Is shaming, bullying? And does it even freaking matter?

I’ve watched somewhat amused, as the typical lifecycle of a viral new story circa 2012 runs its course over a whopping two days. In this case, it’s about Jennifer Livingston of Wisconsin’s WKRB, the now notorious newscaster who took down a rude, fat-shaming letter-writer on air, in a far more eloquent and dignified way than I might have.

Extra points for not calling him a dickwad – often my first instinct. The response has gone from YOU GO, JENNIFER to HOW DARE YOU USE YOUR PULPIT TO ATTACK AN INDIVIDUAL. The latter of which–oy. I’ve seen that one wielded against anyone with any level of fame or notoriety who dares to defend themselves against personal attacks. As if fame somehow makes you impervious to sustained taunting.

But the most pervasive conversation I’ve seen has been about whether it’s in fact “bullying” at all when a gentleman such as this one takes the time to kindly write to a successful working mother of three girls,  Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular.

He was just looking out for her, right? He’s so worried! Compassionate! Really…he’s only trying to do what’s best for the young people of the greater La Crosse area.

(And by the way, if their community’s young people are spending their every afternoon watching the local 6PM news, then more power to them.)

But is he a bully?

I’ve seen relevant perspectives on both sides, particularly in a conversation that started with Julie Pippert, Britt Rients and Annie Urban on Twitter that moved to Facebook that now is moving to my blog. (I have that power!) The ideas I disagree with fall into these categories:

-it’s not bullying if it’s not perpetrated by an individual in power, like a boss.

-it’s not bullying if it’s not ongoing and systematic

-it’s not bullying if it’s not accompanied by actual threats or violence.

The ideas I agree with include:

-Not all rudeness, meanness, or name-calling is bullying.

-Often times, public disagreement with one’s ideas, especially if a lot of people disagree, is incorrectly identified as bullying.

-Britt’s comment: “people who court controversy should be the most skilled at handling criticism – and the last to cry bully. “


I also like this definition of bullying via Pacer’s National Bully Prevention Center.

Now while the press has deemed the letter-writer “the bully,” I actually didn’t think  that was the essence of Jennifer’s impassioned speech. She main point was that people who show hatred and disdain for others in letters like these, bring that into their homes and teach it to their children. It trickles down and it becomes bullying. Her points echos an implication I made year ago when I first wrote about The Sanctimommy–if you’re a judgmental, sanctimonious person who expresses those views publicly, you’re likely to have kids who behave that way too. Plus, I don’t want to go dancing with you.

If you’re the type who proclaims that you’re better than every other parent in the world because you’ve never been within six blocks of a McDonald’s, or you don’t own a TV, or you breastfed for 37 years, or you’ve never once texted while in the playground, or your BMI is somewhere between Supermodel and Michael Phelps, then…yay for you. And good luck raising children who aren’t unbearable finger-pointers too.

Bullying, shaming, trolling, public humiliation…it’s all really different symptoms of the exact same problem.

So in some ways Jennifer is right and in some way’s she’s wrong. Technically. Yes, this guy is possibly a bully in real life. He’s disdainful of people who are overweight to the point that he took the time to write a letter calling her out for her weight and deeming her unqualified for her job. (As if the 6PM local news anchor is every kid’s greatest role model.) But was the letter on its own a case of “bullying?” Maybe not in the dictionary-sense. Maybe it was more like harassment: behavior meant to disturb or upset. So I take back my original assertion that that letter was an act of bullying.

That said:

Does it freaking matter?

Are we going to let a semantic discussion derail the greater issue here?

I understand that calling disagreement or criticism “bullying” diminishes actual bullying. I suffered through it. It was brutal. And it pisses me off to see cries of BULLY any time a parent sees a two year-old who doesn’t know how to share, or a blogger sees a post rebutting their own.

But when I think about the differences between a one-on-one personal attack and bullying–my feeling is that they’re identical cousins separated at birth. And they both just suck.


64 thoughts on “Is shaming, bullying? And does it even freaking matter?”

  1. I liked how she took the opportunity to not only call him out for his letter but to stand up for herself (in a very eloquent way!). At the end of her spot she said “do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies”. Really this is the key message – bullying or harrassment it’s the same thing … letting others define who you are and how you feel about yourself.
    I always tell my kids only you can control your actions and your reactions. Nobody else can.
    If you ask me, the way she called him out but also brought the issue forward as a powerful example of turning something really crappy into something positive and empowering.
    Thanks for your post – very thought provoking.

    1. Thanks Sarah, I was also really moved and inspired by her dignified response and how really, she made it about kids and not about herself. But you’re right – letting others define your self-worth whether via bullying or letters like that one…pretty much the same.

  2. “But when I think about the differences between a one-on-one personal attack and bullying–my feeling is that they’re identical cousins separated at birth. And they both just suck.”

