Obesity Bully Bias: Jennifer Livingston

by Claudius J West

Jennifer LivingstonJennifer Livingston, a morning anchor with WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wisconsin, garnered national attention when she spent 4 minutes of air time responding to an email taking her to task for being overweight.

She accused the email’s author, a man, of being a bully. “You don’t know me; you’re not my friend.”

When I heard what the man had actually written, I didn’t think it particularly harsh, in no way malicious, and only possibly mean-spirited, depending on your point of view.

Closer to the mark would be to call the email presumptuous, misguided, and borderline rude. Admittedly, Miss Manners would rate it 100% rude for the fact of it being written in the first place, and I suspect she would be right.

abc_news-logoIn its headline of the story, ABCnews.com put the word “bully” in quotation marks. That’s perfectly normal journalistic neutrality; ABC News was simply reporting Ms. Livingston’s characterization of  the event. But it primed me to be skeptical.

My first impression, watching the clip of Ms. Livingston’s response on TV, was that she was being more the bully than was the email writer, Kenneth Krause.

Krause may have fired the first shot by sending a private email, but then Livingston’s husband escalated the affair when he made it public by posting the email on Facebook.

Soon followed Ms. Livingston’s TV declarations of bullyism.

A private emailer versus someone with a camera, a camera operator, and the distribution capacity and imprimatur of a television network behind her. That’s a sizable power differential.Forrest Gump's momma

Krause’s words may have been unwelcome and hurtful, but who is more likely to fit the description of bully, Krause or Livingston?

Not that I fault Livingston for hitting back. Perhaps she landed a blow for all bully-victims everywhere.

Livingston said that what really got her goat was the assertion that she was not a suitable role-model.

In the words of Forrest Gump’s momma: Stupid is as stupid does.

Similarly, a role-model is as a role-modeler choses.

It wouldn’t cross my mind that Benjamin Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill or some 300 pound linebacker would be less worthy of being a role-model for their having been rotund.

Not to mention the man whom children everywhere look up to the most: Santa Claus, with a belly like a bowl full of jelly.

After all, who ever heard of a skinny Santa?Santa reading list

Is anyone going to suggest that Santa is a bad role-model?


I admit that when I watch TV, which is rarely, I prefer to look at slender rather than corpulent people. Even when I was forty pounds overweight I felt this way.

I don’t know where that bias comes from, but there it is, and I can’t, or won’t, do anything about it.

I wonder if my personal preferences entitle me to denigrate fat people?

Somehow I don’t believe they do.

I came across a TV show (I don’t know the show’s name; I was visiting someone’s home and they had the TV going) in which the main character was fat, his wife was fat, all of their friends were fat, and the incidental characters were fat, too.

I felt slightly offended by the show because of what I perceived as a willful “normalization” and condoning of being fat. It was too much like surrendering and letting the world be taken over by the fat pod-people.

Roseanne Barr and Dan GoodmanFor some reason, I didn’t feel that way about Dan and Roseanne Barr, maybe because everyone else around them wasn’t fat, or maybe just because I liked them.

Clearly, my knee-jerk reflex to be offended was wrong.

The show I was viewing was a show about fat people aimed at fat people. If I didn’t like it, it was no skin off my nose. This is American. No one  held a gun to my head and forced me to watch anything. It’s a free enterprise system we’ve got, or so I’ve been told. Lots of people must be watching the show, voting for it with their eyeballs, or else it wouldn’t be on the air selling commercial.

No doubt the show had many worthwhile qualities that I was missing because of my fattist attitudes.

If I could have written an email to the show’s producers, to the overweight cast and to all of the audience members in their living rooms or dens who mirrored the onscreen heavies, what would I have told them?

Stop being fat because it pisses me off?

Your being fat breaks the rules?Vikings from How To Train Your Dragon

Whose rules? Um, let’s see. . . my rules.

Do my rules apply to just me, or to everybody?

Let me put it a different way: do your rules apply to just you, or to everybody?

Everybody, right?

But is there any hope, any rational, realistic or practical basis for believing that blaming and shaming another person will result in anything noble?

Or would all of that blaming and shaming be merely an indulgence in petty, common cruelty?

I’m thinking it would be an indulgence.

On that note, cue the comment-crazies.

serious monkeyThe Commenters

On the ABC News site where I encountered the Livingston story, quite a few comments had amassed.

Talk about breaking people’s rules! When people’s personal rules (those rules they inherited from their parents, who inherited them from their parents, and so on ad infinitum) get broken or are otherwise transgressed by other people, people get fecking mad.

Before I recount to you, below, choice examples of the wisdom of crowds, taken from the comments at ABCnews.com, let me say that I read what seemed like three feet of comments before I encountered the first male commenter. I’m not saying that means anything—I’m just pointing it out.

It gave me great comfort to experience, while reading the comments, the perspicacity and near genius-level insights of my fellow Interwebbers. With brain power like this, the future of our world is bright.

For example, based on six and a half minute report, Interwebbers were able to deduce that Jennifer Livingston is, to quote:

  • weak
  • low on self esteem
  • devoid of self esteem
  • diseased
  • self-serving
  • spiritually vacant
  • the definition of an airhead
  • a narcissist
  • a politically correct drone
  • a Utopia seeking Marxist
  • a selfish egotistical pig
  • a petulant waste of life
  • and, as a child, she was a bully

Sherlock BushGood God, Holmes, all of that in just six and a half minutes. Brilliant!

Did I mention God? Some of my favorite commenters did, too.

“So tell Jennifer to stop whining out there because anyone with Spiritual insight can see it is self-serving to cover up her lack of Christ on the inside.”

When I meet her, I will be sure to tell her.

“It is not the fat. It is the lack of God on the inside that is the problem.”

I agree. Listen up, fat people: get thin by filling up on God, the calorie-free deity.

“The fact that his words “got to her” that way just illuminated the disease that was already there inside of her which is the cause of her low self-esteem which is the cause of her being fat. Don’t kill the messenger. He might be Gabriel the Archangel.”Archangel Gabriel blowing horn


Sound advice. What a mess killing the messenger only to notice the wings and trumpet after it is too late. “Oh, shit. Dead archangel. Am I  in trouble for this?.”

“I DO NOT FEEL GOD IS PLEASED AT ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Let us hope this writer survived the emotional turmoil of so many exclamation points. Most humans spontaneously combust after seven exclamation points.

Other delightful comments:

“I believe this “bully” is the same jerk that sent me a message on a dating site calling me a trashing pig because he thought I was over weight and have tattoos.”broken heart

You’re absolutely right. His name is Kenneth Krause. That bad man can’t hide from you any more.

“For those who are too weak to handle verbal insults, their deaths are better because their genome will not be allowed to spread weakness and cowardice in this species.”Nuremberg Party Rally

Good news, Franz: we’re putting you in charge of protecting the genome and other precious bodily fluids. Have fun at the Party Rally!

“I’m not surprised at all the idiot men who defend this other idiot man who wrote the email; all you men stick together, don’t you?”

We idiots say stupid things, don’t we?

But for all of the silliness and vileness, a commenter named Marlette wrote what I found to be a spot-on sentiment:

“Live a good life, be kind and worry about yourself. You have no idea what anyone else’s life is about.”

I suspect that lots and lots of people think they know what other people’s lives are about, and they think they have the rules that will make other people’s lives just right, or at least, less irritating to them.

But I’d bet a dollar they’re wrong.

Live the life you want to live, because you’re the one who’s got to die when it’s your turn to die.

And do be kind.

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