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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

Who said “I’m only attracted to white people, it’s just my preference”, and who responded “oh, hey, that’s cool”?

Also, again, the whole idea that maybe one might be “capable” of attraction to Group X bothers me in all kinds of ways, not least of which is the way in which it replicates existing oppressions aimed at women. You could like that guy if you just tried! Why aren’t you trying?

It also seems very condescending. I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly want people being forced to examine whether or not they might be “capable” of being attracted to me if they just tried hard enough. It’s a little too “eat your broccoli”, which is both profoundly unerotic and insulting to the people who’re being framed as broccoli.

Unimaginative
Unimaginative
9 years ago

Among the many, many, MANY reasons why I would never let my dad be my matchmaker when I was in my early 20’s was his unfortunate tendency to suggest “just a fine young man” who was invariably a squid (where squid = someone I’m profoundly unattracted to). He might indeed be a fine young man, and an excellent protege and engineer, and I love my dad dearly, but I don’t ever want to be in a relationship with anyone remotely like him.

Why should I have to be the one to ignore my instincts and actively go looking for something about a potential mate to find appealing? People have to do that in forced/arranged marriages. People with agency don’t.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

In terms of race and dating, my working assumption is that if someone says things like “I just don’t find people of X race attractive” (or “all people of race Y are so beautiful/sexy/etc”) then they’re probably a huge racist, because there’s so much individual variation within any given racial group that you’re confidently declaring that within a group of a billion + people there cannot be a single person who you might find attractive, and how likely is that? It’s just that I’m not seeing anyone saying things like that here, so I think it’s a bit of a straw dater in terms of this specific conversation.

Fitzy
Fitzy
9 years ago

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

Heck, no! That’s a manifestation of good taste. 🙂

Unimaginative
Unimaginative
9 years ago

Argh. Sinus headache -> incoherence.

– I know people who are in arranged marriages who are very happy. Some of them have told me that once they got to know their spouses, and worked at building the relationship, they fell in love and were content. I’m not trying to slam them, and I wish them every happiness.

– I read an interview with a sex worker who said that, if she could find just one thing about her client that was attractive (or at least not repulsive), then she could fall just a little bit in love with that aspect of her client, and get through the job.

– I don’t think that a person entering into a romantic relationship should have to work that hard at being attracted to their partner.

katz
9 years ago

Cassandra: I generally agree with you and I’d add a couple of points.

First, we can make a distinction between beauty and sexual attraction. I think asking people to reexamine their ideas about beauty is totally reasonable. For instance, if a little girl says she wants the “pretty” doll and she means the one with straight blond hair, that could be a good opportunity for a conversation about why she thinks only straight blond hair is pretty and what about all the people with other types of hair and skin. But sexual attraction is a bit different and conversations about that aren’t likely to be as fruitful.

Second, while sexual preferences of the (Western) population as a whole are definitely skewed, it doesn’t seem like going up to individual people and just telling them to change their preferences is a great way to solve the problem. Surely trying to influence culture at large (so that more physical types are presented as sexually attractive) is the way to go, since it’s a cultural problem to begin with.

And if you do just confront one person about zir preferences, just telling them to think about it doesn’t seem like a very effective tack, as if they’re going to go sit in a corner and come out sexually attracted to POCs. I’d think it would be more productive to provide counterexamples to ground the conversation in reality, like if someone says “I just don’t find kinky hair to be sexy,” you could say “You don’t think any of these women are attractive?

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

@ katz

Actually I think that part of the mess that needs to be untangled here is the cultural tendency to conflate “that person is conventionally attractive” with “I am attracted to that person”. There are tons of people who I can recognize as being conventionally attractive by the standards of American culture who I am not remotely attracted to, and there are also people who I’m very attracted to who I recognize that they don’t fit the current American template particularly well at all. A lot of people don’t seem to make that distinction, and I think it creates all kinds of problems and reinforces limiting stereotypes in all kinds of ways.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