    So well said, Liz. Thank you.

  3. I 100% agree that the most important point she made – and that made again here – is that we teach bullying to our kids by being judgmental assholes as adults. Way to bring the conversation back to what matters!

  4. Its good to ask these questions, Liz.

    I also take issue with the idea that a person is “a bully” or “a victim”, one thing, one way of being. You either are bad or good, a bully or not. So black and white, no room for our complexities.

    When I was a kid I was constantly, for years, bullied by an older girl both physically and emotionally. It was relentless. And so to combat it, I decided I needed to be tough, talk tough, act tough, be scary, so I wouldn’t be the one they picked on. I don’t remember it, but I could’ve easily been the kid who bullied someone else, while I was working all that stuff out. (I hope not)

    So, in that example, would I have been the bully or the victim? I guess that depends on who you ask. I think we have to be careful of lumping people into categories. We talk about “bullies” (especially kids) as if they are rotten, people who are awful, writing them off as bad. If we look at bullying as the act – the act of bullying, as opposed to being a bully, a verb not a noun – we can fix the act, without shaming, and that will help the person, that will raise them up. We will be teaching by example.

    And really, if someone had helped the girl who bullied me, had acted when she acted out, I would never have been bullied in the first place. And also, she might still be alive today. Her life was tragic and short. And I don’t think anyone gave a shit.


    1. “We talk about “bullies” (especially kids) as if they are rotten, people who are awful, writing them off as bad. If we look at bullying as the act – the act of bullying, as opposed to being a bully, a verb not a noun – we can fix the act, without shaming, and that will help the person, that will raise them up. We will be teaching by example.”

      Nicely said, and so accurate.

    2. Kim (and J, below), I appreciate both of your nuanced views–as a vice principal I am often reminding parents and staff that both “bullies” and “victims” are members of our community, OUR students, and in their own ways in need of our support and assistance. I prefer to see bullying as a behavior (verb) than a title (noun), particularly as we often see that “victims” might respond to the pain of harassment by “bullying” others. The root causes of all negative behaviors are most important to address.

      Liz, I agree with you that all jerky behavior, despite labels, sucks. But I have found that it’s important as parents, children, and even adults, to be careful not to lump too much under the umbrella of “bullying.” In our quests to support, defend, and advocate for our children when they’re hurt, we can sometimes incorrectly define benign exclusion as bullying. Not all hurt feelings come from bullying, and I find that we often project our own social insecurities on our own children…

      I appreciate Ms. Livingston’s suggestion that we focus on our adult behavior and what it models for others, particularly children. Her thoughtful and positive response to this man’s rudeness, judgment, and condescension (I didn’t view it as targeting him or calling him out), her actions, her way of speaking about herself, all make her a role model, not her weight.

  5. My favorite part was when she said something like, “when you talk about the fat newscaster on TV, your kids think it’s OK to call people fat”. I do not think we need to be SO politically correct as to censor ourselves completely, but I do think we need to be aware that words have meaning, and when you call an idiot a ‘fat idiot’, just because they are fat, you are pulling in factors that are beside the point, and making yourself look stupid. I see no reason to call Chris Christie or Rush Limbaugh fat idiots. The fat has NOTHING TO DO with their idiocy, and by using the fat term, we teach our children that there is something bad about being fat. To be more clear, that fat people are bad in the immoral sense, not in the ‘it’s not the best way to live a healthy life’ sense.

    Also liked when she said, “don’t you think I know I’m fat?” I mean, duh. We all know every single flaw about ourselves. There’s no need to write a letter pointing it out.

    1. What makes me sad is that the photos I’ve found of her aren’t labeled Jennifer_Livingston_Newscaster but Jennifer_Livingston_Fat_Newscaster.

      Better search? Ugh.

      1. What?!?! That’s awful! It’s really a shame the the prize for being great at your job means that the public gets to dump on you personally.

  6. Shaming is a gateway to bullying… but you’re right – the semantics don’t matter as much as changing environments that support such behavior. Sucky people who only feel better about themselves by being sanctimonious have always existed… their reach is just greater with the internet.

  7. From the moment I watched the video, what disgusted me the most was that someone went to such great lengths to be hurtful. It was hatefulness veiled as public service.

    Being a public figure, I think people have the right to criticize your public role…if you’re an actress, then expect to be criticized for your acting, if you’re a writer, your writing and so on. It’s not a carte blanche for people to personally attack YOU as a human being. It simply doesn’t compute in my brain that anyone thinks it’s OK to be malicious. Ever.

