I just read about some asshole who told an overweight news anchor that she’s a bad role model for children. As someone who has had a lifelong struggle with weight, this hits me like a punch to the gut.
Jennifer Livingston, a morning anchor at WKBT in La Crosse, Wisconsin, went on air after getting an email that read in part: “Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain.”
On air, she took this guy apart piece by piece. As someone who struggles with weight and self esteem over appearance, I applaud Livingston. Here’s the TV segment:
Is Livingston overweight? She says she is, and I guess appearance speaks for itself, though I feel like a shit for saying so. But when I look at her, I see nothing wrong. Here’s a woman who has succeeded on television despite the demand these days that women on TV be skinny everywhere but in the chest and behind. She’s got guts. She’s real and, in my estimation, a pretty good role model for kids.
Kids live in a particularly cruel world, where classmates call them names over weight and appearance, among other things. It’s always been this way and, I think, always will. I’ve lived it. Sometimes the name-calling stops once you hit high school; other times it gets worse. Either way, kids that age become obsessed about how they fit in, and that’s where those who don’t feel like they fit in turn to drugs, alcohol and food to escape. Some, like me, survive it and find a way to thrive in the world. Others don’t, dying from their addictions and depression that become so overwhelming that they choose to end it.
What infuriated me most about the letter writer’s rebuke was how he called obesity “one of the worst choices a person can make.” That’s probably one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.
Sure, we all make bad choices in life. We choose not to exercise and take on weight as a result. We make bad career and financial choices, which can lead to addictive behavior, including overeating. But nobody chooses to be fat. Nobody rationally decides to grow obese. The extra flesh is often the result of many things.
For me, it was a childhood of Prednisone intake for Crohn’s disease that drove the appetite into overdrive after periods of not being allowed any food at all. By adulthood, food had become the focus of my addictive impulses. I binged my way to 280-plus pounds, not because I made a choice to be fat, but because I couldn’t back away from a binge. The more I ate, the more I felt like a filthy, sub-human slave.
A choice? Fuck you, pal.
There are plenty of fat people in history who became the ultimate role models. For me, Leslie West of the band Mountain, creator of some of the fattest, most powerful riffs ever, is one of mine. He has lost the weight in more recent years but has maintained his fat sound, which I mean as a compliment. There’s also Winston Churchill. His portly appearance didn’t matter to a country that needed his leadership in the face of Nazi aggression.
I’ve maintained a 65-pound weight loss for more than three years now by cutting flour and sugar from my diet and weighing out most of my meals. But I’ll never be thin. I continue to be what one of my kids described recently as “wide.” Sometimes I wish I were thinner, but I care less about that as I get older. What’s more important to me is mental clarity, and my food choices are driven by what’ll get me there, not what’ll get me to a 32-inch waistline.
As a weight-challenged person, I now have a new hero: Jennifer Livingston.