The Web Hostess: What you're missing (or not) on the internet

Oct 03, 2012

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

Afternoon, everyone, and thanks for stopping by. Quick housekeeping note: We shall not chat next Wednesday. I'll either be in a car heading to Iowa or on a plane heading to Iowa. Either way, I'm Iowa-bound and will be Internet-free.


Next: My discussion offering for today's chat centers around this video, which has gone viral in the past few days. In it, a newscaster named Jennifer Livington responds to an email she received in which the writer accused her of being a poor role model to her viewers, because Livingston is overweight. Below, I have pasted the text of the email:


"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."

Livingston's husband also responded to the email via Facebook. 


 A few questions. The answers I've posted are just guidelines -- please feel free to choose the ones that most reflect your feelings, or ignore my options entirely and go your own way:

Do you find the original email offensive?


A) Yes. A message like that is never acceptable, no matter how it is written.

B) Yes. While the message might have been delivered in an appropriate way, this wording was offensive and perjorative.

C) No. The writer is correct in stating that public figures should be healthy role models for the general public.

D) No. Though the writer is incorrect in believing that public figures should be role models, the message itself was written in a helpful manner and did not mean to offend.


Livingston tied the email, and her response, to the fact that October is National Anti-Bullying Month.


Regardless of how you feel about the email, do you feel that it constitutes as bullying?

A) Yes.

B) No.

If Jennifer Livingston, instead of being heavy, were noticeably underweight, how would you feel about this incident?

A) I would feel the same.

B) I would find the email even more inappropriate.

C) I would find the email less inappropriate.


That's all -- we'll get started at 2. 

I don't think the writer meant to offend. I'm sure he thought he was being helpful. However, that doesn't make the message inoffensive. (So I guess my answer is B?) He's basically saying that the only way to be a good role model is to not be overweight. It's this sentence that gets me: "Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular." That's reducing her to one aspect of her life. And who knows? Maybe she HAS a healthy lifestyle. He doesn't know--he doesn't watch the show. Just because someone needs to lose weight doesn't mean that they're unhealthy; for all he knows, she works out regularly, eats well, and checks out fine at her annual physical. It just doesn't show, necessarily.

The "young girls in particular" phrase is -- however he intended it -- the most damning part, I think. Is he saying that women in particular should not be overweight? Or is he just saying that, since Livingston is a female, girls are more likely to look to her than boys. (Do you think this letter would have been written if the newscaster were male?)

I was sad until I realized I have a doctor's appointment and won't need to be entertained at work.

I made sure to have my cousin schedule his wedding when I knew you would have a doctor's appointment.

I think her response would be more effective if she actually did address her obesity in some substantive manner beyond "do you think I don't know I'm overweight?" Because while it's great to spread an anti-bullying message, her weight is not an indeliable trait like sexual orientation (which she refered to as sexual preferrence but whatever), race or gender. Unless she has a medical condition that causes her obesity, it is something that she could actually change and does not require an "It Gets Better" type message.

Hmm. But wasn't part of her message that she shouldn't have to address her obesity in public? That it doesn't matter whether she's overweight because of a thyroid condition or an aesthetic choice or because she's gaining weight for protection to swim the English channel -- it's simply no one else's business to comment on?



The email writer was not accurate in his assessment of public figures, but he is not a bully. The email recipient went way over board and showed a very thin skin for a public persona. If you do not want to receive criticism like that email, you do not choose to become a public person.

I'm going to admit -- and I might be in the minority, and I look forward to other people explaining their rationales -- but I find the bullying tie a bit perplexing. I think you could make a lot of arguments for this guy being an oaf, a doink, a boor, etc. But I wouldn't call him a bully. Certainly not in the way that overweight children are bullied on a regular basis. Am I too caught up in semantics?

"Shall" indicates volition, not simple futurity.

Of my own volition -- because I could have rescheduled it -- we shall not chat.

Having really enjoyed the rise of "Gangnam Style" over the last month and a half here in the US, I decided to check out some of PSY's other work. "Right Now" from two years ago is probably his next best effort -- it's a slammin', high-energy track that would not be too far out of place in a Top 40 or EDM (electronic dance music) playlist. The video is pretty fun too (just lacks iconic dance moves):

I don't think I want to watch this. It can never live up. It can only end in heartbreak.