    By pure coincidence, about 5 minutes after I watched the video, I discovered an e-mail notice about a blog comment on a post I did almost a year ago on my old blog. I was ready to delete it as spam, but I happened to read the comment (because, let’s face it, sometimes the spam is amusing) and it was an actual comment from “Anonymous”, telling me “your daughter’s outfit is tacky”. The post was an entry into a photo contest, of my daughter in a crazy outfit of mismatched patterns and colors. I captured to because it was so crazy…but…are you really going to write to me to tell me a FIVE YEAR OLD (at the time) is tacky? Why? WHY? And you don’t even have the nerve to use your real name? How does it make you feel better about yourself as a human being to publicly insult a child? Or anyone else for that matter?

    Sorry, I think I started to see spots recalling that!

  8. Well put. I’m glad Jennifer stood up for herself. The writer of the letter sounds like a jerk, but I don’t know if I would personally call it bullying. As an overweight person, I know I am very sensitive about my weight and it would crush me if someone remarked on it, even in a letter. But I don’t know if I would have been able to go on the air and dignify his missive with a response. Whatever his meaning, he didn’t deserve to get one second of notice for it (negative attention is still attention). Jennifer was already standing up for herself by showing her three girls a happy mom, doing what she loves (reporting the news).

  9. I know it was bad judging. I know it was belittling. I know it was mean and wrong, and as I said, I dislike most of all that he wrapped it in this faux “it’s meant well for the greater good, and sometimes we have to hurt/harm/sacrifice for HEALTH.” UGH.

    So whatever other labels we add to it…it was mean. And the article I read that said we lost sight of what matters talking about terminology here makes a good point.

    But you make the best point of all: what he did sets a precedent that it’s okay to look and judge and harm.

    I am so glad she spoke up and I think more of us, whether we’re recipients or bystanders, need to do that too and teach our kids to, as well.

    Thanks for bring this conversation along!

  10. I resonate with lots of the comments of other people here — the “bullying is an act not a person” is especially meaningful as I work to teach my kids (and even some of my in-laws) to be more supportive and less aggressive. It’s working! (slowly!) Amazingly!

    But most of all I agree with the concept that putting oneself in the public eye does NOT equal the right of all comers to judge you for all bits of your life. I frequently get that sort of comment, especially on my personal finance posts (gah) and my parenting posts (oh, please!), something along the lines of, “well, if you’re going to write on this forum, you’d better be prepared to be absolutely perfect in every detail or suffer the consequences! and never say a word that judges US!!! whatever you do! that’s not part of our social contract!”

    judgment is a part of being a human, I think, but what we so often miss is the ability to make that judgment from a place of compassion and identification, rather than from the sanctimommy (or sancti-anybody) point of view. I think THIS lesson is the best way (incidentally) to combat the act-of-bullying, and any time I make a judgment about someone in front of my kids I try to temper it with my compassion. unless it’s Newt Gingrich.

  11. I didn’t watch the newscaster video for a couple days, and by the time I did, I was already sick of hearing the word “bully” misapplied (to myself, for responding to a controversial blog post). So I watched her response, and while I was proud of her for sticking up for herself, I was like, “Wait–that’s not bullying. That’s just being an asshole.” The problem with crying “bully” is that we dilute the word. It isn’t bullying every time someone insults you or disagrees with you. Also, labeling someone “bully” is not much different than any other kind of essentialist name-calling.

    It’s funny that I haven’t seen any negative responses to this viral video. The conventional wisdom (on the internet anyway) is “don’t feed the trolls” by reacting to them. Yet, she reacted and was lauded. Maybe those in the “don’t feed the trolls” camp also don’t believe in criticizing anyone for feeding trolls either. That would make sense.

    Bullying is a serious problem for a few people, and real bullies shouldn’t get away with repeatedly antagonizing others. But I’m afraid that instantly calling every unpleasant interaction “bullying” just creates villains and victims. What we need is a National Asshole Awareness Month.

    1. I think on a blog “feeding the trolls” is different – I don’t give credence to them and delete anonymous flames or asshattery immediately because it derails otherwise productive conversations.

      In her case, it wasn’t giving him the attention he wants but calling him out publicly on his bad behavior. I though that was great.

      But maybe I’m wrong? Are they more similar than that?

    2. “…I haven’t seen any negative responses to this viral video.”

      Unfortunately, I have. I would suggest staying far, far away from the reader comments on the related article over at the Houston Chronicle.

      “What we need is a National Asshole Awareness Month.”



    3. I was like, “Wait–that’s not bullying. That’s just being an asshole.” The problem with crying “bully” is that we dilute the word. It isn’t bullying every time someone insults you or disagrees with you. Also, labeling someone “bully” is not much different than any other kind of essentialist name-calling.

      I completely agree.

  12. People in Jennifer’s position regularly suffer through emails much like that one, attacking weight, overall appearance, and speech. Disguised as ‘constructive criticism’ this emails are often nothing more than unnecessary cruelty.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly – whether you label the email ‘bullying’ or not, it truly doesn’t matter. It was, in fact, more than unkind and attempted to portray a slam on her weight as a concern for the community at large – especially young girls. She is a morning anchor – she had not incorrectly reported the news, she had not mispronounced a name, she was not intoxicated on air….and yet, this man is concerned the way she LOOKS effects the community.

