WKBT anchor Jennifer Livingston, got a letter from a viewer that harshly criticized her "physical condition," saying she was not a "suitable example for community's young." The news anchor decided to answer her critic on her morning news show.
The viewer's letter read:
"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."
The letter went viral after Livingston's husband, Mike Thompson, a fellow news anchor at WKBT, posted it to Facebook, describing it as "sick" and "infuriating." His Facebook comment received many supporting responses with people expressing anger at the letter.
Livingston responded to her critic on air, in a segment that lasted four minutes during her morning news show Tuesday on WKBT-TV. She said she was used to such criticism and that she had not intended to respond. She said her supporters, however, encouraged her to make a response.
After she had read the letter aloud, she said:
"The truth is, I am overweight. You can 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? That your cruel words are pointing out something that I don't see? You don't know me. You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family, and you have admitted you don't watch this show. You know nothing about me but what you see on the outside, and I am much more than a number on a scale".
Livingston told the audience that October is anti-bullying month, and added:
"That man’s words mean nothing to me, but 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 and is passed down from people like that man to those who don't know any better.
"If you are at home and you are talking about the fat news lady, guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat."
She thanked her supporters, saying she was inspired by their messages. She ended her message:
"To all of the children out there who feel lost, who are struggling with your weight, with the color of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability, even the acne on your face, listen to me right now. 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."
Livingston's response once again raises the issue of bullying of persons perceived as overweight, especially in American culture with a near-obsessional concern with weight issues. Dr. Robyn Silverman, a body image expert and author of the book "Good Girls Don't Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up Our Girls & How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It," reportedly said Livingston's response was appropriate. He reportedly said: "I applaud her for her response. It was a very responsible response." He criticized the attitude that considers it appropriate to make unkind comments about people based on their personal physical traits, such as body weight. He said: "We send the message to our children that they are not good enough, they are not valuable enough, unless they look a certain way."
However, some have disapproved of Livingston's response, describing it as a "tirade."