WKBT-TV morning news anchor Jennifer Livingston has a message for the man who criticized her weight in an email: he's a bully and she's more than a number on a scale.
Livingston says she has thick skin, "literally and otherwise," but what really set her off was the fact that this viewer is clearly setting a poor example for children and fostering the problem of bullying in schools.
"If you are at home and you are talking about the fat news lady, guess what? Your kids are probably going to go to school and call somebody fat," she said in an on-air response Tuesday.
JENNIFER LIVINGSTON'S MESSAGE
"To all of the children out there who feel lost, who are struggling with your weight, the color of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability, even the acne on your face. Listen to me 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."
Watch the video on YouTube.
Livingston's response has turned into a huge talker on Facebook, and she made the rounds on the morning news networks on Wednesday, but there's a blooming debate about whether what she faced was bullying or simple rudeness.
"That e-mail was articulate. It was well written, but make no mistake about it, it was meant to hurt my feelings," Livingston said on CBS. "It was meant to shame me into losing weight, and in my opinion, that's a bully."
The social media storm began on Friday when Livingston's husband, also an anchor in La Crosse, took to Facebook to post the critical e-mail, which cited obesity as a dangerous health condition and said community personalities should be role models. The writer did not say she shouldn't be on TV because she is unattractive. Rather, he said it was irresponsible to set a bad example and asked Livingston to reconsider her responsibility to promote a healthy lifestyle.
The e-mail was certainly critical, but is it bullying? Family counselor Nina Johnson says no one on the outside can make that call.
"It's all in the perception," she said. "If a person feels attacked or intimidated or hurt, they will probably consider that bullying."
Jillian Lampert, of the Emily Project, works with those who struggle with eating disorders. She says half of those people have been teased about their weight. She commended Livingston for standing up to the writer.
"To me, [she's] a very good role model because it tells us that we're looking beyond superficial physical appearances and presumably looking at the quality of your brain," Lampert said.
The video has been viewed millions of times on YouTube, but media ethics professor Jane Kirtley took exception to the anchors using air time to discuss personal issues.
"Simply because something is suddenly trending on Twitter or getting a lot of hits on YouTube doesn't necessarily mean -- in the limited amount of time that we have available to cover the news -- that this is a good use of our time," she said.
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