    By putting a face (and voice) to this, I think she allowed people to see the hurt even an ADULT can feel AND presented an even greater issue – which is to remind families to be mindful of how they speak at home. I do agree when our children hear us speak unkindly about others, they learn to model that behavior.

  13. The message that kids get is that bully = bad person. When our daughter was acting like a little jerk to our son, we told her, “what you are doing is bully behavior.” She burst into tears and screamed, “I’m not a bad person!”

    So, that’s a decent-sized problem, in my opinion, as we engage in conversations about this stuff on a national level. Properly defining the *behavior* is important, because for kids, it really IS black and white.

    What I took away from her retort was that this man felt compelled to take time out of his day to shame a total stranger and negate any of her accomplishments simply because she’s overweight. She made a strong point that when parents do it, kids do it, only without the smiley, “I’m just trying to help” nastiness that adults are capable of. (And elementary/middle school-aged girls, too) Jennifer Livingston called him out on it by saying, “you do stuff like this, guess what? Your kids will too, and the problem with the total lack of a self-edit button coupled with lack of civility will continue to poison us all.”

    Shit rolls downhill, so to speak.

  14. Oh Liz I so needed to read this today. My heart is heavy after some heated discussions on twitter and my words being used against me and I just needed this.

  15. First off I want to thank you for very simply explaining your point of view on a very difficult subject. I was very moved by Jennifer’s reaction to the letter and the support she received from it but felt uncomfortable with calling the letter bullying. The whole situation left me uncomfortable but really identified with teh idea that in the end it doesn’t matter what you define it as…the letter was uncalled for.

    Second, I think I have been submersed in the bully, troll, mean people world for too long this week because I started to type out my URL as yearofthetrolls!

  16. I’m struggling with understanding why so much angst around this letter. Anytime I’m struggling to understand human behaviour, I tweak situations and see if different example would lend some clarity.
    For instance, if I imagine talk show host that showed up drunk (but made it fine through script, and even ended up with some witty remarks), and someone wrote him a letter stating that his alcoholism is bad choice and not good example for all TV audiences to see, would we be crying “foul”? If yes, does that make alcoholism OK? If not, what is the difference between overweight and tipsy? I’m lost.
    On flip side, if news anchor dyed her her purple, nobody would be writing letters about “bad examples”. Although I’m pretty sure that news company would have opinion about how such a color might impact ratings and advise said anchor to look for job elsewhere. Is that OK? Yet, nobody is screaming about this kind of undercover repression.

    For me, bullying and prejudice are revolving around any characteristics you have no control over (like race, sexual orientation, color of your eyes, height, ethnicity…). Dying hair, eating healthy, not drinking, not cutting off fellow drivers are choices we make, and are under our control. Is opinion about said choices limited only to friends? Or am I allowed to say: he cut me off, he is bad example for driving? Am I a bully for telling someone that is overweight and should think about appearances? Am I an ashole calling someone drunk? Am I inconsiderate ba.tard for yelling “watch where you are going” to drivers that cut off pedestrians? Why is calling someone an idiot when they do something stupid in that instant OK, but calling someone overweight after years of eating habits is bad? I don’t get it. Is it instant vs. long term? Is it recognized drug (alcohol) vs. not politically-correct-to-point weight gain?

    Based on comments here and on the net, I’m apparently wrong in thinking that masses calling someone a bully is bullying in itself.

    1. Your comment stuck out to me because it is something my husband and I disagree about. The traffic examples in particular. I am not one to yell at people in traffic (except for the most extreme cases) because I feel that all of us, at some point in our driving lives, committ the exact errors that enrage us. My husband doesn’t agree with me but accepts my pointing out examples of when he makes a mistake driving. “If someone else just did that you would have lost your mind!” might be something that I would throw out.

      As for commenting on someone’s weight or as you described any characteristics that a person has control over, I think Jennifer Livingston said it right in her address where she pointed out that it is not like she doesn’t know she’s over weight. So, if someone takes the time out of their day to point that out in an unhelpful and very condescending way it then becomes more like an attack and less like an observation. It’s not like pointing out someone has a booger hanging out. Now that would be helpful!

      1. To top it all off, his letter states: “your physical appearance”, “obesity is a one of the worst choices”. There is not one “you are fat”, “you are overweight”. It is obvious what the writer thinks of her appearance, of course, I’m not blind to that. But contrast that to her words: “[bullying] behavior is learned from people like the one who wrote me the letter”, “you are talking about fat news lady”, “THIS bully”. She knows even less of the person writing the letter, yet she feel confident to call him all that in front of thousands (and with help of internet, likely millions) of people. How is this NOT shaming? Is it OK because she was attacked first?
        All in all, after all the internet storm that has resulted from this TV address, if I were the writer of the letter, forget about my emotional state, I would be scared for my LIFE. Internet has become a weapon, but public media of any kind has been powerful weapon for long time now.
        I no longer know who is bullied victim?