Also! In terms of what keeps people from dating folks who’re outside current conventional beauty norms is often more about fear of negative reactions from peers than not being aware that people who don’t look like Hottie of the Month can be and are very attractive. Particularly with men there seems to be a lot of pressure to date, or be seen to be dating, women who your buddies will approve of. Which ime can mean that hypothetical dude A may be attracted to a pretty wide range of women, but too scared to admit that he’s attracted to the ones who his friends might mock him for being into. In which case the problem isn’t that he doesn’t know what he likes or that his tastes are super narrow, it’s What Will People Think, so telling him to Examine His Preferences isn’t going to help. Ignore Your Friends Because They’re Not The One Who’s Going To Be Dating Her might be more helpful, if you could get people to believe that that was a viable option.

ithiliana
9 years ago

Feminist law professors’ blog on the whole TV incident:

http://www.feministlawprofessors.com/?p=22135

I didn’t respond earlier because all I wanted to do was rage at this asshole that the one who was harming children was HIM, with his exquisite dipshit attempt at body shaming.

ozymandias42
9 years ago

This might be getting a little Notes from Ozy’s Boner-y, but I personally am not usually attracted to black people? Of course, there are some black people I find very attractive (oh god Queen Latifah), but I am profoundly meh about most. Which is not to say that black people are unattractive, just that they’re not usually my type. I don’t think it’s necessarily racist to have a preference about skin color, as long as you are otherwise not a racist fuckwit (and “being a racist fuckwit” includes “I don’t like black people because they’re so GHETTO” or whatever).

And of course there’s also the question about whether my preference was influenced by a racist society, which… probably? I mean, I did not have a clone of myself grow up in a non-racist society for comparison purposes.

ozymandias42
9 years ago

Also I definitely agree with Cassandra about the social pressure issue. We really need to work on the cultural norm that if your friends are dating someone, and they appear to be happy, it’s really none of your business to be commenting about how they don’t fit YOUR standards.

Gametime
9 years ago

Second, while sexual preferences of the (Western) population as a whole are definitely skewed, it doesn’t seem like going up to individual people and just telling them to change their preferences is a great way to solve the problem. Surely trying to influence culture at large (so that more physical types are presented as sexually attractive) is the way to go, since it’s a cultural problem to begin with.

It’s not like telling people their preferences might stem from problematic ideas and stereotypes is mutually exclusive with working to change the larger culture. One is a microcosm of the other. Racism is also a cultural problem, but we don’t give up on calling people out for and educating people about racism because of that.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

In recent years, add PUA with its insistence that if a man isn’t fucking reams of Official Hotties he’s worthless and not really a man at all to the mix and yeah, I’m thinking that what people themselves are attracted to and how they should Examine may not be the main problem here. What they need to Examine is why our culture believes that men should choose their sexual partners based on what will impress other men rather than on what they’re actually into. With women, given how much of a cultural struggle it is to get society to acknowledge that we have sexual preferences and that’s allowed, I’m going to go ahead and tell anyone instructing women to Examine to please try to remember the context in which they’re speaking.

Gametime
9 years ago

I don’t think it’s necessarily racist to have a preference about skin color, as long as you are otherwise not a racist fuckwit (and “being a racist fuckwit” includes “I don’t like black people because they’re so GHETTO” or whatever).

I don’t think it’s necessarily racist to have a preference for skin colour, but I’m also skeptical that there are more than a dozen people in the world who have a legitimately non-racist reason for being more attracted to white people or less attracted to POCs. Very often, that reason is probably “I absorbed some racist beauty standards” growing up, as you mention.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

I mean seriously, this conversation is happening in a context in which Roissy can write scornfully about “gina tingles” and men all over the world will nod their heads in approval, because the idea that women might have sexual desires and want to act on them is clearly ridiculous and offensive. It irks me when people try to ignore that context.

Fitzy
Fitzy
9 years ago

…the one who was harming children was HIM, with his exquisite dipshit attempt at body shaming.

+1

Fitzy
Fitzy
9 years ago

@mythago – you may have it with my blessing! The only instrument I play is clarinet, and that name would be totally wrong for a klezmer band, a reboot of the Benny Goodman orchestra, or a weird combo like the one in “Welcome to the Dollhouse.”

