This pregnancy has been an especially difficult one for me.
Some days it’s all I can do to get out of bed to take care of my two sons. Frequently, I’ll turn on a show mid-afternoon for my oldest while I crash on the couch beside him. The other day, the PBS program “Clifford” was on. I caught just a phrase or two before I drifted off to sleep:
“That’s why Clifford’s Big Idea for today is, ‘Believe in yourself!’”
I needed to hear that. Sometimes it’s just really hard being a woman — and being an emotional, uncomfortable and growing pregnant woman at that.
Right or wrong, we women place so much emphasis on how we look. We have been told from a very young age that being pretty is very important, even if it’s with the best of intentions. When we show up to church in a frilly dress we get comments on “looking like a princess.” Little girls love to help put on mommy’s makeup. They want curls in their hair, big, full dresses and ballet slippers.
We want to feel beautiful.
Imagine how it felt for morning news anchor Jennifer Livingston of La Crosse, Wis., to receive the following email from a recent viewer:
“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 is, by today’s standards, overweight. She could even be considered, as this email so rudely stated, obese.
In response, she incredulously asked on live TV, “To the person who wrote me that letter: Do you think I don’t know that?” She then went on to defend herself on WKBT-TV in an incredibly strong and confident way.
“You don’t know me. You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family, and you admitted that you don’t watch this show so you know nothing about me besides what you see on the outside. And I am much more than a number on a scale.”
October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, as Livingston points out in her broadcast, and she hopes this particular example will bring heightened awareness to the problem we have with bullies in this country.
“I think, in his mind, he (Kenneth W. Krause) views himself as being helpful, which is what I think a little bit of the problem is,” she said recently on "Good Morning America." “He doesn’t see that the way that he approached it was clearly hurtful to me. He’s trying to shame me into losing weight. That’s not being helpful. That’s being a bully."
Growing up, I had to deal with my fair share of bullying. But I don’t think I recognized it for what it was back then. I just thought my so-called “friends” were “being mean” again.
I struggled with acne all throughout junior high and the beginning of high school. I was called “pimple cheeks.” I was told boys wouldn’t like me because of what was on my face. I became obsessed with finding a cure, even vowing that one day I’d become a dermatologist so I could help others clear up their skin and not have to go through what I did at school.
I tried every wash, lotion and mask under the sun. Finally, my parents took me to the doctor, and I was prescribed medication to clear up my face. Finally, something worked.
I was incredibly happy that I had clear skin. I felt much more confident about myself.
But it shouldn’t be that way. We shouldn’t have to wait until we have beautiful skin, skinny bodies, longer hair or a more feminine or toned figure until we feel good about ourselves. Confidence should come from knowing who we are and loving ourselves in every circumstance.
That’s maybe what I love most about Jennifer Livingston. She has proved she’s not waiting. She is tackling what she thinks is an important issue and shoving it right back in the face of every critic, of every mean person, of everyone who feels the need to judge and saying, “You can’t bring me down.”
She is proof that bullying doesn’t stop with junior high. In fact, sometimes it gets worse the older we get.
After appearing on “American Idol” and receiving hundreds of harsh reviews, hate mail, negative and hurtful comments online, in chat rooms and during interviews, I concluded that all these negative voices must be telling the truth: I couldn’t sing. So I quit. I stopped doing what I loved the very most. I wouldn’t share my talent, because I truly believed I had none.
It took several years and finally getting to a point where I said, “I have had every possible bad thing said about me. I guess it can’t get any worse,” to turn things around.
The moment I stopped caring is the moment everyone else did, too. Their words lost their power. I grew in my confidence and ability. I loved my voice again.
So where do you start? Start with loving yourself. Love your family, your friends and your neighbors. It just takes one positive example to change others' perspectives and attitudes. Oftentimes we don’t realize that for every negative person, there are a hundred supporters ready to stand up and shout encouragement.
As Jennifer Livingston concluded:
"Do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many."
Jennifer Livingston is living “Clifford’s Big Idea” to believe in herself.
Pretty sage advice, even if it is from a big red dog.
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.