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TV anchorwoman responds to a letter writer offended that she dares to be fat in public

By now you may have seen the pointed on-air response that Jennifer Livingston, a news anchor for WKTB in La Crosse Wisconsin, gave to a viewer who suggested that someone as fat as she is should not really be on TV, lest young girls get the idea that it’s ok to be fat.

Here’s the video. Some thoughts on it below.

Let’s go back, for a moment, to what the guy said in his email. (You can find a transcript of the whole video here.)

Hi Jennifer,

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.

While couched as helpful advice from a concerned citizen, the email basically suggests that Jennifer is, in essence, committing a crime against young girls by being fat in public. While Livingston, as a TV anchor, presumably “assaults” thousands of young girls by appearing on TV fat, the letter writer’s logic would presumably apply to every fat woman who posts pictures of herself online, appears in a play, or even just goes outside where others can see her.

Indeed, one woman I know has gotten similar, er, complaints, from people who’ve attacked her for “celebrating obesity” by posting pictures of herself on her blog looking something other than miserable and ashamed of her body.

In addition to the fact that Livingston’s weight is none of this guy’s fucking business, it should also be noted that the he’s simply incorrect in assuming that a person’s weight has much to do with the healthiness of their lifestyle. There are plenty of skinny people living less than healthy lives, including many in the public eye. (Has he ever heard of eating disorders? Or Keith Richard?) And fatness in itself is not a sign of an unhealthy lifestyle, nor does it generally add to health risks. Indeed, as author and fat blogger Kate Harding has noted:

Weight itself is not a health problem, except in the most extreme cases (i.e., being underweight or so fat you’re immobilized). In fact, fat people live longer than thin people and are more likely to survive cardiac events … obesity research is turning up surprising information all the time — much of which goes ignored by the media … Just because you’ve heard over and over and over that fat! kills! doesn’t mean it’s true. It just means that people in this culture really love saying it.

What you eat makes a difference to your health – not how much, or how many of the calories go directly to your waistline.

Meanwhile even those who actually want to lose a lot of weight don’t have many practical options besides gastric surgery, which carries its own health risks. Diets tend to be a mixture of quackery and false hope. They can be unhealthy and even dangerous – and the overwhelming majority of dieters eventually gain back what they lose. For most people, short of gastric surgery, the only way to lose a lot of weight and keep it off is to remain on a diet forever.

But the issue here isn’t really health. It’s body policing. As Livingston herself noted, fat people know that they’re fat. They don’t need it pointed out to them, even if the person pointing it out convinces themselves that they’re doing it for the fat person’s good. And frankly, most of those pointing it out don’t have good intentions. (It’s no coincidence that the favorite insult of the MRAs and other misogynists who hate this blog is to call me fat; I expect some will use this post an excuse for another round of fat-shaming.)

As Livingston noted in her reply to the letter-writer:

The truth is, I am overweight. You could 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 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 a scale.

And here is where I want all of us to learn something from this. If you didn’t already know, October is National Anti-Bullying Month, and this is a problem that is growing every day in our schools and on the internet. It is a major issue in the lives of young people today and as the mother of three young girls it scares me to death. Now I am a grown women and luckily for me I have a very thick skin, literally, as that email pointed out, and otherwise. And that man’s words mean nothing to me. But what really angers me 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. Our schools have become a battleground. And this behaviour is learned. It is passed down from people like the man who wrote me that email.

Since Livingston’s video went viral, the letter writer has come forward to double-down on his fat-shaming, saying in a statement that he hopes “she will finally take advantage of a rare and golden opportunity to influence the health and psychological well-being of Coulee Region by transforming herself for all of her viewers to see over the next year.”

I’m not quite sure why the letter writer thinks it’s Livingston’s job to “transform … herself” to meet his desired specifications. But I doubt there’s any point to arguing that with him unless he can first transform himself into something other than the real-world version of an internet “concern troll.”

After reading all this, I thought I’d take a look at MGTOWforums.com – where the regulars are not exactly shy about expressing their opinions about the appearance of women —  to see if the regulars had responded with their customary compassion and respect. By which I mean self-righteousness and fat jokes. I was not disappointed.

Bubbagumpshrimp, while himself fat, decided it was perfectly fair to attack the weight of a fat women who – gasp! – puts herself on TV.

