Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bully me

I was going to talk about bridesmaid dress shopping. But I changed my mind.

A lot of you probably saw this video posted on Facebook and many other places. A quick recap: Jennifer Livingston is an anchor for a news station in Wisconsin. A male viewer sent her an email criticizing her appearance. As posted, the letter read:
“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.”
Jennifer's husband, also a news anchor, was furious. He posted something about it on his Facebook page and people started overwhelmingly supporting his wife. In the video I posted, Jennifer talks directly to the person who sent her the email. She is poised, eloquent and courageous. She's a rock star.

I had an immediate, intense reaction to this story--especially Jennifer's response. I watched it last night and bawled through all of it. It brought about so many feelings: admiration, inspiration, hope, sadness and regret. So much regret.

You see, I hate that I was never once able to stand up for myself the way Jennifer did. I won't say that I was terribly bullied in school. I had my group of friends who loved me and cocooned me from negativity. But I have definitely faced adversity because of my size. And never once did I speak up and say "This is wrong. I'm more than my weight."

You know why? Because I never believed it. In college when a guy who'd been hitting on me one night told my friend the next day that he couldn't get his arms around me when she told him to hug me, I believed him. When the girl who tortured me in eighth grade for not having name brand clothes mocked me for being too fat to get through the classroom door, I believed her. When another guy I'd briefly dated called me a year later and resorted to fat name-calling when I refused to go out with him, I believed his words. When people told me that if I just lost weight I'd find a relationship, because I had *such* a pretty face, I believed them.

I believed him. I believed her. I believed them. Where was that belief in myself?

It didn't exist. And you know what? Despite how far I've come, to this day, I bully myself far harsher than any of those people ever could. Sticks and stones and all that. But the truth is that words do hurt--especially when they come from your own mouth.

Jennifer Livingston is beautiful. Smart. Funny. She does a lot for her community. This viewer could only see her weight, and decided she wasn't fit to be a role model for younger girls. But Jennifer stood up for herself. Because she knows the truth. She knows that she's more than her weight.

I am, too. I'm pretty smart. Kind of funny. I should look in the mirror and see a girl who looks like her mom. A person committed to giving back to the others through volunteering in the community. A girl who knows the words to every lame dance rap song ever written. A woman who is really good at taking care of the people she loves. A person who plays a mean game of Trivial Pursuit. Someone who can talk to any stranger, anywhere.

But that's not what I see. I walk into a room and still look around to see if I'm the fattest. I assume my relationships end because I wasn't skinny enough. I compare myself to every girl I see and wonder why anyone would ever be attracted to me when there are thinner, more beautiful girls like her.

I'm the one who defines myself by my weight. How can I blame others for doing the same?

I'm in awe of Jennifer Livingston. I hope one day I have the courage to stand up for myself the way she did.

But when you are your own bully, sometimes that's the hardest thing in the world.


Anonymous said...

I can totally relate to your post! I watched the video last night when you posted it on FB and I too was in awe of Jennifer and how she said that she was more than a number on a scale. That is definitely not me. I too feel like I define myself by my weight. I had a therapist once tell me to stop all the negative self talk. She said I would never say the things to a friend or loved one that I say to myself. All I can say is you are not alone and I so want to be rid of the internal bullying that goes on daily in my head! - Jennie

SFM in VT said...

In your defense, Erika, you are hard on yourself because you were raised in a society that taught you to be hard on yourself, in the same way that you speak English because you were raised in a society that speaks English. Those 'languages' we learn in childhood can stick with us in the most stubborn ways! You can't flip a switch and eliminate negative thoughts, any more than you can flip a switch and start speaking Japanese. But you can learn a new language, it just takes time! I am a fellow self-beater-upper and am trying to learn a new language also.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear friend you speak my language! I just watched this video and good for her. We both have lived this battle our whole lives and it will continue to be our daily cross to bear. However, we can learn to love ourselves beyond belief. You are all the things you said in your post and SO much more! And not just kind of funny but hilarious! I love you girl! Great post!

Kindred spirits!!

Anonymous said...

A difficult topic to respond to; hits too close to home. For years, I, too looked to see if I was the largest in the room and usually I was. Now that I am not, I still feel as if I am. I was never able to stand up for myself either but I know that you and your posts are speaking out and standing up for all of us.
Thank you,

Megan said...

I know exactly what you are talking about. The things I tell myself are so mean. SO MEAN. I'm trying to be better about it, but boy is it hard.

Anonymous said...

I can relate to this post so much more than I care to admit. I remember every time I was ever picked on for physical reasons or just being shy. And even though I married in my 20's and am still married in my 40's, I can still relate to you.

We were perfect for each other and loved each other more than any other couple, so I blame myself for his affair because I got too fat. Certainly none of the other 100 reasons (most of which had nothing to do with me) could have had anything else to do with it, could they? Well we got through it and we still love each other, but I'm still afraid it could happen again because I'm not thin enough, even though he has never once suggested that I am fat or unattractive.

So, even people in happy, stable, long-term relationships get to experience some of the terrible things that you probably thought were reserved for single ladies like yourself. And it all has to do with our culture and our childhood experiences. Oh well...

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