I could take the rest of this email and make it make sense, but there's something about this line that just screams nastiness. And don't call me Shirley

It's the "surely," I think. It's an inherently pompous word, because it implies that the user believes he is so right, he cannot understand how anyone else would not immediately know how right he is.

1. A; 2. B; 3. A A "public figure" owes no one an explanation about their weight, especially the person reading the morning news. If the person in question was a fitness expert or a nutritionist, then perhaps an email would be warranted, but this is just a person who happens to be in front of a camera for a living. But one email, one time doesn't constitute "bullying" in my opinion. It's just a single act of rudeness. And I'd feel the same if the emailer had advised the newscaster to eat more because she was underweight.

"Single act of rudeness." Yes. I think this gets at my feelings, too. Rudeness is not always bullying.

I don't think she was bullied but I think the email was uncalled for. She is a newscaster, not a fitness guru, and who says newscasters are role models? Is everyone a role model? How annoying. People do come in different sizes. Does this critical father expect everyone on TV to be a size 2-8? Give me a break. Teach your kids about tolerance while setting a good example through fitness and healthy diet choices on your own time. You are their role model, not some stranger who just happens to be on a show you don't even watch. Sheesh.

This is just excellent:  "Teach your kids about tolerance while setting a good example through fitness and healthy diet choices on your own time."

I haven't read anything about it (ignored it on my friends' FB feeds, actually) but I think the message is unacceptable unless the journalist is actively encouraging unhealthy eating habits. 1) Some people just have different body shapes. 2) It just encourages the horrible habit of women feeling the need to be sooo skinny. (Seriously, my favorite game this TV season isn't which show will get cancelled first -- it's which actresses are thinner than their shadows.) I'm not sure it rises to the level of "bullying" but it is very Mean Girl behavior.

I'd like to see what it looks like when a journalist "actively encourages unhealthy eating habits." 


"Thanks for the sports report, Mike. Now everybody grab a Ho-Ho."

Apparently she was on GMA and does triathalons & 5Ks and has a thyroid condition. She doesn't bring that up but I still say the man is offensive. ONLY a man would say this to a woman. I don't think any woman would write into a show to say a man is overweight. Men are given a pass where that is concerned (look at all the sitcoms with overweight men & hot wives). Was it bullying? Not really. If he sent the same message week after week & it got worse & worse? Yes. If she was underweight it never would have come up. In my experience (only mind) men don't comment on women who are underweight - only overweight.

You bring up an interesting suggestion. Chatters, is this true? Only a man would say this to a woman?

And FWIW, I think women are far more prone to tell another woman that she is underweight.

False dichotomy. he was wrong all around. Again I ask, would he have said the same thing to the old fat Al Roker?

We can't really know. Al Roker's weight loss was, however, dramatically noted and commented on. Everybody felt free to get up in Al Roker's business.

Shirley you are right. It's so "how can you be such an idiot as not to realize".

Are there other words like that? We sould collect them -- words that somehow inject a not of disagreeableness into a sentence. I open the floor.

I think my father put it to me best when I mentioned I needed to lose a few pounds - Are you happy? Are you healthy otherwise? Then don't worry too much about it. Self-acceptance. I like it.

Good dad. Good dad!

I'm conflicted. The letter was rude and uncalled for, and the newscaster seems happy and healthy and in control of her life. I think she is fine. However, it is a little worrying if pointing out obesity is off-limits. It's a real problem and I think ignoring it or stating that everyone's entitled to their own choices is not really going to help.

I gathered that she was saying it's off-limits to comment on a stranger's obesity -- but it wouldn't be off-limits if her doctor, her sister, etc, commented on it.

THIS. To my way of thinking, Mechali or however she spells her silly name Salahi is in MUCH worse condition than the newscaster who does triathlons.

To be fair, people do (did?) comment on Michaele Salahi's weight all the time, because she was truly sick looking.


But you're exactly right, in that we're so used to seeing severely underweight actresses and television personalities that their thinness has become the new visual normal.

I also think the link to bullying was unexpected and tenuous. But her message was very positive and she did it in a way in which she didn't seem bitter or that it was entirely personal. And if she's struggled with her weight her entire life, she probably has faced bullying over it and so while it may seem unrelated to us, in her mind I'm sure that link made sense.

She was incredibly poised. I bet everyone who knew her was proud.

Especially when given as an answer to a question I was seriously asking. If it's obvious, I would have asked. Thanks, Shirley


Thank you so much for addressing the bullying issue. This has become such a hot topic today with everyone on the anti-bullying bandwagon. I don't think the email constitutes bullying. It's very rude and inappropriate, however, not bullying. In my view, bullying requires repeated action and it must involve someone asserting power over someone else.

It's a good impulse, to prevent bullying -- and I supposed it's better to cast a too-wide net than a too-narrow one. But I'm a big fan of precise terminology, and this use of the word didn't work for me.

Um, I think this is off-limits 99.8% of the time. Parents can do this to kids. Spouses can do it to spouses. Doctors to patients. But other than that, back off people. The person is, most likely, aware of their condition. They are either OK with it, or they are trying to change it.

Well, that's true. It's not like when you have food on your face that you were unaware of. Never in the history of the world has anyone responded to "You're fat" with a genuine "I am??"

Now I want a Ho-Ho. Or a Ring-Ding. Or really any Hostess goody.

I would like a Little Debbie Strawberry Roll. Do they even make those any more? Deliciousness unparalleled.

Al Roker made it public by discussing it on TV. Had he not, it would not have (or at least should not have) been discussed publicly.


No, it's not. It's for a doctor to point it out. As the newscaster said, Do you really think you're telling me something that I don't see every time I look in the mirror? How is this helpful? No one should humiliate another person this way who isn't a medical professional.

Hopefully medical professionals know how to discuss these things without, you know, humiliating their patients.

We had a young local female news anchor many years ago who was asked during an interview whether she would let her hair go gray naturally, or have her hair colored. She replied that she wouldn't DREAM of letting any gray show in her hair... because, after all, she comes into people's homes as their guest. Jaws dropped.

It's her rationale that's amazing. Guests should not have gray hair? I should be keeping a box of Clairol at the ready for every time my dad visits? I had no idea.

I think it is bullying--while this individual may not have repeatedly commented about her weight (and why anyone feels they have the right to is beyond me--and by the way,l where does the "role model" designation end? National TV? Local TV? Principal addressing school at an assembly? Me waiting at the dentist office?) everyone who does this is part of a pattern which adds up to a bullying culture, and they need to be called on it. Just because it's the first time this glass bowl has deigned to inform her that she's unfit to be seen in public doesn't mean she doesn't hear it all day everyday. The "minor" infractions are no less egregious than the major ones, because each one you let slide perpetuates a culture where it's okay to say these things.

I'm posting this as an alternate response to some other folks we've been hearing.

Perhaps because I have spent most of my life overweight, I admit that I do, indeed, find the original e-mail offensive. I also agree that the writer has no idea how healthy or unhealthy Ms. Livingston is. I am the heaviest of my siblings yet I am also the healthiest so although we all know being overweight is not 'good,' that alone does not make her unhealthy. I also think that Ms. Livingston is an excellent role model because she is showing that people can succeed in spite of what others perceive as a "responsibility" of a "local public personality." I do consider it bullying because the writer is trying to publicly shame and intimidate Ms. Livingston and, if the person were noticeably underweight, I would still feel the same.

Thanks for writing in. The writer was clearly dense in not recognizing -- or at least not coherently stating -- that people can be role models for all sorts of reasons, phyical appearance being only one. I will quibble with your categorizing the email as "public shaming." Unless I've really misunderstood something, the email was sent to her private email address. Livingston was the one who chose to read it on air. You might still say he was trying to intimidate her -- but unless he was reading the contents of the email on a megaphone in front of the newsroom, I think it was intended to be a private act.

I'm sorry, but broadcast journalism is a looks-based profession. I went to J school, and was a print major, but know the broadcast folks had image consultants, etc., and know enough of them now as adults to know they obsess about their looks. If she didn't want people to judge her looks, she could work for a newspaper where people didn't see her all the time. It just rings a little dishonest to me for this to be viewed as bullying. and no, it wouldn't have been raised if she were a man, because in looks based professions, men can get away with more. Same thing if a woman Chris Christie's size were in public office--she'd get way more heat than he does.

Every single time I see myself on television or hear myself on the radio, I think, "Yes. Newspapers were the right medium for you, my pet."


Except I don't really call myself "my pet." That would be strange.

Yes they still make strawberry rolls. My favorite are the Christmas Trees.YUM.


Did he honestly think she'd reply back, "Thanks for noticing. I had NO IDEA I was fat. I will now stop eating immediately so I can save the young girls of America!"? Really? I think the only reason you send something like that is to bully/kick her in the metaphorical crotch/shame her. So yes, it's always inappropriate and bullying.

Hmm. I would doubt that even the blockhead who sent the email assumed he would get that response. However, he might have assumed that she'd never thought of herself as a physical role model, or considered how her appearance might effect her younger viewers.


I'm not saying he was right -- I'm just saying that, if I were forced to speculate what was going through his mind when he sent the email, that's what I'd guess he was thinking. "I will help this woman. I will help her see things in my intelligent way."

Can someone find out if network newswomen get emails like the one that Livingston received, too? I can think of several high-profile women who are on the zaftig side.

I'm sure they do. Even I do, from time to time. Not weight-related, but appearance-related.

I think we're trying to define bullying and that could get dangerous. I don't want to say it's up to the bullied to define it, but it also shouldn't be up to us. I like the debate we're having here, but I guess I'm trying to get us away from coming up with what we believe bullying is.

Thanks. I don't think we're trying to come up with a dictionary definition -- I know I'm not -- but I do think that looking at ways that the word is used can be helpful as we stumble toward our better selves.

with all due respect - as you are disrespectful to the person. Or, I'm just saying. Just invalidates any type of insult that comes after, right?

"No offense" and "I don't mean to be rude" also pretty much mean, "I mean to be rude, but I don't want you to get mad at me for my rudeness." Right?

I seriously didn't read the email as coming from a man. How weird is that? I still don't. I picture it coming from some retired lady who (in the spirit of mean grandmothers everywhere) honestly thought she was doing Ms. Livingston a favor.

I had the exact same reaction -- except that the name of the sender has been made public, and it is indeed a man.

You wouldn't want them if you knew they had beef fat in them. And they do - read the ingredients. Gross even if you aren't a vegetarian....

Nope -- the Little Debbie Strawberry Rolls are beef fat-free, according to the ingredients. Just good old fashioned high fructose corn syrup.

And it is definitely true. But you can't say that a particular person's obesity is a problem without seeming like an azz hat. Unless it's Santa. He's a fat [shut my mouth].


The guy begins his missive by saying something like "I don't watch your show but I caught a minute or two of it this morning." So, of course, since he never watches it and only saw a little bit, he could not resist writing and telling a total stranger that she was obese and a bad role model. I wonder if he put his name, address and contact information on the bottom of the email. Somehow, I doubt it.

I think I get email from this man. I think they always  begin, "I only read the first sentence of your story, but I am mad that you didn't mention..."

And whatshisname, the cute one...well, not cute but handsomeish in a slightly craggy way. John something. King?

John King. Also cutie Anderson Cooper.

Cupcake, the next time you come to the great state of Oklahoma, we'll go to a Hostess Store! Maybe they'll have those mini loaves of bread!

Why did nobody tell me about Hostess stores before I was in Oklahoma this summer?

I doubt that the writer kept his viewpoint to himself. I am sure, after watching the show, he discussed her weight with his carpool, co-workers, bff, etc,, because, after all, HIS way of thinking is correct. Perhaps he really did think he was helpful to her by pointing this out but did he really not think it would go public? He may have sent it to her 'private' e-mail, but I am sure that was her work e-mail and he most likely thought it would be discussed at her job (my thought on this is running to Ralphie in 'A Christmas Story' imagining his teacher reading his essay to the entire class).

