click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Jennifer Livingston: The Fat Anchor

Jennifer Livingston: The Fat Anchor

Can fat people be good role models?


As a morning news anchor for television station WKBT in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Jennifer Livingston was no stranger to the occasional disapproving call or email from viewers. After all, the news staff at the station encouraged viewer critiques, so it was easy to shrug off the criticisms that focused on her clothing choices or other insubstantial matters.

But the email from Kenneth Krause was impossible to dismiss:

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.

Livingston and her husband, Mike Thompson, who is an evening anchorman at the same station, were angry. They felt that Krause’s email was beyond the pale of acceptable criticism. Livingston called it a “low blow,” even bullying, that demanded a reply. And reply they did.

Thompson posted the offending email on his Facebook account, immediately drawing an intense debate with more than 1,500 posts, most of them supportive of Livingston. “Let her know that she is very beautiful in the eyes of her fans, friends and extended family,” posted one woman, “because we not only see a beautiful lady on the outside but also on the inside. The jerk that sent the email is a pathetic loser.”

Some harshly judged Livingston for her size, saying it was “not okay” to be fat, cajoling, “Get moving, Jennifer!”

I am much more than a number on a scale.

Despite the majority of supportive posts she received, Livingston hadn’t yet had her say. On October 2, she devoted four minutes of airtime to face down her detractor. “Hundreds of people have taken their time to lift my spirits,” she said during her broadcast. “The truth is I am overweight. You can call me fat and yes, even obese on a doctor’s chart. To the person who wrote me that letter, do you think I don’t know that? You don’t know me. You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family, and you... know nothing about me besides what you see on the outside – and I am much more than a number on a scale.”

Livingston also pointed out that October was National Anti-Bullying Month and cautioned parents to model kind behavior to their children, so as not to teach through example that bullying comments or behavior are okay. “To all of the children out there who feel lost, who are struggling with your weight, with the color of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability, even the acne on your face, listen to me right now. Do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience, that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts [of support] of many,” she added.

Not surprisingly, her bold on-air attack quickly went viral, and Livingston and her husband were soon guests on Good Morning America. During their airtime on GMA, Thompson defended his wife as an outstanding role model in every way, including to their three young daughters. He noted that she has a thyroid issue that makes it hard for her to lose weight, but that she has run triathlons and had recently participated in a 5-K run.

This cause célèbre with Jennifer Livingston underscores the extent to which our culture is steeped in the extremely damaging fixation with physical beauty, looking young, and the message that thinness is part of an ideal beauty type. While Krause may have thought he was doing a good thing in “encouraging” Livingston to slim down because of her public persona and de facto role as an example to girls in the community, he was out of line to pass judgment on a woman he had never met on the basis of poundage.

He failed to even consider how many people struggle against excess weight for a variety of reasons, both medically and emotionally. It also reveals the shallowness of the diversity imperative, which fixates on gender and racial equality, but not size.

Looks and Weight

It is hard not to fall prey to our fixation on looks. In 2011, Americans spent more than $10 billion (yes, billion) on cosmetic procedures, from liposuction to Botox injections, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Many of these services were purchased by job seekers worried that looking their age would hurt their chances of getting hired. That is sad as well as scary. While sensible people know better deep down, many of us still judge people based on looks, without considering the depth and dimensions of the person inside. No wonder there is increased bigotry and disdain against overweight individuals.

Livingston was hardly a vulnerable victim of someone more formidable than her.

On the other hand, Livingston’s assertion that she was bullied by the email writer is harder to accept. While she has become a sudden symbol for the anti-bullying brigade, Livingston was hardly a vulnerable victim of someone more formidable than her. In fact, her powerful and bold rebuttal proved she was more than equal to the task of answering back to harsh criticism.

In the process, she also garnered new-found prominence and become an inspiration to other plus-sized women who applaud her success as a TV anchor and cheer the fact that she has a loving and supportive husband and three children. Under these circumstances, I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t Krause who might not be contemplating a move out of town.

Judaism teaches that our bodies were created by God and given to us to fulfill our potential during our lives. So yes, we absolutely should take care of our bodies and stay as healthy as we can. But our bodies are just the “housing” for the real people we are inside. We must know how to look at people beyond the superficial “skin deep” level before we can judge who the “real” role models in our society should be.

