Updated: Wednesday, 03 Oct 2012, 11:37 AM EDT
Published : Wednesday, 03 Oct 2012, 6:54 AM EDT
LA CROSSE, Wis. (NBC) - By JoNel Aleccia, NBC News
A Wisconsin television anchor’s bold retort to a viewer who suggested she was too fat to be on TV has spurred a heartwarming response -- and a new discussion about the boundaries of bullying.
Jennifer Livingston, 37, an anchor/reporter at WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wis., received an email last week from a viewer criticizing her size.
“Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain,” the viewer said. “I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”
Many media types may have shrugged off the criticism as part of the job. Anyone who’s in the public eye is used to hate mail, name-calling -- and worse. But then Livingston’s husband, fellow WKBT anchor Mike Thompson, posted the email on the station’s Facebook page.
More than 300 people left comments; more than 2,200 “liked” the posts.
And so Livingston decided to fight back.
After a viewer suggested WKBT's Jennifer Livingston wasn't a good role model because she is overweight, the Wisconsin anchor gave an impassioned speech on-air denouncing bullies, and encouraging kids to remember their self-worth rather than allowing themselves to be defined by the negativity of others. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.
In an on-air segment that ran more than 4 minutes, she acknowledged that she is overweight – “You can call me fat, and yes, even obese on a doctor’s chart,” she said -- but then she lashed out at the viewer for contributing to a culture of bad-mouthing and bullying.
“If you are at home and you are talking about the fat newslady, guess what, your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat,” she said.
She urged children and others who have been victims of cruel criticism to take heart.
“Do not let yourself be defined by bullies,” she said.
Livingston’s move is a step toward civility in a society that thinks a woman’s weight is fair game, said Dr. Robyn Silverman , a body image expert and author of the book “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up Our Girls & How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It.”
“I applaud her for her response,” Silverman said. “It was a very responsible response.”
We’ve become a “fault-finding” society where it’s acceptable to make snarky comments about anyone, but especially those in the public eye, Silverman said.
When Livingston stood up to the mean-spirited viewer, she was helping combat the messages that say it’s OK to judge people based on weight.
“We send the message to our children that they are not good enough, they are not valuable enough, unless they look a certain way,” Silverman said.
Though some of the responses to Livingston’s video were as cruel as the original comments, others were an affirmation of her individuality and courage.
“Tell your wife she rocks,” one poster wrote.
“Your wife is AWESOME! You’re a lucky man,” wrote another.
“Wish more people would focus on promoting compassion and kindness instead of focusing on appearances only,” wrote a third.
Livingston, whose station profile says she’s the mother of three young girls, did not respond to TODAY Health requests for comment. But in her on-air segment, she told viewers she was buoyed by the outpouring of support – and wanted others to be, too.
“Learn from my experience,” she said. “That the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many.”
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