TV anchor takes bullying stand

Viewer's criticism of her weight spurs on-air response boosting self-worth

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A local television anchor in Wisconsin responded on air to a viewer who had complained in an email that the newscaster's weight made her an unsuitable role model for young people, especially girls.

In a four-minute broadcast seen more than 2 million times on YouTube alone, the anchor, Jennifer Livingston, on Tuesday told viewers of WKBT in La Crosse that she had initially dismissed the criticism, but then decided to speak up to raise awareness about bullying.

"The truth is I am overweight," Ms. Livingston, 37, said during the morning broadcast. "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," she continued. "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."

Ms. Livingston, a mother of three, reminded viewers that October was National Bullying Prevention Month, and that bullying is rampant on the Internet and growing every day in schools and must be stopped. She said she tried to laugh off the hurtful attack on her appearance, but that her colleagues -- especially her husband, Mike Thompson, an evening anchor for the station -- could not do the same.

Mr. Thompson said he was so infuriated by the remarks that on Friday he posted the email text on his Facebook page, prompting hundreds of comments as people shared both support for Ms. Livingston and their own stories about being bullied because of their weight.

In the email, Kenneth W. Krause, a lawyer in LaCrosse, wrote that he was surprised that her 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," he wrote.

"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." Mr. Krause did not respond to multiple phone calls to his home.

Ms. Livingston, sister of Golden Globe-nominated actor Ron Livingston, said during her broadcast Tuesday that the Facebook outpouring inspired her to take a stand against bullying. "If you are at home, and you are talking about the fat news lady, guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat," Ms. Livingston said.

She thanked her friends, family, colleagues and the many people who offered support. "We are better than the bullies that would try to take us down," she said.

Then, looking directly into the camera, Ms. Livingston said: "I leave you with this: To all of the children out there who feel lost, who are struggling with your weight, with the color of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability, even the acne on your face, listen to me right now: Do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience -- that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many."

During an interview with NBC's "Today Show," Ms. Livingston said she is not opposed to talking about obesity but does not think that personal attacks should be part of the conversation.

Mr. Krause was invited to be interviewed on WKBT-TV, a programming director said. Instead, he issued a statement, which was shared on the air.

His statement concluded: "Considering Jennifer Livingston's fortuitous position in the community, I hope she will finally take advantage of a rare and golden opportunity to influence the health and psychological well-being of Coulee region children by transforming herself for all of her viewers to see over the next year."

nation


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