Thursday, October 04, 2012

Jennifer Livingston: Bullies Beware

I received a number of emails each sending me a video link, I  followed the links and watched this moment, which occurred on television and I'm kind of in love with the courage and forthright way that Jennifer Livingstone dealt with what happened to her. Please watch and comment.

I apologise that I'm dreadful at transcribing a video. I took from the YouTube site the small article that accompanied this video which describes it and transcribes much of what was said:

WKBT anchor Jennifer Livingston took a moment during Tuesday's morning newscast (Oct. 2, 2012) to directly address a recent email she received from a viewer complaining about her weight.

"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?" Livingston asked in response. "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 the scale."

Livingston went on to say that October is National Bullying Month, and that she hopes her response to the email will serve to raise awareness of bullying behavior, which is "passed down from people like the man who wrote me that email."

"If you are at home and talking about the fat news lady, guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat," Livingston said.

Livingston thanked friends, family and colleagues, saying, "I will never be able to thank you enough for your words of support, and for taking a stand against this bully. We are better than that email. We are better than the bullies that will try to take us down."

Note to Ms. Livingston, much of what's been talked about regarding bullying has centered on sexual orientation, thank you for making this issue as big as it is - including sexual orientation, race, disability ... and even acne, your words were powerful. You are ... let me say that again YOU ARE the kind of role model that is needed. Here's to you!!


Anonymous said...

I don't know Dave - is it bullying? Is it not fact? Is it not an observation from a viewer - whether a steady viewer or not? Hmmm...I really believe we need to accept ourselves as we are - BUT - I also think we need to continually seek to improve ourselves. Sometimes that takes the form of education, reading, relationships and even health. Just because one knows they are fat doesn't mean that it is ok to be fat. Having been fat my whole life (her size and larger) I see the toll the weight has had on my health.

I remember you commented on a stance a political person made a while ago. You were neither her friend or relative - but you felt the need and right to comment and not in a flattering way. As the reporter pointed out - when you are in the public eye you are more open to it.

Hmmm...thanks for sharing. I guess I see bullying a little differently - as someone in power putting someone else in subjection through actions or words. I think that if you don't let anyone have such power over you then it isn't bullying.

Gosh...I don't want to be hard hearted - but I don't know if the comment warrented such a fuss.

Bubbles said...

I think it goes back to the old adage "if you don't have anything nice to say, say nothing." I would hate to think that our expectation of people in the public eye would be that you must be a healthy weight and beautiful You can be a healthy weight and living a terribly unhealthy lifestyle and paparazzi can snap pics of you smoking, eating junk food and drinking alcohol etc... Don't even get me started on people struggling with addictions and mental health issues (Lindsay Lohan, Amanada Bynes). Here is a strong, intelligent woman, being successful at her job and someone takes it upon themselves to chastise her because they believe the only okay way to be is a healthy weight! Guess what! There are many obese people in the world, out there being healtier and more active than those at a healthy weight!Young girls need to see strong women taking a stand in defence of who they are, not allowing men to take their power and self-esteem away! How hard this must of been for her, it was her story and her story alone. She could of read that letter and chose to discard it and not make the story public, she saw the responsibility that came with that letter and she took that responsibility seriously, even at the expense of her own exposure. I feel a change in the world coming... this is my hope anyway...

Bubbles said...

Dave did you mean to type "and I'm NOT kind of in love with the courage and forthright way that..." I really wasn't sure... thought maybe it was a typo or maybe not!

Janelle said...

