Obesity and bullying: which is weighing us down? | By Navneet Khinda


“To all of the children out there who feel lost, who are struggling with your weight, with the colour of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability, even the acne on their face – listen to me right now. Do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies.”

This is a powerful statement, and one that we should all take to heart. Bullying is absolutely abhorrent, and having once been a victim and perpetrator of it (albeit, in elementary school), I understand, the harm it can inflict.

By now many of you have seen this video where anchorwoman Jennifer Livingston is called out on her appearance from a viewer. The email reads 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.”

To her, this was a “very hurtful attack”.

I’m not questioning the impact it had on her, but I’m not sure it was meant to be explicitly hurtful.

First, before I delve into my critiques, let me outline and explain her argument.

She begins by asserting that truthfully, “[she] is overweight”. But, the viewer doesn’t know her, and he (I don’t know how/why the assumption was made that the viewer is male) is “not a friend”, therefore he knows “nothing about [her] but what [he] sees on the outside”.

Fair point, he doesn’t know her. But who cares? She’s a public personality and no one needs to know her to criticize her. That’s just the way the world works.

Next, she comes to the crux of her rebut – that bullying is a growing problem and “as a mother of three young girls, it scares [her] to death.”

October is anti-bullying month, and I am of course very supportive of advocacy efforts against bullying. Yet I don’t see how this letter was bullying. It was a personal letter, worded in quite a civil manner, to point out what the viewer perceived to be a flaw that may affect children.

She takes his argument and flips it on the head, asserting that instead, his “attack” is harmful to children because there are “children who don’t know better” and will presumably follow in this man’s footsteps by going to school and calling someone fat. Essentially – this behaviour is learned.

Well, so are unhealthy behaviours like smoking, cursing, being rude, and oh yeah – eating unhealthy.

I’m going to preface my argument by acknowledging that obesity or being “overweight” can be a symptom or cause of a number of medical conditions, many which may be out of an individual’s control.

I also agree that judging people solely based on their appearance is wrong and not conducive to healthy relationships.

But there’s something to be said about maintaining a good appearance and healthy habits.

Despite bullying being a crisis, obesity is increasingly prevalent. And there are a number of studies indicating that children with obese or overweight parents are at higher risk for becoming so themselves.

I don’t really buy the viewer’s argument regarding Livingstone’s community responsibility, because we also see starved, bony models on TV all the time, and no one calls them out for failing to be responsible community citizens. Furthermore, obesity can be a result of a number of societal factors.

However in many cases, obesity is a result of individual choice – bad choices. This four minute video has a good message, but it’s an overblown reaction to what was a completely reasonable opinion.

In fact, I think people need to really grasp the effects of this condition, like the innumerable health risks which are associated with ballooning healthcare costs.

And it’s only on the rise. Our sedentary lifestyles coupled with unhealthy eating habits, not to mention the negative effects of toxic food environments (advertising, food deserts, etc), are a harmful combination.

Bullying sucks. No one should be bullied because they are fat or have other perceived “flaws”. But our potentially corrupting influence on the health of young people is equally as awful, if not worse.

Obesity is targeted for a reason, and frankly, I think we need to do more to balance the scale.

The above picture is from here.

Navneet is a third year political science student who tweets a lot. Follow her @navneetkhinda.

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  • Ben

    good article but,

    People call out models ALL the time for being too skinny. People say that they are not setting a good example for young women/girls and nobody comes rushing to their defence like they are the victims of bullying. This double standard has haunted me, and other chronically skinny people, and nobody seems to care.

    Teasing people is a socially acceptable way to guide “inappropriate” behaviour. I personally always make fun of my friend when he goes to smoke a cigarette. But If I were to the same to a fat friend ordering a fourth jr chicken, I would have crossed some unthinkable line.

  • Anon

    Some thoughts: what is a “good appearance”? Who decides what this is? Why? People of all sizes can’t have a “good appearance?” What are we going to do to “balance the scale?” Why do we need to “balance the scale?”

  • Pingback: Bullying Happens: Life Shouldn’t be all Buttercups and Flowers | By J. More – The Wanderer()

  • Anonymous

    Obese doesn’t necessarily mean you’re inactive or unhealthy. People who are reallty thin are not necessarily active and healthy. Numerous studies have shown that these two are not completely synonomous and that it is a false dichotomy.

    The reason this is bullying is because he (and it is a guy, he left his name) is attacking her role in the community solely based on her appearance. In her work she’s not promoting unhealthy living styles, she’s not promoting overeating, and she’s not promoting a sedetary lifestyle. She’s just a overweight anchorwomen.

    Had he submitted an email commenting that maybe the news should focus on events and activities that promote a healthy lifestyle instead of personally attacking the anchor, we wouldn’t have this issue.