The writer stated the truth without resorting to being mean about it. He didn’t call her fat or anything mean. He just referred to her as what she obviously is…obese. This coming from someone that’s a good sized guy. You can’t go into a career that has you on camera, be her size, and be shocked when people call you on it. You VOLUNTARILY put yourself out there to be judged. If you don’t want to be picked apart on your weight, go be an IT person or something.

The problem in this country is that obese people are viewed as victims of a medical condition. The reality of it is that they are in a self-induced state. They have no one to blame but themselves. Putting someone like that out there to be a whiner when it’s obvious that she partakes in the all you can eat buffet line makes her exactly what the writer said…not a good role model for children.

Stewie displayed his rapier wit:

You shouldn’t be reporting on climate changes when you are so fat you are causing them.

Simple conflict of interest.

I don’t think she should be allowed to talk about earth quakes or talk shit about the gravitational pull of the moon either.

You know, because she’s FAT. (The climate and weather references are there because the MGTOWforum regulars seem to think she’s a weather person.)

DruidV, meanwhile, waxed indignant that a woman who doesn’t appeal to his boner is even allowed on TV:

This kind of shit is exactly why I killed my TV years ago.

Look, bitch, you’re FAT!

Listen, bitch, it’s perfectly a okay for anyone to tell you so publicly or otherwise. You don’t have the right to not be offended.

Let me say it again, bitch, YOU ARE FAT! and also very ugly, so I guess what you really are is FUGLY, bitch!

No, it’s NOT to be celebrated either, you nasty slob! It’s disgusting and pathetic. You should at least be ashamed of yourself, since laying off the buffet and hitting the gym is apparently out of the question, but then you are also female, which means you can’t even shut up about yourself long enough to see what a laughing stock you are. Three strikes and you are out, Bertha.

That said, couldn’t we pony up some $$$ to get this hideous broad (pun intended) replaced by a hot bikini blonde weather slut? It’s bad enough to have to watch our shitty weather play out, but do we really have to look at an indignant fat pig telling us how great and special she and her husband thinks she is at the same time?

Blah!

Blah indeed — because the letter writer’s missive to Livingston was really only a more politely worded, passive-aggressive version of this sort of hateful shit.

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CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

Twomoogles is on the right track. The problem here isn’t the preferences themselves, it’s both the way in which people act on and express their preferences and the blatant hypocrisy of thinking that you have a right to have preferences while other people do not.*

Which again is part of why I’m not buying the whole idea that everyone must question their preferences, because in my experience that demand is often made when someone has just been told that they don’t fit someone else’s preferences (this happened to me a lot as a teenager, still does sometimes), and honestly it’s often pretty damn self-serving.

Also did Grumbles say that he only found white women pretty? Obviously he chose Christina Hendricks, who’s pretty damn pasty, as his ideal, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as declaring all WOC to be un-pretty.

* This is part of why I’m so uncomfortable with this whole thing. Given that I have strong preferences and I’m not willing to budge on them it would be hypocritical of me to tell other people off for having their own preferences. In the US my preferences as far as men are concerned aren’t very mainstream, but that’s not because I examined and questioned and all that jazz, it’s just the luck of the draw. Put me in a different part of the world and suddenly my preferences become mainstream, without me changing or examining in any way.

Honestly I find the whole idea that everyone could potentially be attracted to anyone regardless of how the other person looks completely baffling, because it’s never worked that way for me at all.

ozymandias42
9 years ago

I think that for many people it’s possible that you’re attracted to more body types than you think you’re attracted to? Like, I used to think I wasn’t really attracted to POC, but the actual problem was a blindingly white social circle combined with a society that only presented white as sexy. Once I saw some POC who were clearly presented as being sexy, I was very attracted to them.

I also think that preferences are socially shaped, but I’m not sure how one can change them, you know?

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

I can see that argument working for young people, or people who might not have been exposed to enough people outside of a very narrow circle to be sure who they are and aren’t attracted to yet. But using myself as an example, I’m nearly 40, and I’ve lived on 4 different continents. I’m pretty sure that I know that I am and am not attracted to by this point, and every time I’ve been told to consider whether or not I’m being too restrictive it’s been in the context of either a. why don’t you want to date me you bitch? or b. you should give that guy a chance, he obviously likes you, what kind of cruel heartless woman won’t even consider dating a man she’s not remotely attracted to?

