Jennifer Livingston, 37, an anchor/reporter at WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wis., received an email last week from a viewer criticizing her size. The email, in part, read as follows:
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. Surely 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.
Jennifer’s husband after reading the email spoke up for her on his Facebook page. And more importantly Jennifer decided to speak up and offer her own voice, she is above in the video. And in standing up for herself she stood up for all women who are negatively judged based solely on appearance, at all ages of our lives.
And she stood up for me. Now, she didn’t know she was doing this. I have never met her and never saw her until I came across this story. But when she exercised her voice, she reminded me that my voice matters.
See I can relate to receiving anonymous (or semi-anonymous) comments on my weight from someone trying to “help” but the words do not help instead those words cause injury to one’s spirit and sense of self.
At the start of the school semester I picked up my course reviews for the winter term. I receive for each class both a statistical result section and a qualitative set of responses filled out by students. Many students write nothing, some write highly positive feedback on everything, a few others provide constructive criticism that can be used to help better the course, and still there is the occasional downright hurtful. The anonymous person who thinks his/her words, because there is no name attached, can take to task whatever personal failure they perceive in the other. Usually I have largely positive comments with a few constructive criticisms thrown in for good measure. I take the comments seriously and hope they can assist me in improving my professional work.
Well, like I do every time I get my responses back, I read them right away. As I headed to my class to teach, I leafed through the written comments and I saw one that caused me to stop in my tracks.
As I read it I could feel my face begin to flush. And if I am honest some, shall we say, less than polite words came to mind. Because as I read I was informed: I was “lazy” as was evident by my “fat” appearance, which I should consider doing something about. Yes, this student decided that out of all the things he could properly pass on as course feedback my weight was the most imperative to address.
Now, I am not without knowledge of my own weight. My weight as I have mentioned before is an issue I have struggled with intensely after the birth of my fourth child and the health problems, including postpartum depression, I experienced during that time. I was not during the class nor I am now obese, but it is completely true that I was very overweight at the time and needed to lose more weight while getting in better shape overall. (And I am still on the journey to improved health). Still even if I were obese at the time, or any other number of appearance related items, it was not the student’s place to write about my body. It had no baring on the work. None. Not one ounce.
Now, I don’t claim that others should not notice appearance or care about someone’s health. Obviously as a result of simply being human and living in the world around me I am aware that all who know me, have known me, or will meet me that how I look is something they will see. I know that impressions are made not only on what we do during a particular act (e.g. speech, expression of self intelligently, organization, tone etc…) but also how we look to the other while we do the act in question. I know health is highly important, when we feel good, when our bodies and minds are in shape, and we care for ourselves we contribute not only to making ourselves better but those around us better.
I get that.
But when people jump to conclusions based on appearance, when they think they know why someone is “the way they are” based on appearance, they miss out on understanding the other. And worse they may add to making that person unhealthy, because if someone feels bad about who he/she is it will and it does effect that person’s overall health. That person isn’t motivated more by being “called out” on their weight, they aren’t motivated by being told they are not “suitable role models” and they aren’t motivated more by being told they should stop being fat & lazy. No, none of that motivates anyone in a positive way unless motivating me to dive into a bag of chips was the goal. Motivation is about feeling good and increasing that feeling in ourselves.
Further, it is the only the outer shell one sees with our body or our “look” not how we ended up where we are, who we truly are, or how our story will end. My student knew nothing of how I got to where I am. Nothing of the hard work I have put in to reclaim my health (work I was putting in at the time of his harsh words) and as a result how far I have come from where I once was. No, none of that was considered. Instead the mere fact that I was not (and I am still not) a perfect figure was duly noted.
When I told Mike of the response I had gotten. He said “There’s one in every bunch” and to “Ignore it, you’re beautiful.” And he was right. I am beautiful. I am loved and I am not a number on a scale.
I only hope that the kids or adults out there who have heard the same words or worse about some aspect of themselves that instead of letting those words pull them down they realize they too are beautiful.