        1. Oof I always love your comments Marija but I have to disagree with these. You’re essentially saying, if I understand correctly, that obesity is a choice, and a bad one, and that like choosing to drive badly, you should be called out for it.

          There are a lot of reasons people gain weight – medical conditions, clinical depression, side effects of medicines, psychological issues, addictions, and more. It’s not so simple to boil it down to “a bad choice.” There is a really unfortunate myth that overweight people just lack will power or self-control which is what I think you’re getting at.

          If you have any obese friends I urge you to talk about it with them and get another perspective.

          I have to stand by my feeling that a guy being a jerk is the one who deserve to be told to stop what he’s doing; not a woman just doing her job.

          1. I will always remain confused why we never see heavily tattooed news anchors, or the ones that smoke freely on tv. Of, wait, I know – those appearances are not socially acceptable just now, so they would never get a chance to show up on tv.
            I truly believe that the fact that there are so many successful tv personalities who are of heavier build points to inescapable fact that such body is acceptable. But claiming that any body image is beyond comment is slightly worrisome for me – sounds way too much like censorship. Being overweight has reasons beyond bad choices, but so does being an asshole (asperger, addiction, depression to name a few). So by same logic, I will stop with asshole opinions (not that I ever started).
            I wholeheartedly agree with compassion part. That is truly the only way out of any superficial image issue (being weight, mental health or addiction). But I will never be able to condone public lynching of private (however assholl-y) remarks. That is opposite of compassion.

            1. I believe the most famous of all TV hosts with weight issues has been Oprah Winfrey. It didn’t seem to hold her back or keep her from being a revered role model to millions. Just a thought.

              No one is censoring your comment – you have the right to your opinion, and they remain here. I think that there is just vehement disagreement that comparing reckless behavior or public drunkenness or counterculture fashion statements to weight gain is a fair one. There’s also disagreement that attacking someone for their appearance is the equivalent of attacking someone’s (the letter-writer) antagonistic attitude and bullying behavior.I don’t believe all people deserve equal compassion. Some, like that guy, are just jerks. And right or wrong, I try to make my value judgments about people based on who they are on the inside and not on the outside.

              Just know that if someone wrote you a horrible letter attacking you for your looks, your friends would jump to your defense without you even asking.

              Please read this post from my friend Erin Vest about learning how the world treats “fat people” – something she discovered after gaining a lot of weight from her Lupus treatment. It breaks my heart every time.

    2. Whoa…wait…overweight is a “bad choice” equivalent to being tipsy or having purple hair? That’s a lot of fallibility in my book.

      First, I don’t think purple hair is a bad choice. It’s a style choice.

      Second, showing up to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs is considered a bad choice. Because it’s against policies and laws and jeopardizes someone or something. But…that’s a totally different ball of wax than how someone looks and is built.

      Third, and finally, “Why is calling someone an idiot when they do something stupid in that instant OK, but calling someone overweight after years of eating habits is bad?” Ack. Oy. Ouch.

      Here’s why: because you have no idea why they weigh and look as they do.

      So…listen, people are built on all sorts of scales. Ever since my pituitary tumor, I’ve fought my weight. I exercise daily and eat better than most but I still carry extra. It’s a major, major frustration. Sometimes I am just so, so hungry and it’s uncomfortable. But I’m always always counting every bite.

      We keep learning more and more about what makes some eat more and some eat less and some metabolize what they eat and others keep it. It’s not always because someone is cramming three Big Macs and super size fries into lunch every day. Sometimes, it just is. And believe me, every person with an extra pound knows it. And they know how mean people can be, even if only in their heads, when they judge.

      To hear someone say that my weight — which I fight and struggle with every hour of every day, along with my health — is indicative of poor health choices (OUCH! I work so hard to eat healthy!), bad choices, lack of discipline (on par with bad driving, like texting and driving, OUCH!) is just hurtful.

      If I could weigh less I would believe me.

      You’re right. You do not get it and I wish you did, and I wish others who shared this same line of thinking did too. I wish we had more compassion for each other. I wish we assumed we each do the best we can versus assuming the other guy isn’t doing it right according to our standards.

      I want to share this article with you and anyone else, from Jennifer Weiner:

      Overweight…is how someone looks. In short, NO, we do not get to shame people for how they look, whether we think it is something they can control or not. We do not.

      So yes, he was wrong.

      Being rude, driving dangerously, stealing someone’s stapler, taking credit for work not your own and so forth is how someone ACTS. Discussing behavior is discussing something DONE not who someone IS.

      As Weiner says, “There are plenty of reasons for not liking someone. What she looks like isn’t one of them.”