Opinion is a fabulous thing and I'm glad it results in so much variety. However, after reading today's post, I assumed the intial flavour of response would be positive. I'm almost thankful it wasn't because it really made me think. Goodness gracious, people who would be considered fat don't stand a chance if there are many like the first "Anonymous" today. I can appreciate that we all need to improve ourselves. Heaven knows I do! However, I'm fairly certain she never says it's okay to be fat, just that she is and it didn't need to be highlighted by a rude e-mail. As for education, the most important education I see is that there will be some little chubby girl who just found herself a champion. Someone who would typically be discounted for her size is in a role that's often exclusive to the thin and someone with a voice that counts. A pretty fine package, if you ask me. As someone who will spend a lifetime wishing to be thin, I don't think we should be so accepting of the notion that this was just fact or observation being brought forward. I can assure anyone who would want to state the fact that I'm fat that I'll torture myself far longer and far more diligently than they ever could. I don't need that brand of education and she certainly didn't either. To date, I haven't been criticized for my weight, but if it happens, I feel like I have a greater chance of standing up for myself. I'm glad that this reporter in the public eye was open to it, open to sharing a hurtful experience to improve the experience of others.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Bubbles, typo, thanks, fixed.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, Dave. I was impressed with this woman's nobility in her comments to others who may be struggling with bullying. I have followed, with interest, the discussion in the papers about whether or not the writer's comment was "bullying." It has shown me why the issue of bullying is so difficult to address. So many people don't recognize it for what it is - and so it is perpetuated!!
Susan Ludwig Goharriz

Belinda said...

I found the comments to the woman sexist and offensive; sexist, because I can think of many men who are political correspondents or news anchors and apart from being well groomed and tidy, their weight has nothing at all to do with their job.

However I thought that she really brought out huge "greater good" from the offense by speaking out in a way that I would be proud for my grandchildren to hear and learn from. The man who made the comments--I have no desire to include meeting him in my bucket list--but the woman--she has my admiration.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I love this woman! Yes, that letter was bullying. He was trying to make her feel inadequate and less than. His comments were based solely on her weight. I am glad that she stood up to this bully, for the sake of her viewers and especially for the sake of younger women and girls who are so pressured to conform - at all costs including drugs and surgery and mental illness - to some womanly ideal that is impossible for most of us to attain. She said she was doing this for her 3 daughters. Lucky daughters! I grew up with a mother who was constantly pointing out my weight. My mother encouraged me in very unhealthy practices such as fasting for a whole summer. Turns out there is a medical reason for my weight. But that is nobody else's business but my own. I have 3 grand daughters and no matter what body size and I salute this woman as a great role model for them.

Thanks for posting this

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous #1 at Oct 4, 5:52 am:

Yes, it may be factual to say that she is fat. SO WHAT? That still doesn't make it less rude to point it out. If someone goes to the trouble of making a really elaborate, fancy cake just for you and it turns out to taste awful would you tell them they are a awful cook? If you're trying to be a polite person, then there are certain things you just don't say even if they happen to be factual.

Yes, we should continually strive to improve ourselves. But each person has a right to decide for themselves what self-improvement goals are most important for them. If someone decides that they would rather focus on things like being a nicer, less selfish person than losing weight, then it really isn't your place or mine or anyone else's to say that they're wrong. Sometimes the only polite thing to do is to just butt out and not say anything.

I am having trouble understanding how you can fail to see the difference between telling someone they are fat and disagreeing with their political opinion. If a person is fat, it's THEIR body, which makes it THEIR business, not yours or mine. Whereas, politics ultimately affects all of us, often in very intimate ways. So when someone else raises ideas and concepts and opinions we disagree with, it's not wrong to assert our own position and explain why we disagree. As long as we stay focused with ideas and not on the value of people who hold these ideas, then this is part of the general exchange of ideas that helps all of us in a democracy figure out what policies we should have.

You seem to be basically blaming the victims of bullying for "allowing" others to have power over them. First of all, sometimes they honestly don't have a choice. For example, there are times when teachers engage in bullying against children. They inherently have power by the authority granted to them as a teacher. Or if five other people gang up on you to insult you and put you down, well five people are inherently more powerful than one.

Also: Yes, some people are going to be more sensitive to certain kinds of insults and behaviors than others. When I was a little girl, there was some bullying behavior toward me that bothered me a lot. But there were also other things that children would do to me, like mocking sign language (I'm deaf) that just rolled off me, I just saw them as pathetic and silly because it was so obvious that they knew nothing about what real sign language was like.

But in hindsight I can see that some deaf children might have been a lot more bothered by the way others mocked sign language. I wouldn't be so mean as to tell a child, "buck up and don't give them the power to hurt you like this" just because they might be more upset than I was in the same situation. It should be the responsibility of OTHERS to recognize that what they're doing HURTS. And that hurting others is wrong. If it is YOUR words that hurt them, then it is YOUR responsibility to stop saying those words to them. (Yes, even if your words happen to be factual and true.) Because polite, decent, respectful people don't insult someone then blame them for being upset at the insult.

