When Jennifer Livingston, a local news anchor in La Crosse, Wisconsin, received an email from a viewer attacking her for her weight, she decided to address the issue on air. Her moving response made national headlines and landed her on "Today" on October 3rd, speaking with Savannah Guthrie.
The subject line of the email criticizing Livingston's weight was "Community Responsibility." "Surely you don't consider yourself a suitable example for this community's young people, girls in particular," the male viewer wrote. "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 you'll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle."
During the October 2nd WKBT-TV morning broadcast, Livingston said, "I tried my best to laugh off the very hurtful attack on my appearance," but her husband (and fellow anchor) Mike Thompson had responded differently. He posted the email on Facebook, prompting a flood of comments. Livingston told WKBT-TV viewers that it was this outpouring of support that led her to address the fat-shaming head on -- on television. (To watch the full video of her remarks, scroll down.) She said:
The truth is, I am overweight ... 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... so you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside and I am much more than a number on a scale.
I leave you with this: 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.
She expanded on these comments this morning on "Today," calling the national attention "really overwhelming but inspiring." Livingston also explained to Guthrie why she felt it was necessary to address this particular email publicly. "I can deal with being called fat, I can deal with being called obese," she said. "It was calling me a bad role model that really rubbed me the wrong way, and not only a bad role model for our community but for young girls in particular. I'm the mother of three girls. I felt like that was an unfair judgment from someone who doesn't know me ... He's only doing that by my appearance."
Livingston also emphasized that she's not opposed to discussing public health issues like the obesity epidemic, but she feels that personal attacks shouldn't be part of that dialogue. "I think that it's a good conversation to have, [but] I think that his approach was totally inappropriate," she told Guthrie. "I have never gone in public and said that I am the shining example of what your health should be."
She decided to take on her bully publicly in order to set an example for her children, she said:
I'm having conversations with my 10-year-old daughter about bullying right now, and I'm telling her that if she sees bullying happen [to] other people, she needs to take a stand ... Well what kind of a message am I teaching her when my husband and I are talking about this mean email that I received and I'm not taking a stand for myself?
The viewer who sent her the email, Kenneth Krause, gave a statement to "Today" standing by his original comments. "Considering Jennifer Livingston's fortuitous position in the community, I hope she will finally take advantage of a rare and golden opportunity to influence the health and psychological well-being of Coulee region children by transforming herself for all of her viewers to see over the next year," he wrote.