      1. Thanks for sharing something so personal Julie. I didn’t know a lot of this about you, as long as I’ve known you. You’re an amazing persona and strong and one of my personal role models, always.

      2. I will add my own words to what Julie (who I have actually met in person) has said.

        My parents were both overweight, but for different reasons. My dad (R.I.P), because he ate too much, and too much of the wrong foods (he was very much into processed foods, and when we travelled in the US most of our meals came from McDonalds. He was deathly afraid of diarrhea, and since he was in the Far East during the late ’40s and almost died of dysentery I think I understand why.) My mom (also R.I.P.) – she had thyroid problems for pretty much her entire life, and as a result I only knew her as an obese person. A loving, caring, and intelligent woman, wife, and mother – but one who was happened to be obese.

        I have followed in their footsteps, but for different reasons. Although I was heavy, my problems started when I was diagnosed with arthritis in my early 30s. At the time, the effects of acetaminophen on the human liver weren’t well understood, and my doctor at the time prescribed me a heavy dosage to combat the arthritis, and advised me to take the stuff for headaches (I suffered from migraines at the time.) Too much of the stuff + enough time = one FUBAR’d liver. When it “recovered”, my cholesterol and triglycerides were in the stratosphere, and my blood sugar was also “elevated”. Inside of 6 months, I was on insulin (and have been ever since), and have been on numerous other medications (all of which have side effects) to try and get/keep my blood sugar levels under control. I have also had to deal with complications from the diabetes, in the form of several other conditions, which require medications which have as a side effect – weight gain.

        When I finally get things stable, and begin to drop my weight in a reasonable, controlled manner – my body tried to kill me again. Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder which targeted the neurotransmitters which tell the muscles to contract. It was a near thing (I actually had to go to the ER, as I was no longer able to eat/drink and was having problems breathing – the doctor said I had maybe a week left at best when I got there), and treating this has been a difficult process, requiring more medications: an immunosuppressant which raises my risk of developing several nasty forms of cancer; a drug which is one of the two items that has a causal link to Gulf War Syndrome; and a steroid which causes “difficulties with emotional stability”, depression, and – you guessed it – weight gain. It also wreaks havoc on blood sugar. And, while treatable, this disorder is not, at the current time, curable. Which means I’ll be on the stuff 4LYFE (literally. In more ways than one.)

        So, yeah, I tend to take it sort of personal when someone says that “being overweight is a choice”. Because, right now, I would *love* to be losing 10 lbs a month instead of the other way. I am currently closing in on 500 lbs, and have reached the point where, in order to continue functioning, I require a power wheelchair in order to move around (I still have to walk while we are processing the paperwork and getting the chair ordered/built, but it is a dicey thing – and if I fall, it takes a full EMS squad to get me back on my feet.) This is NOT something I am looking forward to, but the alternative – becoming a homebound invalid, and a burden on my family, who deserve better – isn’t an option for me.

        And, yes, I have seen the eye rolls, I have heard the whispered commentary (being obese, even morbidly so, doesn’t necessarily destroy one’s hearing), and I suspect this will become more commonplace. And what’s sad is that this happens even at work, in a company which does, after a fashion, “get it” – their diversity program includes some very good examples of why it is a bad idea to draw conclusions based on superficial, cursory observations of physical characteristics.

        @Mom101 – thanks for allowing me to vent (after a fashion) here. I have plans to discuss this situation over at my own blog, but am still trying to put the words together in a way that doesn’t include too many f-bombs. Oh, and I agree with your “does it really matter?” statement. My $0.02: so maybe it isn’t bullying, technically speaking. But, what that man did was exemplify the fusion of asshattery and “douche-canoe-ishness” (Thanks, Bloggess, for that one!) and he brought the term “defiantly clueless” to a whole new level.


    3. Even if being overweight were simply a choice, I don’t think that calling one individual out over that choice is helpful or appropriate. We can advocate generally for healthier choices and better behaviour without shaming individuals. We can work to create conditions that make it easier for people to make better choices without shaming individuals. Research has shown that shaming people for unhealthy choices simply makes them more likely to retreat into their bad habits (people who overeat often do it to comfort themselves). Being supportive has a much better chance of success.

      1. Not to mention the fact that it is entirely possible to be healthy and overweight, even at the same time. People come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and can be making healthy choices at any of them. There is neither a moral nor a medical imperative to be thin (and I speak as a medical professional; the evidence doesn’t actually support encouraging weight loss in all overweight people. It will not necessarily make healthy people healthier). Now, fitness is different — we should all be paying some attention to that, to the best of our individual abilities — but you can’t tell how fit someone is by watching them on tv.

        Marija, equating body size with showing up to work impaired — or smoking on air — is nonsense. Professional behavior is a requirement of the job. Personal style and grooming might be relevant to that; size and shape are not. Are you a bully for telling someone who is overweight they should think about appearances? Perhaps not. But your implication that only the thin can achieve an acceptable look is bigotry, plain and simple.