October 21, 2012

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 43

(31) Jennifer, October 29, 2012 4:23 PM

The letter and the response are unrelated

It seems to me that people are linking 2 unconnected points: The e-mailer was rude, therefore the anchor's obesity is not only a non issue but can be a good thing. Having worked in the medical field for over 10 years, I can attest that obesity, like smoking and alcoholism, are public health issues that are greater than the individual person. I have worked with people who are 100-300 pounds overweight who cannot get needed surgeries because there is too much fat around their organs & they are too sick with secondary obesity-related problems to receive anesthesia. Obese people's joints cannot support the extra weight, so younger & younger people need new hips or knees. An operation that might take 2 hours on a normal sized person can take 6-8 hours on a very fat person. Meeting patients who are part of the hospital's weight loss surgery division, many of the extremely overweight swear up and down that they have tried "everything" to lose weight and are desperate for the surgery, but when we track their intake we discover that they regularly eat 3 to 4 times the calories they need. They often drink over 1000 calories daily in soda alone yet deny that their diet is unhealthy. The level of self-delusion is frustrating. Was the e-mailer correct to point out that anchor's weight problem? Probably not. But is it okay to sit back and say that weight is a personal issue and no one else's business? Obese seniors now cost Medicare more than 3 times the amount of seniors who smoked for 40 yrs and have COPD. Most obestiy is not caused by steroids or glands or thyroid issues. Some people are "big boned" but that does not mean they have to carry huge amounts of fat on their body. The two are unrelated.

Brian, November 10, 2012 4:43 AM

Right on the money

Jennifer hits the nail right on the head. The comment, whatever you want to call it, by Krause neither adds to nor detracts from the reality of Livingston's condition. Obesity is a health risk and it doesn't matter what causes it. Being overweight, fat, obese, whatever isn't a crime, but it isn't a virtue either. Livingston (along with all of her emotional supporters) glorifies her condition in order to attempt to regain honor she feels Krause somehow had the power to deny her and she belittles herself and all those with excess body fat issues. I've been a personal trainer for 11 years and I've heard it all. Most who are overweight do not want to be that way but most (yes, most, by a large degree) have serious mental blocks, even borderline delusional thoughts and behavior patterns that keep them from changing their condition. I can attest that those of my clients, past and present, who admit they want to change, only a portion actually break through the barrier of taking action to cypreate real change. The ones who take appropriate and effective action do change. Their bodies get stronger and their body fat percentages decrease. A large number, however, say they want to change and do take action but they take what I call ineffective action. They will work out, but just enough to get tired and so they can say they worked out. They will change their eating habits for a time but just long enough to say they changed. Most will never push beyond the stage where change occures so that positive results remain. So they say they have tried everything but in reality, they have not. The one thing they have not tried is selling out to the remedy. Selling out to a life change that reveals itself in meaningful activities that create a new person... the person they swear up and down they want to be. Talk is cheap but real change costs quite a bit and it is a price that most, yes, most, are not willing to pay.

(30) Malka, October 28, 2012 1:09 AM

Why give the bully a voice?

Couldn't the anchor just do a documentary or a segment about how "overweight" people are thriving using herself as an example since she does triatholons? Why let the bullys voice be heard, just erase the email cast it into oblivion!

(29) L.S., October 27, 2012 10:41 PM

how rude!

That e-mail was rude and uncalled for, and Mrs. Livingston was correct is her response and outrage. Her job is to report news, not as a fitness instructor. People should be judged by their qualifications only and not by their appearances. She is a lovely looking woman who I am sure is doing her job well and her weight is nobody's business.

(28) Batya, October 26, 2012 4:31 PM

I think that while it's definitely unhealthy to be overweight, it's also just as deplorable to be condescending and offer unsolicited advice to someone because of their weight. For instance, when a family friend went through chemotherapy, she gained weight as a result of the steriods that are part of the treatment. She was not overweight because of a lack of self-control or laziness, but rather because of a life-threatening illness. In light of that, I think that people shouldn't judge others until they understand their situation. If someone genuinely has a problem with emotional eating or doesn't feel confident enough to exercise, then I think it would be okay to say something in a kind way, in private of course. Personally, I went through a "chubby phase" in my early teens, and as result of how bad I was made to feel by my parents, I ended up developing anorexia and was much less healthy than I had been with a few extra pounds. It took me a while to get back to "normal" and understand that my value wasn't tied to how thin I was or how little I ate. Weight is such a sensitive issue, sometimes it's almost better to not even discuss it...and really in this case, how was Ms. Livingstone's weight any of Mr.Krause's business? I think that what he did was rude and uncalled for, though not necessarily "bullying".

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment