It’s the year 2016, people. Body positivity is everywhere, Dove campaigns keep telling us to love our curves, and a plus-sized model just graced the cover of Sports Illustrated for the first time ever. We should be reveling in all this body-loving, size-ain’t nothin’-but-a-number-stuff. Right?
Except for this little reality: Women are still being publicly judged and even shamed for their bodies, their looks, and their age — in the movies, on TV, in social media … you name it.
Take Chicago news reporter Marcella Raymond, who was recently shocked to receive an anonymous letter from a viewer, suggesting that she better drop some weight if she wanted to keep her job on WGN-TV. If not, the viewer argued, she might lose it to a slimmer, younger woman.
Raymond, an 18-year news veteran of WGN-TV, posted the letter to Facebook the same day she received it — and really, it has to be read in full to be believed:
You are an excellent reporter. Content is no problem. You have good broadcast skills and are a good communicator.
However, please allow me to point out (with great respect) that you have gained too much weight. Being heavier than you probably want to be does present a message to the viewer: this person is not able to discipline herself in a visual medium. It interferes with your real message when reporting.
You know as well as anyone that the TV news game is a young person’s business. Being overweight makes people look older than they actually are and an overweight body takes its toll on the actual aging process, especially facially. At the very least, television is a visual medium and its performers (and each reporter IS, to a degree, a performer) should put forward their best visual presence.
I hope you can discern from this unusual letter a clear sense of concern. That’s it, only concern. It’s hard enough to keep jobs in TV; why make it more difficult on yourself? At some point, management will view your being significantly out-of-shape as a reflection of your not caring or “keeping your house in order.”
Seriously; this were actual words written by a human person.
But Raymond wasn’t about to let this one go quietly. She responded (quite unapologetically) to the lovely letter writer in a WGN-TV segment.
“I’m 50 years old, and I’m not going to look like I did when I was 23,” she said, while phoning in to one of the network’s morning shows. “And I can’t compete with those girls. And it’s not feasible. I can’t do it. I would spend my entire life doing that and I have other, better, more important things to do.”
While Raymond’s response was pretty great, she’s not the only female broadcaster to receive such intense criticism from a viewer recently.
Earlier this year, Australian broadcaster Deborah Knight was shamed for having the audacity to appear on air while nearly nine-months pregnant. As Knight later shared on Twitter: “Charming viewer email: ‘Deb great BUT don’t need to look at pregnant body. If you must have her on keep her sitting down. It looks repulsive.'”
And that’s not all: Philadelphia meteorologist Katie Fehlinger took a lot of heat for continuing to work through her third trimester, too — and from more than one viewer. Fehrlinger, who was pregnant with triplets, shared on Facebook that she’d been compared to a “sausage in a casing” and told that “sticking your pregnant abdomen out like that is disgusting” in various viewer emails.
But much like Raymond, Fehlinger didn’t keep silent. “Frankly, I don’t care how ‘terrible’ or ‘inappropriate’ anyone thinks I look,” she shot back in a response post on Facebook. “I will gladly gain 50 pounds [and] suffer sleepless, uncomfortable nights if it means upping my chances to deliver [two] healthy baby girls.”
While I have to hand it to Raymond and Fehlinger for keeping their chins up and shooting down their critics, I can’t help but shake my head that they even had to. Since when did it become a prerequisite for female reporters to look like super models on the small screen? Are they offering journalism classes at the Ford Modeling Agency now? And more importantly, since when is it humanly acceptable to write an anonymous letter to a stranger about the way that they look, and shame them for daring to go out into public that way?
These hateful comments aren’t just damaging to the women they’re directed at; they’re damaging to all of us. The message they send to us, and to our daughters, is clear: Looks are more important than getting the job done right. And by that logic, we may as well be transported back to the ’50s and ’60s, when women were meant to be seen and not heard at work; when it was best to look pretty on your typewriter so the Don Drapers of the office could fawn over you.
And is that what we really want?
You never hear reports over an ESPN commentator getting crap for his receding hairline or double chin on the air (not that I’m pointing it out or anything), but a woman that looks like she’s about to give birth? Gasp!
Like I said, it’s 2016, and it’s time we put an end to this conversation once and for all. Because our curves, our baby bellies, and yes, even our wrinkled foreheads, are here to stay.
And the world is just gonna have to deal with it.More On