligence, on a set of scales. Secondly, for most of us, our potential as people is not determined by what we look like on the outside, but rather our ambition and drive, our capacity to work hard and dedicate our lives to something that is important to us. We aren’t all actors and actresses or models who are vying for positions based on our appearance, and truth be told all those models and actors and actresses are more than their appearance as well – they are people who just happen to look a certain way. Jennifer Livingston is a brilliant news anchor: a position that relies on her ability to analyse what is happening in the world and share information with the public. It doesn’t matter what she looks like, or how much she weighs. In Australia recently our Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been the subject of public comment about the size of her posterior. That is not okay. Who cares about the size of her seat? Her job is to lead Australia and to support our nation, not to be a size 0.
One particular sentence in Jennifer’s editorial especially touched me, and rallied me into writing this today:
‘The cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many.’
Do you want to be the one, or part of the many? I know that I would rather be part of a chorus of shouts from every corner supporting others. I would rather be joined at the heart with those of a similar conscious who declare ‘that is not okay’ when the one cruel voice decides to drag down, taunt, or shame, their target. I would like to shout out that it doesn’t matter what colour your skin is, who you love, what your clothing size is, what you look like on the outside. What matters is your ability to be the best you and support others to be their best self as well. Every one of us has something that is uniquely special and goals and dreams and hopes that have nothing to do with our external features or sexual preferences and everything to do with how hard we are going to work towards achieving our goals. Let that be the ground upon which we are judged.
Let the shouts of many embrace us. Let the cruel words of a few be lost to the background noise of clapping in support for our fellow human beings.
I feel passion for this, I feel the need to take this further, but for now, dear friends, talk to me.
How can we make this a shout of many?