Basically I think this stuff tips over into Nice Guy (or Nice Girl) territory pretty easily.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

And then there are people like Mr Al, for whom there did some to be some race issues going on in terms of the groups of people he was categorically dismissing as potentially attractive, so I can see where the impulse to say “examine!” comes from, I just don’t like the idea that a. everyone should be in a state of constant self-examination and b. the assumption that if you do examine you will eventually come to be attracted to whichever people you’re not attracted to now. The latter assumption particularly bothers me, because I don’t think that’s how sexuality works.

ozymandias42
9 years ago

I dunno, I think that there has to be a way of talking about the way that sexual preferences and definitions of beauty are socially constructed and often oppressive to marginalized groups, without saying that Unless You Like Fat Black Disabled Trans Women Your Sexuality Is Wrooooong.

Also, there are lots of people who are more sexually attracted to people’s minds than people’s bodies (hi!). I definitely have sexual preferences, but I’ll go gaga over a smart arrogant geek with progressive tendencies regardless of what they look like. If you’re the sort of person who’s more attracted

Alsoalso, I think that “examine your preferences” is possibly a less fruitful line of discussion than “how the fuck did feminine skinny young white abled cis women become the definition of attractiveness given that very few people are solely attracted to feminine skinny young white abled cis women?”

ozymandias42
9 years ago

I… I don’t remember how I was going to finish the sentence at the end of the second paragraph.

The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

I agree, Cassandra. The self-examination thing also seems to me to have an element of “everyone is a potential sexual partner” in it. It reminds me of all the advice (Captain Awkward, for instance) about NOT acting as if socialising = trying to get laid.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

Yeah, I think that “your preferences are wrong, now change them” is ultimately not going to be a very fruitful way to address the issue of how society shapes preferences. The issue of how and why certain types became shorthand for “perfect platonic ideal of beauty”, and other types shorthand for “sex! lots of sex!”, is much more likely to lead to fruitful discussion, imo.

Part of what I’m objecting to is the idea that being primarily attracted to personalities is good, while initially filtering by looks and then by personality is bad, though. I don’t think either one of those ways of filtering is better than the other, they’re just different.

The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

Damn, shoulda refreshed. Ozy, yes, great summary.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

Which is another reason why this conversation tends to bug me. Part of what we should be talking about with Hendricks is the fetishization of large breasts and how many cultures tend to use them as shorthand for “sex, lots of sex!”, and separate idealized female body types into The Sexy Type, The Beautiful Type, The Elegant Type, etc. What’s interesting to me about the societal response to Hendricks is how profoundly uncomfortable the media is with dealing with her looks in contexts where the goal is Elegant, or Stylish, rather than Let’s Masturbate Now. Facially she fits the current beauty ideal very well indeed, but add a few extra pounds and big boobs and suddenly people are freaking out over standard celebrity stuff like actress on red carpet in expensive gown.

MollyRen (@MollyRen)
9 years ago

…I just don’t like the idea that a. everyone should be in a state of constant self-examination and b. the assumption that if you do examine you will eventually come to be attracted to whichever people you’re not attracted to now. The latter assumption particularly bothers me, because I don’t think that’s how sexuality works.

Personally, when I hope people self-examine, the result I’m going for ISN’T a fetish change. What I *really want* is for people to think about BOUNDARIES. The people who I most often wish would examine their sexual motives are like, sending me creepy messages or leaving weird commentary under pictures of fat ladies on Tumblr. All too often, though, people interpret messages asking them to be respectful of people they’ve never met as “THEY’RE STEALIN’ MAH BONERZ!”

Kim
Kim
9 years ago

Any time you’re fitting very neatly into a pigeon hole with your tastes or behaviour, it’s worth thinking about whether that really is your thing or if you’re just taking path of least resistance. Maybe it’s the real you. Nothing wrong with that. But you might realise there are other things you like as well. Either way, you’ve learnt something about yourself.

drst
drst
9 years ago

I don’t understand how you guys think anyone can recognize how their own preferences were shaped and consider them critically without, you know, examining their preferences.

