Jennifer Livingston does not know what bullying is

It’s that time again. Another video has gone viral on Facebook and other social media and, as usual, people are hyper-supportive of something that is completely stupid. First, here is the video:

For those too lazy to watch the video, news anchor Jennifer Livingston received an email from some random guy critiquing her for being overweight. She responded to him on air, reading the email as follows:

Hi Jennifer, It’s unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years. 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. I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.

Let’s get the facts out there right away:

  • Someone sent this news anchor a private email.
  • At no point in the email was Livingston harassed, nor were any factually incorrect statements made.
  • Livingston admits that the reason the letter became public was that her husband posted it for all to see on his Facebook page.
  • In addition to Livingston’s husband being the one who initially made this all public, Livingston herself went on television and spoke about the letter for about 4 minutes.

I have a serious problem with what’s going on here. Livingston is claiming that she has been bullied by some anonymous person on the Internet because he encouraged her to lose weight. That isn’t bullying. The man does not seem to have sent Livingston email after email. He was not insulting in his critique but, instead, factual. (Whether or not he was in good taste is a separate question.) He did not set out to mock her for some inherent trait like skin color. All he did was point out that she has been overweight for a number of years now, something which is objectively unhealthy. Livingston chooses to live an unhealthy lifestyle. Criticizing her for that is no different from criticizing her for the political affiliation she chooses or the religious beliefs she chooses to have.

I have other problems with what Livingston has said – she seems to say that the man has no right to criticize her because he doesn’t personally know her; she compares her weight problem to sexual orientation and skin color; she says that we should teach our children to be kind rather than think critically – but I’m going to largely skip that stuff. What really disturbs me is the continuation of this fat acceptance movement. It’s terrible. Being fat is not always a choice – many people are burdened with extra weight because their parents gave them a terrible diet, others have disabilities, some have diseases – but living an unhealthy lifestyle usually is a choice. (This is the point where someone inevitably ignores my intentional use of the word “usually” and points out specific examples where a person’s hands are tied in terms of diet and exercise.) The more and more we pretend like people are helpless to get themselves in shape, the more and more people will embrace bullshit excuses for staying unhealthy.

I don’t necessarily support sending off polite emails to overweight news anchors in an effort to curb obesity. Part of the reason is that I don’t know as there is enough time in the day, at least in America. But the primary reason is that I don’t think someone automatically needs to be a role model by virtue of being in the public eye. Perhaps if Livingston is active in her community and/or otherwise tries to be a role model, then her weight is a fair issue and I think she should address it to the best of her abilities. But I’m not convinced that she has to act like a role model just because she stands in front of a TV crew every day.

Fat apologetics

When I wrote my recent post on the burden of fitness, I came across a disappointing, if unsurprising, movement: the fat acceptance movement. I’m all for treating fatties equally, but I’m not for suspending the use of terms like “fatties”. It is that sort of respect this movement is demanding; they don’t merely want respect for individuals – they want respect for fatness itself. I will never give into something that vile.

So that brings me to a recent spread by PLUS Model Magazine:

A magazine dedicated to plus-size fashion and models has sparked controversy with a feature claiming that most runway models meet the Body Mass Index criteria for anorexia.

Accompanied by a bold shoot that sees a nude plus-size model posing alongside a skinny ‘straight-size’ model, PLUS Model Magazine says it aims to encourage plus-size consumers to pressure retailers to better cater to them, and stop promoting a skinny ideal.

Everyone and their overweight mother [insert standard comment about Nate’s mother] has been promoting this link on Facebook recently. I don’t think any of them have given it much thought. If they did, they would see that it is filled with lies.

First, there is no anorexia criteria on BMI charts. Take a look. There is a category of “severely underweight” (not reflected in the provided image), but there is no indication given for what the cause is for being so underweight. And there shouldn’t be. BMI charts are meant to give a broad indication of the health of a population. They are not diagnostic tools for individuals. Just imagine someone who is 5’9″ and 185lbs. According to the chart, that person has a BMI of 27+ and is thus overweight. And for the general population, that will be accurate. But if we look at say, Wes Welker of the New England Patriots, we see that those are his stats. He isn’t fat by a long shot, but the BMI chart cannot tell us that. Pretending otherwise would be ridiculous. However, that is exactly what PLUS Model Magazine is doing at the other end of the chart.

Second, anorexia is generally characterized as a psychological disorder. Simply being skinny is not a disorder. This magazine should feel a little shame right now.

Third, most ads do cater to people in shape, but there are plenty of stores with plenty of clothing for larger women. I’m not one to peruse the lady areas of a store unless forced, but I have never been in a department store that sells clothing where there was not a preponderance of women’s clothes. (This is especially true as compared to men’s sections.) I find it hard to imagine all those clothes are size 3. This isn’t about getting companies to supply better garments. It’s about using fat models in order to make fatness more socially acceptable.

Fourth, there is nothing wrong with promoting a skinny ideal. I don’t place any moral significance on whether or not someone is actually fit, but I do place plenty on whether or not they try to be fit. Giving goals is a good thing. And if those goals are extremely difficult to reach, then all the better. I hope people will try even harder, even if they don’t make it all the way.

One [spread], printed alongside a photo of the Russian beauty holding a tape measure across her rear, reads: ‘Twenty years ago the average fashion model weighed 8% less than the average woman. Today, she weighs 23% less.

Maybe fashion models have become skinnier over the years. I don’t think I can deny that possibility, and, in fact, my inclination is to believe it is true. But that certainly is not the whole story. How about the fact that the average woman has become fatter? Just look at the analysis in my post about average breast size. Bra sizes have increased over the years. Part of the reason probably has to do with retailers altering what they consider to be A cups, B cups, C cups, etc, but most of the reason is likely the average increase in weight. And since breasts don’t tend to increase in size all by themselves without surgical intervention, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that average waistlines have been increasing as well. If PLUS Model Magazine was at all honest, they would have never used the above stat.

I don’t have a problem with efforts to make people feel good about themselves. Fine, do what you need to do to get through the day. But don’t try to convince me that fat people are healthy and doing just dandy. It isn’t true. What’s more, it’s a danger not only to society, but individual human lives as well.