In the news this week–Jennifer Livingston, a local news anchor in La Crosse, WI, made an impassioned plea to the public, particularly parents, to recognize the cruelty of being critical about appearance. She did so after a viewer wrote to her to suggest that she was setting a bad example in the community by going on the air as a fat person.
I have had three reactions to this story.
First, Jennifer, good for you. You raised the issue eloquently and presented yourself extremely well. Had the issue not been your weight, it might not have registered with me that you were an overweight news anchor, but rather an articulate and savvy journalist. Your point about how adults say cruel things and kids overhear them and perpetuate the stereotypes and meanness rang true for me.
My next reaction was, OMG, thank goodness I have no kids in the house, because we are, in the privacy of our own home, sometimes quite cruel toward people we see on TV. It is like a form of Tourette’s. It just comes out. Perhaps my husband and I have nothing else to say to one another, but it isn’t unusual for the evening conversation to turn to the sallowness of Steve Buscemi’s skin, the bad hair on a political candidate, or the whole host of sideshow oddities on TLC.
Perhaps I am deluding myself, but I think I am perceived as a nice person. Yet, when I really think about it, I find myself subscribing to certain habits that are similar to Jerry Seinfeld’s, separating myself from people based upon some flaw. I do relate to Jerry’s annoyances with low talkers, close talkers, re-gifters or double-dippers. In particular, I don’t like bad voicemail message leavers, lane changers and poor punctuators.
Recognizing this, my third reaction was, YOU ARE IN HUMAN RESOURCES. YOU SET THE TONE IN THE OFFICE. Of course, I recognize the importance of avoiding discrimination based upon protected grounds in employment. I also recognize that making comments or decisions in the workplace based upon physical appearance is harassment. And to the extreme, I feel anyone in a human resources capacity has to set an example about accepting people in the workplace for what they offer, not their perceived limitations.
Yet, I am human, and sometimes, I blurt out things that I would not want to be repeated outside the closest of confidants, perhaps to make myself feel better.
The hard part is that the definition of someone who is discriminatory used to be more clear cut, but now it has moved toward an expectation of civility.