  17. I want to say I do agree with the idea that not all hurtful words should be seen as bullying. However, whether many say one mean thing or one says many mean things it hurts a person. The old saying about sticks and stones is so very untrue! Words do hurt!
    I love that Jennifer stood up for herself and encouraged others to stand up for themselves. She also encouraged an end to some bad lessons we teach our own children.
    I’m also impressed she didn’t make it a weight issue and attack the supermodel world like many would have but turned it instead into a call to stop hurting others with our words.
    Maybe bullying is the wrong word but the message was needed.

  18. This morning I sat someplace I didn’t want to be and The View was on. Apparently the letter writer is not backing down, does not consider himself a bully per se (an asshole in my opinion, a bad choice of word user, definitely) and claims he was looking out for her health. Whoopi said it best: perhaps if he’d framed it as I work out a lot, I’m health conscious, maybe I can help you (of course inserting that she is looking for assistance to begin with) it wouldn’t have appeared as rude.

        1. Just watched a news story about the guy. Yep. It’s official. Jerk.

          Did you know he offered to help her lose weight? How generous. Dickwad is right.

          1. He’s issuing a challenge. Which comes down to public humiliation.

            I’d like to issue him a public challenge not to be a dick for a year.

  19. Thank you so much for writing this. I agree with every.single.word.

    I have a FB page called “Look for the Helpers,” and I posted the story about Jennifer Livingston there. I’m posting this piece there, now, too. 🙂 Thank you.

  20. Another fab job, Liz. When I shared this with my Facebook friends what resonated with me is that bullying – awareness, education, prevention, etc. starts with parents. And with us realizing the consequences of judging others by things like weight, ethnicity, education level, income, etc. and the impact that has on our children. Adults TEACH children the art of being bullies – and for me, Jennifer’s message was about that. This guy? Whether he’s just a dickwad or a bully (and for the record, I agree with you, he’s not a bully), that’s insignificant. As is he, really. The message, however, is what resonates. Let’s use this as yet another opportunity to collectively remind ourselves NOT to teach our children to be bullies, even through inadvertence.

    1. Thanks Shelly – I think that was Jennifer’s point to. It starts with us. So she was saying let’s DO THIS THING.

    2. I really feel and understand this comment.

      When I take a look at my kids’ interactions with others especially those that can be considered bullying and mean AND then I look at their parents…I see the same behaviors.

      Problem is this – those parents don’t see themselves as bullying and unfortunately, they are not the ones receiving the ‘anti-bullying information’ …in this case, it is not so much educating our kids, but the parents – a hard thing to do.

      This is why I love what Livingston did so much – she called out another adult on national TV for being mean, rude, and obviously – and asshole.

  21. I think I know some of those people with who have a “BMI somewhere between Supermodel and Michael Phelps” and let me tell you they are no fun at all. Love it.

  22. You know what I like best about this post? That you take the time to be clear about definitions and analyze word choices (because writers care about how words are used), but then don’t let that distract from the greater point. You call out mean for what it is regardless of the label. That is why you are awesome.

  23. really wonderful post, and I had thought of some of these same things. I am not sure I would have called a nasty letter bullying. But why does it matter, for sure.

    The guy’s obviously an arse and wants to hurt people. The newswoman is a lovely successful mom and good for her (and all girls) that she called her viewer out on his ignorance and awfulness. Clearly, she’s a winner; he’s a loser. I was a victim of bullying too. And I was called fat. I cried watching the video of her. I could never have done something like that but I wish I had.

    You couldn’t be more right–bullying, nastiness, meanness, name calling. They all suck.

  24. I don’t think it matters if this incident itself was bullying. Jennifer Livingston didn’t just stand up and say “Someone hurt me and now I’m mad.” She used that letter as a jumping off point to discuss the broad concept of bullying, which is what I think is so admirable.

  25. Love your witty writing style. Your post was well said and well written. So often conversations get sidetracked, as in this case was it bullying or not. And you are right…who cares? The point is that this man judged Jennifer on the way she looks and that is unacceptable. Jennifer was a great role model in her response – she responded assertively and not aggressively. And most importantly, she showed that one person’s hurtful words should not define your self-worth!

