When Wisconsin television news anchor Jennifer Livingston read the withering email from viewer Kenneth Krause, who took the on-air personality to task for being overweight, her first inclination was to ignore it. Criticism comes with being in the public eye, and she felt no need to respond, she said later.
But her husband, Mike Thompson, the evening news anchor for the same station, posted the email to his Facebook page. Outraged friends and fans responded with hundreds of comments encouraging Livingston.
Last week, Livingston decided to go public with Krause's criticisms, using the opportunity to bring attention to the topic of bullying during October, bullying awareness month. The footage of Livingston's response went viral, receiving more than 8 million views on YouTube.
Livingston's experience resonated with young women, who struggle with the desire to be healthy and the unrealistic images of beauty often portrayed in the media.
Icy Coons, a senior at Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa, loved Livingston's response to her critic. Coons, who has had her own struggles with weight, wishes Americans could see more full-figured woman on TV and in magazines.
"The media is training the population to believe that to be attractive, or even 'healthy,' you have to fit inside this cookie cutter image," Coons said.
In his email to Livingston, Krause, a fitness buff who works as a local security guard, said "surely you don't consider yourself a good example for young people, girls in particular." The letter continues to explain the dangers of obesity and his belief that it is the worst lifestyle choice a person can make.
Coons, who once weighed almost 300 pounds, has cut her weight almost in half. She admits her choice to lose weight, and the goals she set for herself, was in part shaped by the image the media painted in her head. Although she lost weight through diet changes and exercise, not all women have the ability to dedicate so much time to their health, she said. Sometimes woman have to sacrifice their bodies to be good mothers and successful business woman, she said. No matter what, women should be judged on their talents, character, and abilities, not their appearance or the number on the scale, Coons said.
Students in a "writing for the media" class at Oral Roberts University disagreed about whether Livingston should have gone public with Krause's email. But they all agreed that Krause wasn't in any position to criticize the on-air personality, even if she is a public figure.
"If he is critiquing her appearance and her weight, what will stop him from judging what her hair looks like, her face, how she dresses, or whether she does her make up well?" asked Jessica Sherwood, a junior studying public relations and French.
Confronted with his comments, Krause said he stood by them and would offer any help he could to Livingston in making a "transformation." Krause's assumptions infuriated Livingston's husband, who defended her last week on Good Morning America: "What really angered me more so than his attack on her not being a role model for the community is that he doesn't know Jennifer. He doesn't know me. He doesn't know our family. He doesn't know that Jennifer has run triathlons. He doesn't know that she ran in a race last weekend, a 5-K race. She works out two or three times a week. She is going to run in a race this weekend. He doesn't know that."
Livingston asked Krause to join her on camera to discuss his email. He declined.
In comments about the incident, Livingston encouraged viewers not to let bullies define them: "The cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many."