Why We Need More People Like Jennifer Livingston to Tell the World There Is More to Life Than Our Weight
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In case you haven’t heard, a video released this week of a TV news anchor confronting a viewer who criticized her weight has gone viral. The video features Jennifer Livingston, a news anchor for WKBT in La Crosse, Wisc., who, on-air, addressed a cruel email she received about her weight. The viewer, Kenneth Krause, had wrote to Livingston, stating that he was surprised by her physical condition and hoped that “as a local public personality” she would reconsider her responsibility to “present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”
Livington responded powerfully, in a more than four-minute segment, stating that she “is much more than a number on a scale.” Livingston noted that October is anti-bullying month and urged children not to allow their “self-worth be defined by bullies.”
Since Livingston’s statements, Krause has apologized, and she accepted his apology. Livingston is now being celebrated for her courage, and many are using the video as an avenue to discuss weight and health, and how the former is not a display of the latter. In fact, Livingston’s husband said in an interview that she is a runner, participating in marathons and exercising frequently. However, her thyroid condition makes it hard for her to lose weight. Still, regardless of this, obesity has become a problem because of systemic, cultural reasons — not because of supposed “lazy” individuals.
But what Livingston did was more than just a brave act or an avenue for a discussion on health. She took a personal incident that was surely painful and made it political by sharing it with the world.
We so often praise how diverse and tolerant we’ve become as a society, but it’s incidents, like this, that jolt us into recognizing the powerful structures still in play today that normalize certain classes, genders, races, sexual orientations and physical appearances. Yet, it is through sharing our personal stories of pain and oppression, like Livingston did, that we can identify the political problems that cause such suffering.
What’s even more frightening is that this normalization is not only a force that oppresses us from the outside, but from the inside as well. People start to truly believe that there is something wrong with them for not fitting the status quo. That’s why some LGBT people won’t come out. That’s why some women who don’t sport a model figure ravage their bodies with awful eating disorders. That’s why suicide rates are at an all-time high.
But Livingston confronted her own oppression. She exemplified that you can’t separate the personal from the political, and any attempt to do so only silences suffering and leaves in place the oppressive politics at work. And ultimately, she faced both her own fears and the fears of those who normalize certain body types — and she screamed to the world that she was a person worthy of love.
And she got love back. In fact, she said on air that she was humbled by the support she received not only from her loved ones, but also from her viewers and others she never met. Livingston set an important example for all of us. If we want to live in a loving world we have to love ourselves, no matter how many people tell us we shouldn’t. It’s a tough task. As society provides us with so many distractions, it’s too easy to fail to inspect our beliefs and emotions (And I think the powers at be like it that way). Still, we should work to recognize our pain and realize that the best way to begin healing is by sharing our stories with others. I’m sure it would be surprising how many people feel the same way, and with that unity, we can identify and fight against the sources of pain. And then maybe real change can occur.