Unimaginative
Unimaginative
9 years ago

@ Ozy: I think if went looking at it, your boner is probably pretty meh about the same proportion of white people, and asian people, and people of various other ethnicities. I’m guessing that you probably only notice your meh-ness about the vast majority of black people because something caused you to, um, examine your preferences.

I mean, Denzel Washington makes me go “Mmm, yummy”, but the 25 or so black men I’ve conversed with in the past week? Not so much. The guy that played Thor? Yumm. Just about every other white guy I’ve interacted with this week? Meh.

(And, of course, celebrities almost don’t count, on account of the sheer amount of time and money they spend on appearing attractive.)

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

I think many people are “meh” about most of the folks they meet, from a sexual pov. Sometimes getting to know a person can change an initial meh into a yes please, but in a lot of cases it won’t. Which for the eleventy billionth time is a big part of why I’m objecting to all this Examine stuff, because the underlying assumption seems to be that we should be seeing most people as potential sexual partners, and I just don’t think that’s how it works for most people. And women get told that they must be willing to consider anyone “nice” as a potential partner or be labelled shallow bitches often enough already by mainstream culture – we don’t need to hear that stuff from allies too.

ozymandias42
9 years ago

Unimaginative: No, I’m pretty aware of what percentage of people my boner is meh about, and my boner is meh about a much higher proportion of black people than of people of other races. Which I do kind of feel bad about, but I’m not sure what I can *do* about it exactly. I guess that’s kind of a problem with “examine your preferences”… what happens if you examine them and they’re still racist?

Unimaginative
Unimaginative
9 years ago

And women get told that they must be willing to consider anyone “nice” as a potential partner or be labelled shallow bitches often enough already by mainstream culture – we don’t need to hear that stuff from allies too.

Absolutely agree.

I guess that’s kind of a problem with “examine your preferences”… what happens if you examine them and they’re still racist?

Umm. Yeah. I don’t think there’s any way to change your sexual preferences (expand, maybe, but not change), and I don’t think it really does any good to try. And it can only do harm to negatively judge somebody for what they can’t change, and shouldn’t have to want to.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

Also, this seems to be getting lost in the conversation – sexual preferences aren’t just about race. I like skinny, pretty, not very macho guys (which is part of why I find Roissy so comical). I dislike big, macho, hairy guys. This means that I’m likely to be equally disinterested in big macho Nigerian guys and big macho Nordic guys. On the more positive side, I’m equally interested in skinny pretty English guys and skinny pretty Japanese guys. I’m more likely to be interested in men of any race if they dress in a style that I find visually appealing, and if they have long hair. Sexual preferences – not as simple as “tick race box A, B, or C”.

timetravellingfool
9 years ago

I know most people here know full well the point isn’t whether or not one body type or another is attractive, but that people shouldn’t have to be attractive for the privilege of appearing on TV. It’s been going on for years with women, but there is definitely something new and nasty in the air for men these days. With the rise in numbers of men suffering anorexia and the number of kids taking steroids just to look ripped, you can see the body image pressure on boys and men is definitely increasing. Can we nip that in the bud, please? I don’t want my nephew having to deal with the shit I dealt with as a kid. Point being, being generically attractive shouldn’t be a prerequisite for being seen and heard. This isn’t a new or revolutionary idea, so why are we still having this discussion?

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

See, I didn’t say anything when people first started going “but she’s actually really pretty!”, but it bugged me because that’s not the point. I mean yes, I think she is pretty, but whether or not she’s pretty has fuck all to do with whether or not she’d good at reading the news, and I feel like when we default to “but she’s not ugly, she’s pretty!” we’re buying in to the idea that her looks are a relevant topic for discussion in terms of whether she should be allowed to hold the job that she does, and when we do that the terrorists/assholes win.

timetravellingfool
9 years ago

haha, definitely. People took the idea ‘sex sells’ and expanded it to absurd proportions where we expect to be sexually titillated the same way we expect good customer service. And that is just creepy.

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