Thursday, October 04, 2012

"We need to teach our children to be kind, not critical" Jennifer Livingston

Jennifer Livingston is the news anchor of WKBT tv's morning sh in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I guess she's kind of like the equivalent of Bill Turnbull. She's intelligent, articulate and doesn't take nonsense from people as she recently showed when a viewer sent her a highly obnoxious message suggesting that she should do something about her weight as she couldn't possibly be a suitable role model for the local community. The clear implication is that if she couldn't, she shouldn't be doing her job. Why should someone's ability to do their job be defined by their weight? Surely the job description of a news presenter is that they can communicate and interpret and analyse what's going on in the world.

Jennifer went on air and gave him what for in a calm and assured manner. The video of this event has now gone viral. In it she said:
Attacks like this are not ok. The truth is I am overweight. You could call me fat, or yes  even obese on a doctor's chart. But to the person who wrote me that email, do you think I don't know that, that your cruel words are pointing out something I do not see?...... You know nothing about me apart from what you can see from the outside. I am much more than a number on a scale. 
...What angers me about this is that there are children who don't know better, who get emails as critical as the one I received or worse every day. The internet has become a weapon and 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. If you were at home and you were talking about the fat newslady, guess what, your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat. We need to teach our children to be kind, not critical. 
I wonder if Kenneth Krause, the personal injury lawyer who wrote the email, would have written such a thing to a man? I doubt it. 

I think it was great that Livingston was able to talk, calmly, about receiving this message on air. She didn't name Krause, but she made it clear that such conduct was unacceptable. In doing so, she sent a loud message to any kid who's being plagued by cyber or text bullying messages that they are not the one in the wrong. 

The fact that Krause could send such a rude, personal and abusive message to somebody says a lot about him and none of it's attractive in any way. How did he know that she wasn't going to completely fall apart when she read it?

This guy's a lawyer. He presumably earns a small fortune and has every material need catered for. It just goes to show that money can't buy manners. Despite having all the advantages life can throw at him, he still feels the need to spew bile, borne out of prejudice, at a high achieving woman. It's truly pathetic.

I'd like to know what other jobs he feels that fat people shouldn't do. Maybe he thinks that we should stay indoors, ashamed to be seen in public until our body mass index conforms. 

Like Jennifer, I am not a slight person. I am, by any definition, obese. I know that. I've struggled with it for much of my life. And if losing weight were just as easy as it sounds, you can bet your life I'd have done it by now. Believe me, I've read every diet book known to man. Maybe, one day, all the factors that need to fall in to place at the same time to help me do this will do so. Maybe they won't. In the end of the day, though, my weight is none of anybody else's business. 

My weight does not make me a bad person. Nor does it stop me from being a positive role model or making  worthwhile contribution to society. I can and I do. I'd like to think my interactions with family, friends colleagues and people further afield are a net gain for them as they are for me.My weight does not and should not define who I am and what I give to the world. 

Since school, I've never had anyone make an issue of my weight in an abusive way. I get the feeling it's only a matter of time, though. I remember being sick to my stomach when David Cameron showed his ignorance of addiction and mental health issues by making a distinction between those who were ill "through no fault of their own" and drug addicts and alcoholics. Scapegoating groups of people is simply not on, under any circumstances. When people hear their Prime Minister talk like that, they can take it as license to pick on a very vulnerable group of people - and that does nothing to help their fragile health. In the same way, a teacher laughing at a homophobic joke in front of  a class tacitly gives them permission to hold prejudice against LGBT people. Don't think that doesn't happen. 

Picking on people is just wrong. End of story. For whatever reason. The combative nature of our politics doesn't help much either. 

When I look at Jennifer Livingston, I see an intelligent, articulate, attractive, warm, feisty person who's secure in her own skin. I'm not alone. Thousands of people have written supportive messages on her husband Mike Thompson's Facebook page after he originally posted the email. This led Jennifer to end her message saying that "the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many." We mustn't tolerate a society where bullies take people down in that way. It's important that we support and protect anyone who's targetted by bullies in that way. 


Peter A Bell said...

I note the delicious irony of condemning Kenneth Krause for making facile assumptions about Jennifer Livingston whilst making the equally facile assumption that he must be sexist.

I think there's more than one person involved in this who needs a good metaphorical slap.

Unknown said...

Would you like to elaborate about who exactly needs a slap. Using the word metaphorical doesn't make it ok, by the way.

It is certainly true that the appearance of men is not expected to conform to the same standards as the appearance of women. I am fairly certain he would not write this to a man. I may be wrong, but, let's face it, sexism is the least of his faults here.


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