Hint: it is usually a lot harder to learn how to not let insults hurt you if all you ever hear are insults. If you really want for a person to learn not to "let" other people's words hurt them, then often the first step is to create an environment where they don't have to keep hearing hurtful words so often. Once they understand that they are entitled to not be hurt and insulted, and that they won't be blamed or belittled or insulted further if insults bother them, then it can actually become easier to resist the insults of others in the first place. Allowing others to insult them (or, worse, EXCUSING them), then blaming them for being upset about it does NOT help.


wendy said...

I LOVE this woman! Talk about taking the proverbial bull by the horns.

I'm so glad you posted this.

Rachel in Idaho said...

Of course that letter was bullying -- though I don't like that term much just because it sounds more innocent than it really is. To me it carries a flavor of brief physical fights on the schoolground, not the grinding away of self-worth over several years that I experienced. Yep, what a surprise, I don't like a common term for something. :)

The only things I would argue with her about is that it's a growing problem. It has adapted to new forms but there is no way that there is more going on than in the past where it was shrugged off and the victim blamed -- the forms have changed. If there had been email (for regular people, that is) and Facebook and all of that when I was in school, they'd have gone after me through that route as well.

Moose said...

I am perpetually grossed out by people who justify their bullying behaviour as "for your own good." There is nothing more nauseating to me than someone who feels that their need to impose their will on someone else's life is more important than anything the other person might believe.

Fat people get this kind of shaming every day. "But it's for your own good -- you can't be healthy and fat!" Yeah, actually you CAN be healthy and fat. The statistics that claim that obesity is "the biggest killer next to cancer" was disproven -- years ago. Heart disease has no relation to weight, although your doctor will claim it's so merely to try to manipulate you into believing your weight will kill you.

And let me tell you, even if obesity did kill, so what? What right has one person to tell another, "it's for your own good, you have to be DIFFERENT!"

(And let's not forget the mantra of "But you could lose weight if you *really* wanted to!" As if fat people really love being fat and sit around all day thinking, "I can't exercise, I might not be fat tomorrow!")

The same tactic has been used on gay people for years. "You're going to hell for being gay, I'm just thinking of YOU when I tell you to stop being gay!"

"It's for your own good" -- a bully's favorite weapon.

Anonymous said...

I don't remember now exactly which post it was, but there was someone here (Ettina, I think) who made the comment at an earlier post at this blog sometime within the past week or two that many anti-bullying programs focus on things like how to recognize signs that someone is being bullied. But never seem to teach how to recognize signs that your kid might BE a bully. Much less how to teach them to stop being one.

And I bet there are probably even fewer programs that teach how to recognize if YOU might be engaging in behavior that is hurtful to others. Whether or not you think your behavior is "bullying" behavior. Because if your behavior is hurtful to others. Then it's bullying, even if you're sure it's not.

Yes, it's not pleasant to consider whether you might be a bully in denial. But it's even less pleasant to be the victim of the bully. Any one of us could be hurting others without realizing it. Because different people are hurt by different things, and sometimes we just don't realize what hurts others until we are told.

Don't indulge in self-blaming once you realize your behavior has hurt another: if you really didn't know, then it doesn't make you a bad person, as long as you have the moral courage to recognize that it did hurt and to stop doing it. Don't indulge in blaming others for being hurt by it either. And don't indulge in excusing or defending your behavior either. (No, "This is for your own good" is NOT a defensible excuse).

We all have a mutual responsibility to be open to the possibility that we could be hurting others without realizing it. Because any of us COULD be--yes, even the very nicest of us. That doesn't make us automatically bad, it just means we need to try to be conscious of how our behavior affects others and open to criticism. And once we realize others are being hurt by our behavior, it is our moral responsibility to stop.

Tamara said...

I'm so glad someone sent that to you. I saw it on Facebook - and immediately thought you should see this, but forgot! I share in your admiration of her. I thought her response was both justified and delivered beautifully -

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Commenter #1.

Yes, it WAS bullying. He essentially told her that she, a successful career woman with a morning news show, had no right to be in the public eye because she was overweight. That she should not consider herself a role model to other women and girls because her figure wasn't Barbie-perfect. That she should be ashamed of herself for being overweight yet still maintaining her public persona.