    1. Thanks Terynn. I love your distinction between assertive and aggressive. And you’re right, she nailed it!

  26. Love your response. I will add though that I think it is VERY important to agree if the email is bullying or harsh criticism or both or neither. Once you put that word ‘bully’ out there you can’t retract it. Jennifer made this a bullying issue. While I am on your side (and Jennifer’s) when it comes to the issues of bullying, I find it hard to get over the fact that she has turned this around and now is judging him and his character. As she says, “you do not know me” –she does not know him either, yet she assumes he teaches his children -‘Oh look at the fat news reporter on tv.’ Was the email insensitive, uncalled for, and completely offensive? Absolutely. Is okay for him to assume that since she is overweight that she is a bad role model? No. Is it okay to assume that just because she is overweight that she is not teaching her children about healthy eating or healthy lifestyles? No.
    Somehow it has become ok to assume that this man is a bully. A bully? Really? And now all of America and the entire world has judged this man on ONE email? How do we know what kind of person he is? If we can not define Jennifer by her weight (which I agree 100% with), how can we be so hypocritical and assume we know everything there is to know about this man because of a few sentences he wrote in an email? Oh and believe me- I am not sympathizing with the man in any sense. Moron move on his part for sure.

    I just think it was entirely irresponsible to address this specific (and private, although hurtful) email on the air. The internet (present day weapon) is vilifying him and now he has become a target of bullying. Not sure that’s what she intended by broadcasting it publicly or not, but I am pretty sure that he is not the only one getting threats. I’m wondering if his family, co-workers, and (children?) have become targets now.

    I am behind her platform to bring bullying into the local and national conversation, but in my opinion her example missed the mark.

    1. So now here’s the backlash to the backlash to the backlash, ha.

      I loved this response from her:
      If my child came home and told me she received that e-mail from someone at school, there’s no way I would wait for it to happen again. Cyberbullying can be just as hurtful if not more than traditional forms of bullying. Should we wait to speak up until someone is so beaten down by repeated rants? Or should we take a stand the first time to say, ‘this is not okay.’ Call it bullying, out of line, mean—call it what you want. It should not be accepted.

      I’m hard-pressed not to agree with that or to agree with you that her response was irresponsible, though I appreciate your opinion. I think she’s been classy right down to accepting his eventual apology. And taking a look at the comments on that thread and I can see why eventually you fight back and take a stand against that BS. That said, I’ve always learned that two wrongs don’t make a right. If people are now sending him threats (threats? Good God) in her defense, well that’s the internet being as stupid as always.

  27. My son was bullied quite horrifically last year by a girl he dated and her brother, who wielded false accusations of criminal behaviour at our son. The irony is that we were not angry so much at the kids, but at the adults who failed to step in and a) help some kids who were so obviously issuing a cry for help and deflecting from their situation by shifting the focus to our son and b) who then intimidated our son and US in the community as long as a 1 1/2 yrs later. The very people who were supposed to help became the bullies-which was the weirdest thing ever. The police are supposed to HELP you, not follow your car through town, threaten to ticket you for walking on the wrong side of the road, and follow you through a mall glaring at you.

    I do think that perhaps this went too far-akin to a sledgehammer to kill an ant. Public shaming on TV isn’t the answer, either. A simple response via email would’ve been just as good.

    1. Oh my gosh that’s horrendous. I can’t even imagine what you went through. Sometimes this world is just totally f’d.

  28. IMO, the bully here is Jennifer, not the letter writer. The guy wrote a jerky letter, but he wrote it privately, didn’t post it on a bulletin board or send it to the newspaper or read it on the air for all the world to see. Instead of just tossing the note out as being from a jerk, Jennifer takes to the airwaves and humiliates the guy, who, let’s face, maybe actually had a tiny bit of a point. A tiny point, but one nonetheless in that people in public view maybe are roles models just a little bit for people. Bullying is going after people who can’t fight back. Jennifer has the platform, the letter writer just had an email account. They both behaved badly, but if we’re going to use the bully label — which is tossed around so much these days as to be meaningless — I apply it to Jennifer’s behavior much more than his.

    1. Just pointing out, she never released his name. She took on the issue of bullying and fat-shaming. I never heard her tell people to go after him.

      And no, I believe he didn’t have a point. At all. Unless you believe that a triathelete and successful reporter loses her role model status once she hits a certain BMI.

      1. Just pointing out, she did release his name to CNN and then CNN released his name to the world.

        And yes, he does have a point. We all have qualities about us that are criticized. Every. Single. Day. Maybe you are too thin or too heavy, are too short or too tall. The point being—obesity is an issue in the country. Is he a dick for pointing out? YES. Is it bullying to do so? That is the golden question. How many times have you judged someone? We all do it. He didn’t send an anonymous hate email. The email was not in any way, shape or form threatening. It was hurtful.

        I’m happy that Ms. Livingston is a triathlete and successful reporter. That makes her argument that much more compelling. But to turn this into an instance of ‘bullying’ is just plain wrong. Every time someone has an opinion of you that is hurtful or that or don’t agree with does not in any way equate to “being a bully.”

        1. Did you read my post, Lisa? I made the same point about mis-defining bullies. But we’ll have to disagree about him having a point. There is no point in writing a letter to a stranger you don’t know about their looks, unless you’re trying to make yourself feel superior in some misguided way. There really is no other reason for doing so.

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