I don’t think suggesting people need to stop and think about what attracts them and how that was shaped requires anyone to change their feelings at the end. But everyone does need to self-examine and think about it. Because this isn’t just about attraction, it’s about how we treat other people overall. We all need to examine our preferences (i.e. assumptions) all the time, because we live in societies that are inequitable, and that won’t change so long as people sit and blithely assure themselves “Oh I’ve been around a while, I’ve got my preferences and don’t need to think about this any more.” That’s a dangerous mindset for dealing with other human beings in general.

Put it this way: attraction is a microcosm of human interaction. Considering how you developed attraction to certain types of people, especially when it comes to how they look, is important to critically understand how society gives value to people. If at the end your preferences don’t change, that’s fine, but you understand the social order better. Which can ripple out to the rest of your life, say in hiring decisions or whatnot.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

@MollyRen

Well, yeah, but that’s not what I’m talking about. If what you mean is that there was no good reason for Grumbles to insert updates on his penis into this thread in the first place then I agree. That doesn’t change the fact that “please reassess your sexual preferences” can sometimes be an idea that isn’t actually all that helpful, especially if aimed at women. I’ve mostly experienced it as “please explain why you think you have a right not to want to have sex with me, and then reconsider”, and I think I have a right to point that out.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

I don’t think it is necessarily about how we treat other people overall. If people are treating those who they’re not attracted to badly in a general sense, then the problem is that they’re basing their treatment of everyone they meet on who they do and don’t want to fuck, not that they do/don’t want to fuck the wrong people.

Also, every time I’ve seen this subject raised the belief that if people did examine things properly their preferences would of course change has been pretty heavily implied.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

OK, one more comment and then I’m going to step back for now, because I’m getting frustrated.

The problem I have with the whole examine your preferences thing is that it’s used in a way that implies that if you’re mostly attracted to people who’re currently considered conventionally attractive (or you’ve just expressed a liking for Hottie of the Moment), that means that you must not have examined enough, because if you had then your patterns of attraction would be different. That’s how it was being used here. Now granted that Grumbles has been annoying a lot of people lately, and “here are some notes from my boner” in response to this particular thread is frustratingly clueless. Still, the fact that it’s almost always phrased in a way that makes it clear that the person being addressed is assumed not to have examined enough or else they wouldn’t have the preferences that they do is pretty fucked up, imo.

AB
AB
9 years ago

I’m with CassandraSays. I’ve experienced too much “But you not being attracted to me is just not faaaair. I DERSERVE you! You need to re-examine your preferences and try to change them so they’re more socially just (to me)” to believe in the usefulness of questioning people’s desires in regards to anything but consent.

I think it goes without saying that we all need to stop equating “Is attractive to me” with “Is a good person worthy of respect”. And I think we can all agree that constant updates from guys’ boners are annoying. And that we need to stop shaming people how have unconventional tastes, and assume that they’re only with their current partner because they couldn’t get anything ‘better’. And that many ideas about ‘conventional taste’ aren’t nearly as common as they’re made out to be. And that the media needs to show a broader range of people as being sexually desirable (or just show a broader range of people to begin with, especially women). And I think such a change of attitudes and portrayals could have an effect on people’s tastes in real life all by itself

But the attitude Cassandra is talking about, where everybody with conventional tastes are assumed to not know what they really want, is not helping. It’s a bit like fat-shaming, in that it often has the opposite effect. Presenting certain sexual preferences as automatically suspect doesn’t necessarily cause people to truly examine themselves and get more into contact with what they really want, it’s just as likely to get them to lose touch with what they really want. And in real life, it’s also usually only aimed at women, which just makes it exhausting when even non-mainstreamers start to participate in it in the name of social justice.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

Thank you. I was beginning to feel like either I’d completely forgotten how to communicate or I’d fallen into some kind of Twilight Zone where this stuff is never used as a way to bypass women’s sexual preferences.

Fitzy
Fitzy
9 years ago

OK, y’all are hitting way to close to home with all this self-examination talk.

My brother and I have recently started to dissect our childhoods, and it just amazes us is how casually, unconsciously racist/sexist our parents were. The fact that both of us had friends with off-the-charts racist parents (the kind whose dinnertime pleasantries included “those goddam stupid dirty *insert slur of choice* think they deserve everything, they should just go back to *insert country/continent* and *insert primitive activity*”) kind of gave ours a pass. After going to other houses and hearing stuff that could have drawn applause at a Klan rally, my mom’s “There’s the most well spoken little black boy in my class this year – really!” and Dad’s “He may be gay, but he’s a nice boy and he takes care of his momma” just didn’t register. My folks never gave the impression that POC or gays were inhuman, just that they were “not like us,” and therefore not to be judged the by same standards.