Sorry -- I'm still not on the same page with you. All of the examples you site (discussing it with coworkers, etc) still constitute private conversations. What does "private" mean to you? Just thoughts that you think in your own head and do not speak out loud ever, to anyone?

As for only saying this to a woman, the Gov of the fine state of NJ gets some variation of this email all the time.


I'm having an odd reaction to this revelation. At first I thought, that makes it worse...and then I thought no, a woman doing it would have been worse because...and now I don't know which I think.

Eat a Ho-Ho.

(I am a bad-example journalist).

I responded to a comment on my being overweight by yelling, "Ohmygodohmygodohmygod! Thank you so much for telling me. I never noticed before." But I may have a slight tendency to be over the top.


Is found in only the best tasting food. No fries compare to the old McDonald's fries that had beef tallow.

The new ones are still pretty glorious.

There's a Hostess store in Rockville, MD:

Torn between seriously wanting to visit this place, and the fact that my allegience will always be to Little Debbie over Hostess.

The thing about situations like this that keeps me awake at night is wondering if that now that it's blown up, does the perpetrator now see what a feminine hygiene product he was being? Or does he start talking about how he has to be "politically correct" which often means "I have to not say the racist/sexist/rude/offensive which I know everybody is thinking, even though I know deep down everyone agrees with me."

My prediction is that someone will land an interview with him, and he'll talk about how he has seen the light, and now he knows better, and he's sorry he was such a glass bowl -- but inwardly will be wondering, "What was the big deal?"

I won't repeat it, but he's a....personal injury lawyer!!

No. NO! Really?

I always thought that unless a person stipulates beforehand that a communication with a journalist is to be on background only, that it was fair game for publication or broadcast.

The point is that even it became public, it became that way because she chose to read it on air -- not because the writer himself called in and read it on air.

There are several in MD, and the one in Richmond is great. Near the Amtrak station. But if you go to Tennessee.... Little Debbie Thrift Stores!

Tennessee. I'm coming to you next.

Just because it is doesn't mean it should be. I think it is unfair to say that you should shy away from professions where you're expected to be perfect or suck it up if you don't. This is not a profession where looks are essential to the job. It is possible to be an excellent journalist and "ugly" as sin. If people can't stand hearing the morning news from someone because they weigh more, that's their problem and everyone shouldn't be expected to accommodate them. They're not models or actors, for goodness sake.

Obviously. I mean, surely.


You are right.

There are always going to be people who take the stupid private thoughts in their own head and feel a need to express them to others as legitimate complaints. (We recently had one sent to my own company from a random customer, insisting that one of our employees had been dressed "inappropriately" at a public event.) This isn't so much bullying as people who feel that it's their sacred right to be a moron. I say this doesn't deserve a forum on bullying; this deserves to be posted up for all to see and roundly mocked for Old Fartism. (Note: It is possible to be a young Old Fart.)


I am so ashamed. Please excuse me while I lock myself in my bedroom, never to emerge. I...I...have gray hair.

Please leave this chat immediately.

While I would not say that this man was bullying the anchor, I did appreciate her point that when adults criticize each other (or worse, children), for their physical appearance/race/disability/sexual orientation, they are teaching children around them that it is ok to criticize people for these things, which can, IMHO easily lead to bullying. It certainly reminded me to be careful with my words around children.

Did I post this already? If I didn't, I meant to. I like all the points you make.

Or, for me, it usually means "this needs to be said, but I can't figure out how to say it so that I don't soften so much that it has no meaning or leaves you confused. I genuinely don't want to hurt you, but you need to know this."

That's true. Useful distinctions for the non-jerks among us who are necessarily compelled to use this phrase from time to time.

Is at the McKee factory in Waynesboro, VA. Yes, they have a factory store...

Road trip! Who's with me?!

"I realize this is politically incorrect, but..."

Yes. If you begin a sentence this way, there is a decent chance the sentence should just end with, "but." Or else you'll become one. A butt.

Should I write to them and ask them to gain weight and reverse their plastic surgery because it's giving my kids low self-esteem? Also, have you seen their tans? How dare they promote skin cancer!

Yes! (I mean, no, not really, but your point is taken.)

All right. It looks like that's all the time we have today. I won't see you next week -- but I will the week after. 


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Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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