He questioned her right to BE WHO SHE IS and DO WHAT SHE DOES simply because she is overweight.

Just because YOU think everyone else should strive continually to improve themselves doesn't mean everyone must improve themselves according to YOUR DICTATES.

"You think you're so holy and truthful, when really it's only abominable conceit!"

_A Room with a View_
by E.M. Forster


Susan said...

I saw this the other day and thought, "Dave would like this too, I should send it to him..." and then never got around to it. I'm glad someone did! :)

Anonymous said...

Is bullying a label we put on an opinion that we don't agree with?

Rachel in Idaho said...

That was an attack, not an opinion.

Anonymous said...

I believe the email sent to her was private - she chose to make it public. Perhaps the man was a doctor. Perhaps she had been cautioned a few years ago - note there was a time reference in his email. Should he have done it - maybe not - but why do we assume his intentions were malicious? What does that say about us?

Rachel in Idaho said...

Oh, now he might be a doctor? Don't make me laugh. Even if he was, so? He's not HER doctor. He had no right to say what he did to her. Also from what I read she was going to ignore it, but her husband became angry at the insult to his wife and it went public from there. Apparently the vast majority of people in her life viewed this as an attack. So they, and we, are all somehow wrong?

And I have been on the receiving end of enough of them to know when it's an attack -- all he knew was he turned on the TV and there was a fat woman so he wrote an email to tell her how awful it was that she was fat on TV.

"I'm telling you this for your own good" from a total stranger, who knows nothing but what they are criticizing, is cruel.

What it says about me is that I know an insult/attack when I see one.

Andrea S. said...

There is another post about this video over at Womanist Musings:

Anonymous said...

I saw an ad on tv today about bullying and children. Their advice (the presenters of the ad) was to walk away. Bullies look pretty "stupid" if they have no one to talk to. Perhaps the attention warrented this bully is just what he wanted. If you don't respond do you take away his power to bully? I wonder. Interesting proposal for kids though.

Andrea S. said...

To Anonymous right above this comment on Oct 7:

Simply walking away from a bully sounds nice in concept. But I have known people who have experienced some really intensive bullying while they were growing up. And, although ignoring a bully might occasionally work if the bully is just bullying out of boredom or whatever, there are many bullies who only ESCALATE their attacks if the victim ignores them because it just makes them more determined to get the person to show a visible reaction.

I've been fortunate to have experienced little bullying so I'm mostly going on what I've been told. But I figure there's no one who knows better than a victim or former victim what actually "works".

aubrey greening said...

my name is AUBREY GREENING;i am from newfoundland,labrador city;I will make my comment about Jennifer Livingstone,short;I do not think her FAT;maybe a bit large so what;she is SMART and i think VERY ATTRACTIVE better still PRETTY;To MRS.Livingstone,i say--be you,be happy and be safe;God Bless,-------Afriend from afar,Aubrey

Ettina said...

"Their advice (the presenters of the ad) was to walk away. Bullies look pretty "stupid" if they have no one to talk to."

As a victim of bullying, I can tell you that this is stupid advice. Walk away? The bully chases you. Or maybe you can't walk away, because they're a classmate and you're in class. Ignore it? They push you until you *have* to respond. Or you end up having to ignore so much that you shut down emotionally. (Especially with a child, they lack the emotion regulation skills to hide the pain of bullying.)

Besides, her reaction wasn't the kind that bullying are wanting. They're wanting someone to show distress, not calmly and assertively take them on.

Oh, and to the people who commented that obesity is in fact unhealthy and so forth... The only one who is qualified to tell her that she needs to lose weight is *her* doctor. (Not even some other doctor, only her doctor.) You don't know her medical situation. You don't know why she's overweight (contrary to stereotypes, it's not necessarily a choice) or what she might have to do in order to lose weight. You don't know the state of her health, whether her body is showing any signs of struggling with her weight or not.

And there is no way that being overweight should mean she can't be in the public eye and serve as a role model. No matter why she's overweight and what would be best for her health.

I also wonder why he seem to think it's worse for girls to be overweight. I think the research mostly indicates that, if anything, women are supposed to have more fat than men. (A cushion of resources for reproduction and menstruation.)