Jennifer Livingston, news anchor from WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wisconsin, was criticized by a viewer recently for her weight via email. She then blasted the viewer on the air igniting a small media storm. I sympathize with Ms. Livingston. It was very hurtful for me to read the viewer’s email. I was floored. But then I began to ponder this a little deeper. Three questions came to mind. What makes a role model? Is this bullying? Can an overweight person ever be taken for who they are inside?
His email read as follows
Subject: Community Responsibility
It’s unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years.
Sure 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. I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.
Wow!! Talk about hurtful. A role model is defined as a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people. But the term role model is very subjective. Remember Charles Barkley’s “I am not a role model” speech? Who is this guy to say that she is a role model? Just because she’s in the public eye doesn’t mean she’s someone to be emulated. There are tons of people who are in the public eye who live their lives, make mistakes, and do despicable things everyday. None them are ‘role models’ unless you actually want to be like them. A role model to me is someone who I would like to be and I can choose who that is. Being in the public eye doesn’t automatically make you a role model. It just makes you visible.
Now Ms. Livingston’s response to this was that he’s a bully. I say “WHOA” on this one. How is he a bully? As far as we know he only sent one email to her privately condemning her for allowing her weight to bloom. He did not take it to the public for an open forum (of course bullying does not have to occur in the open). He didn’t say ‘go kill yourself’. He expressed his disappointment with her weight. He did say some very hurtful things like “surely you don’t consider yourself a role model” but is that bullying or stating an opinion. He also said that he hopes she would “consider” promoting a healthy lifestyle. Well that part doesn’t sound as mean as the rest of the letter. She may take it as bullying because she’s hurt by what the viewer said. However, this looks like a case of the media trying to blow up something that is irrelevant. We would have never known about this email if she hadn’t said something.
I wonder if people who are overweight will ever be taken seriously. I am conflicted about this. On one hand, the issue of image and weight is so frivolous to me when it comes to whether a person can do the task I expect them to do. Ms. Livingston is not a PE teacher or fitness instructor. She’s not telling me that I should live a healthy lifestyle. Her job is to deliver the news. That’s what I want to hear. Look at New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie and his weight issues
. He is the head of the Executive Branch of the state of New Jersey. He has to meet with lawmakers, delegate responsibilities, oversee employees, make appointments, etc. But there is nothing in his job description about being a model of fitness. On the other hand, as a health advocate I must say that this weight issue in American is beyond ridiculous. We all need to take a closer look at our diets and activity levels. Obesity is not only unhealthy but it is costly as well. (Medicare pays $1,700+ more for an obese
patient than a non-obese one). Seeing more models of healthy people can be motivating especially public figures who are seemingly abnormal.
My heart goes out to Ms. Livingston for having to endure a heart-breaking email like that one. I know criticism goes with the territory in her line of work but this is a personal attack that was uncalled for. She knows she’s overweight. Rubbing salt in her wound doesn’t help. But ignoring the issue won’t melt the pounds away either. Perhaps this will be the wake up call she needs to lose the weight for good.