Jennifer Livingston: Bullied For Being Fat or a Bully For Fighting Back?

When I heard that a news anchor was criticized for being fat, I figured she was not actually fat. I figured she was just an average looking woman who was not stick thin like the rest of her on-air peers. I figured this was some Khloe Kardashian like case where the victim would be gorgeous and thin – just living in a world with people smaller than her, therefore making her seem bigger than she is. Like, we all know Khloe isn’t fat. Come on.

But when I saw Jennifer Livingston, that was not the case. Jennifer was significantly bigger than any news anchor I have ever seen before – from the Today show cast to local news anchors in small market affiliates to the people who reported the news on my college’s TV station. She was big. Bigger than average. Much bigger actually.

Jennifer was sent an email from a viewer criticizing her for being fat. He called her a bad role model to the community because she was promoting obesity. In response to the email, Jennifer went ahead and criticized him, the reader, on-air for bullying her. Her very public speech has struck much controversy among the entire country. Some think Jennifer was right for speaking out against her alleged bully, and some think she was wrong and just as much of a bully for doing what she did. My opinion on the matter falls on each side of the spectrum.

No – I am not a public figure – but I do know what it feels like to be criticized. I have received rude comments and emails that criticize me from readers of Forever Twenty Somethings. Each time I read a negative thing about myself, my work, and/or my life I get upset, as anyone would, and often at times I want to travel inside my computer, come out the other end, and punch my new found enemy in the face. But I refrain. I then debate writing an article disputing this person’s claim. Or even simply responding back through comment for everyone to see or by email for only the person to see. But I don’t. I sit back, give it time, and tell myself this person is clearly pathetic as they are taking time out of their day to actually read what I’m writing – even though they don’t like it – and then write something in response to it. They are giving my website hits and taking the time out of their day to pay attention to ME. Good attention, bad attention – it’s all attention. And any attention is good attention. Look at Rebecca Black.

I do think Jennifer took it slightly too far by responding to this person on-air. She could have taken a day or two to blow off some steam and move on with her life. And if she really had to, she could have responded via email to this guy. She knows she is fat – she even claimed to acknowledge that she was obese – so this is not news to her. What made her lash out against this man is the fact he called her a bad role model – simply because of her weight. And even though what this man said is not okay, everyone has their own opinions and publicly outing him is not going to change his.

So although I think Jennifer could have been the bigger person and left the issue alone, I do believe what she said in her response was correct. I understand my experience receiving criticism on my blog is not the same as people criticizing my appearance, but I have had my weight criticized before and it hurts. Weight is a very touchy subject for many people – especially woman. It is very rare for a person to always be satisfied with the number they see on the scale, which is why eating disorders exist. And when someone criticizes someone’s weight to the point where he or she develops an eating disorder, depression, or a want to commit suicide, that is bullying. Everyone saying this man is not a bully is wrong. A bully is a person who says mean things to hurt someone else. Jennifer knows she is fat, and constantly hearing it hurts. Yes – obesity is a problem in America, but does this man think ‘fat’ people cannot have the same dreams as skinny people? Does he think every ‘fat’ person out there can help the way they look? Is this man even thin himself? In part of Jennifer’s response to him, she said:

“You don’t know me. You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family, and you have admitted that you don’t watch this show. So you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside, and I am much more than a number on the scale.”

I am sure these words have been building up in Jennifer’s mind for years, and this guy just so happened to be ‘the last straw,’ making him the person she took her anger out on. I mean he cannot be the one and only person who has ever wrote to a public figure criticizing him or her for being fat or ugly. He can not be the only one who has said something negative to Jennifer about her weight and career.

So although I don’t think speaking out against the once-private email is the route Jennifer had to take, I am glad she did so. Not only is her news station most likely benefiting from all the attention, but if Jennifer hadn’t spoken out I would have never known she existed. What I love about Jennifer is that she didn’t let her weight stop her from going after her dreams. She knows she is not your every day average news anchor and she’s proud of it. When I was younger, I wanted to be an actress. After that, a rock star. And after that, a person on TV. But eventually I decided on going after a career behind the scenes because I didn’t have the body for it. I had always been interested in reporting, but I didn’t think it would be possible. I was not stick thin and I had always struggled with my weight, making me way too nervous to try it out – too nervous that people would question my weight or talk amongst each other about it. And I was not nearly as big as Jennifer. Whenever someone questions me to this day if I want to be on-air in the future, I laugh and respond ‘no. I’d need to at least lose 20 pounds.’ But Jennifer never had these thoughts. And if she did, they never stopped her from doing what she wanted. That is what makes her so special and inspirational.

Sure she has a famous brother (Ron Livingston), so we all know she’s not your average girl from a small town who came from nothing. But she’s certainly not a celebrity. She works at WKBT, a local CBS affiliate news station in La Crosse, Wisconsin (yeah, I’ve never heard of it either). She is a mother of three children, including a one year old. And without a celebrity personal trainer (and time), you just can imagine how hard it is to get that weight off.

Without all the controversy surrounding Jennifer right now, she – herself – is inspiring. People do not think of your every day average news anchor as a role model. But the Emmy winning journalist certainly is – and not because she spoke out against a bully. But because she is proving to overweight people across the country that they can make their dreams happen – even if they want a career where the job description sometimes entails an unwritten requirement of being thin. To Jennifer, anything is possible. If only everyone else thought like that too.

Samantha Matt

Hi I’m Sam. I made this website in 2011 and it’s still going. My first book, AVERAGE IS THE NEW AWESOME, is coming out in January (you can buy it right now on Amazon or from your fave bookstore!). I like pizza, French fries, barre, spin, more pizza, more French fries, and buying clothes. Writing is fun. Follow me on twitter & Instagram at @samanthamatt1... and on this site's meme account on IG at @20somethingproblems. OKAY GREAT THANKS BYE.

2 Comments
  1. that women is not bright. she is using the pulpit of tv and a famous brother to push a bad meme about being a bullied. she goes on to discuss words as weapons and the evils social networking.. like most americans these days she doesn’t understand a persons right to be a free thinker or understand freedom of speech.

    1. Flip-side. The idea of a “role-model” is just a blanket for imposing your own personal world-view on someone. The viewer who wrote in obviously lives in a world where there is a direct correlation between being a news anchor and a good person over all.

      So the connection goes… you are fat, so you must have bad things about you which cause you to be fat, therefore you are less worthy. You bring your less worthy self to be on T.V. and now the viewer feels like this is “normalizing” fatness or that there is an implicit “being fat is ok” message sent out to the viewers therefore making her a “bad role model”.

      Is a T.V. anchor really concerned with being a role model? Shouldn’t they be concerned with oh, I don’t know, telling the fucking news?

      The bottom line is her job has nothing to do with her weight and the fact that someone made that link in a negative fashion shows how poor this viewers thought processes really are. Yet I am not saying he shouldn’t have said it. He should have if he thinks it.

      Rightfully so, she should be able to say whatever she wants back to him without being accused of “using a pulpit” or some other bullshit? Why should she not be able to address her critic? Why is addressing your critic wrong?

      This all promotes this insane, destructive ideal that we all have to be docile loving creatures in the face of getting shit on by some asshole with too much time on his hands being concerned not with the actual news but of the body of the person delivering it.

      free thinkers are great, but only when they are concerned more with the thinking and less with the freedom.

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