Sick of the word bullying

Haley shares her thoughts about the "bullying" label in light of the now-viral video, in which news anchor Jennifer Livingston addresses a scathing email.

By Haley Overland
Sick of the word bullying

Earlier today on La Crosse, Wisconsin's News 8 This Morning, news anchor Jennifer Livingston issued a passionate on-air response to an email she received last Friday, written by a concerned male citizen. When Livingston's husband, a fellow anchor, posted the email on his Facebook page, a flood of support for Livingston poured in.

Here's the now-viral video:

As Livingston, a mother of three, shares in the video, the email she received contained the subject line "Community Responsibility," and read as follows:

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.

As someone who struggles with weight, I was angered by this email. For one thing, being obese isn't typically a "choice" one makes. And in being overweight, Livingston is certainly not setting a bad example for "young people, girls in particular." On the contrary, she's showing young girls that people come in all different sizes.

In her on-air retort, she says:

The truth is, you could call me fat. And yes, even obese, on a doctor's chart. But to the person who wrote me that letter: Do you think I don't know that? That your cruel words are pointing out something that I don't see? You don't know me. You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family and you have admitted that you don't watch the show. So you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside. And I am much more than a number on a scale.

While Livingston eloquently addressed the weight issue, she also chose to focus on the bullying aspect of the email, highlighting how rampant bullying is on the Internet (true that!) and in schools.

She closed with this powerful message:

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 many.

Amazing. Unfortunately, however, most children who are bullied aren't in the public spotlight and can't rely on the "shouts of many" for support. So I was a little put off by that part of the statement. Though the email was ignorant, uncalled-for and downright rude — and though Livingston should absolutely be proud of her message — not everything has to be about bullying. In throwing around the "bully" label so much, we enable our kids to define themselves as victims. This is what I fear is happening.

As a reality TV show devotee, I've witnessed two incidents in the last month in which a contestant cried on stage about being bullied, and claimed she was finally ready to take a stand by singing solo in front of millions. Singer Demi Lovato on The X Factor even hopped on stage crying to hug one of these contestants and congratulate her for singing through the tears. Gosh, even Simon Cowell got teary-eyed.

Yes, bullying is REAL, bullying needs TO BE STOPPED, and we need to continue to BRING AWARENESS to it because so many kids out there need the support that big bullying initiatives incite. But we also have to be cautious about overusing the label. We need to set stronger standards for our kids, rather than encourage them to play victim by making every negative incident they experience, every negative comment thrown their way, about bullying. Aren't rejection and criticism, for example, important aspects of growing up?

Have I myself been bullied? If you want to label it that way, YES. I even had to get police involved at one point. But I've never dwelled on it — I worked through it as a specific experience, without labeling myself as "bullied." It was a life experience that made me stronger. And that's the message we need to send to our kids: Forget, "Oh, you've been 'bullied,'" and focus on, "Let's fix this situation and get stronger."

What do you think?

This article was originally published on Oct 03, 2012

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