News anchor Jennifer Livingston made the news herself last week, as a video of her went viral online. I believe her strong rebuke to a viewer’s remarks about her weight is long overdue. We should not only applaud her courage, but we should also garner more support from those who believe that we need to teach both kids and adults to be more tolerant. Teaching the principles of common courtesy goes a long way in keeping bullying under wraps. Jennifer’s problems highlight two very serious issues that every parent must confront in raising kids.
First, there is the bullying issue. October is, appropriately, anti-bullying month. How apropos that the man who chided her did so at the end of September. No one deserves to have another person write or speak humiliating remarks to them. Saying shameful things to an adult is difficult, but doing so to a child can have long term effects on their self esteem.
The man who wrote to Jennifer was completely out of line to write to her, and her weight is none of his business. I wonder what his parents did wrong to raise a man who feels that he has the right to be mean to others. We need to teach our children the rules of common courtesy so that we don’t contribute to raising the next generation of bullies.
Second, we are living in a profoundly superficial and weight-obsessed culture. Almost half of all third grade girls have said that they need to be thinner and by the fifth grade, many of those young girls have tried dieting. Eating disorders (both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa) are rampant on college campuses. No wonder that anxiety and depression are rising in our kids. They feel that they need to starve in order to be accepted by their peers.
How peculiar that the gentleman who wrote nasty things to Ms. Livingston didn’t write to her emaciated counterparts—the hundreds of female actresses and models who starve themselves in order to get on the covers of ladies’ magazines. The message that our young girls get on a daily basis draws them into a dangerous obsession over what they eat—and what they don’t eat. Those who are “successful” in starving become emaciated. Those who are equally obsessed with food but can’t starve go in the opposite direction and become overweight.
The only weapon we parents have against bullying of our kids by mean people and becoming obsessed with dieting or overeating is to intervene with some common sense. First, we need to teach our kids to stand up to bullies. I can guarantee that the man who wrote to Jennifer Livingston won’t do it again because she gave him a piece of her mind. Bullies are weak-kneed and only bully those they feel will take it. So make sure your child doesn’t take it.
Second, we need to address the cultural obsession with thinness and food head-on. Teach your daughters exactly where the pressure to be thin comes from. Then teach them that they are to be strong, not weak. Help them focus on developing solid character and put less focus on the superficial. The only way to combat illness around us is to face it and diffuse it. Even young girls get this. I know, because I’ve seen them combat it successfully time and time again.
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