Then we both moved out and actually met people outside of our own race/sexual preferences/class background. Boy, did our eyes get wrenched open. I consciously rejected pretty much everything I’d learned at my parents’ knees regarding gender issues and race, and now I end up calling my mom out on some egregious bullshit every time I visit home. It’s not fun, but I what she says is wrong and I don’t want my daughter growing up with the same kind of prejudices I had to overcome.

This conversation about double-checking what attracts you, though, is making me wonder how much I’ve internalized without even realizing it. Back in my single days, I never even considered whether I found guys of different races attractive. I didn’t go “ew, never!” I just only had eyes for white boys. I don’t doubt that my (Caucasian) husband is right for me, and I’m happy with my choice. But now I’m wondering if something really crappy motivated my choices before I met him.

Now I understand why the trolls on this board are all so cranky. You feminists are making me think!!! 🙂

Fitzy
Fitzy
9 years ago

My issues aside, I agree with CassandraSays, twomoogles, and AB, too. Who hasn’t had her dating choices seconded-guessed by someone? I got married fairly young, but even my limited dating history I had a bunch of urgings along the lines of “Why don’t you like him? He’s so great! You should give him a chance! Go to the movies with him on Friday! He reeeeaally likes you.” Yup, the fact that he reeeeally liked me completely invalidated the fact that I felt we had all the chemistry of toothpaste and orange juice. Because his feeling were true, and I was only being stubborn because I was holding out for Keanu Reeves (I was not holding out for Keanu Reeves).

Slightly OT, but that “he’s so great!” always floored me. No one ever gave me a solid reason why said guy was so great. There was never “He volunteers to cuddle sick puppies at the animal shelter,” or “He’s learning Mandarin Chinese just for fun,” or “He likes that same awful Adult Swim cartoon that you do, and you can nerd out together.” If asked for empirical evidence of greatness, the date-pusher always said, “But he’s such a nice guy!” Yup, going out without someone because another person vouches for niceness always promises that an awesome time will be had by all.

mythago
9 years ago

but now that we’re on the subject of sexual preferences I don’t care for the idea that people need to examine said preferences and feel bad if they’re too mainstream

It’s not about ‘mainstream’. Shaming is usually directed at people whose preferences are NOT mainstream (for example, BDSM: how many people are asked if they were abused as children because that must be why they’re not masochists?).

But I also don’t get the argument that double-checking should apply to everything except preference/attraction. I mean, if somebody posted that they were totally into women in blue-collar jobs because working-class women are animals in bed, we’d all think that was problematic, right? Not because their preference was too ‘mainstream’ or because it was ‘wrong’, but because it stemmed from some pretty classist assumptions. It might well be OK that after examining and dealing with their own classism, that person might still find women with tool belts totally hot. And that’s fine.

mythago
9 years ago

Also, Fitzy, “Insert Primitive Activity” would be an awesome band name.

Gametime
9 years ago

Twomoogles is on the right track. The problem here isn’t the preferences themselves, it’s both the way in which people act on and express their preferences and the blatant hypocrisy of thinking that you have a right to have preferences while other people do not.

But you could flip this line of thinking around and say that the problem isn’t people being asked to examine their preferences, it’s people being asked to examine their preferences as a cover for people being told their preferences are bad or wrong.

I don’t see how “you might want to spend some time thinking about the ways society has influenced your conceptualization of attraction and think about whether you might be capable of attraction to groups you haven’t considered due to their underrepresentation as ‘beautiful’ in popular media” is automatically suspect, but “I’m only attracted to white people, IT’S JUST MY PREFERENCE” gets a pass. Like, you wanna side-eye both, sure, that’s probably fair. There’s definitely a lot of grey area. But just the first one? I’m not seeing it.

Gametime
9 years ago

Also, what Mythago said.

Unimaginative
Unimaginative
9 years ago

because I was holding out for Keanu Reeves (I was not holding out for Keanu Reeves).

But there’s nothing wrong with holding out for Keanu Reeves, is there? IS THERE?!

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