The Fat Lady Sang, and It Was Beautiful

by Bill Brenner on October 3, 2012

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.

Mood music:


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.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Nigel Searle October 3, 2012 at 10:32 am

You may not be aware that Churchill was seriously affected by dementia during his 1951-55 term as Prime Minister – a time during which the UK had nuclear weapons.
No-one knows whether his weight was related to his mental problems – but he certainly was not a good example of mental clarity by his mid-70s.

Bill Brenner October 3, 2012 at 10:34 am

True. But he was the right man at the right time during WW II. He did in fact suffer from depression for much of his adult life. He called it his Black Dog.

TrollMongle October 4, 2012 at 8:54 am

I’m glad you can look at a news anchor and feel a sense of pride knowing you found an outlet to your “disease”. But the fact of the matter is, there is a cure for your “disease”. You have an eating disorder…okay. So go get help instead of airing your sappy story about how life just isn’t fair.

Many great role models have followed the phrase, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” If you truly wanted to maintain a healthy figure you would find the will power to beat your “addiction”. Yes I am skinny and will be like this for the rest of my life. But I have made the conscious effort to bust my butt in the gym to put on the muscle that I have so desperately desired for many years. That didn’t happen on it’s own, I fought five days a week to get where I am now.

Quit buying into publicity stunts such as these and make yourself a success story for other confused or troubled individuals struggling with eating addictions. Moreover, we don’t even know what Jennifer looked like before her pregnancy. I would like to see her figure prior to her sole reason for weight gain.

Bill Brenner October 4, 2012 at 9:04 am

Sappy story about how life is unfair? You clearly haven’t read much of this blog. I’ve written a ton of posts about how I learned to control my eating through Overeater’s Anonymous and the 12-Steps. I’ve told my story so others in my position could see that they don’t have to take their “disease” lying down. I’ve maintained a 65-pound weight loss and am an avid walker. I AM a success story in that I took the fight to my addiction and have many more good days with that than bad days. If that’s not good enough for you, oh well.

Joe October 4, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Oh how adorable, TrollMongle, you are completely living up to that name well. Good for you, going to the gym and working out to keep yourself healthy. I also am very glad for you that you have fully working thyroid glands, don’t have metabolism disorders, mental illn- well, ok I will stop there. But the point is you are obviously completely ignorant of how it is NOT always a choice, and it often is something that can get out of control.

The idea, too, that you can assume things based on pictures of her before her pregnancy is so inherently flawed it is obvious you are either just living up to your name or have no idea what effects pregnancy can have on a woman’s body chemistry, makeup, and even bone structure.

You are a bully. Whether it’s done out of malice, for the lulz, or simply because you are mind-numbingly ignorant, you are a bully, and not a very creative one. I pity you.

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