Body Shaming Live on Air
The weather sirens blare as I rush home to grab my rain gear, stopping at every powerless traffic light, staring impatiently at the clock wondering if I’ll make it across town by the 10 p.m. newscast. I rush upstairs, grabbing a pair of heavy boots and a station-labeled hat and coat. I reach for my keys and a bruised banana on the counter knowing that it’s going to be a long night. The clock is ticking as I rush out the door frantically. I quickly go through a mental checklist before I bolt back into my room to grab a tube of red lipstick. As I stare in disbelief at the MAC label in my hands, the clock stops ticking.
Time stands still as a discomforting realization sets in. I am aÂ journalist and among the notepads and rain gear needed to keepÂ hundreds of thousands of people safe, at some point lipstickÂ became a required tool for my job. I don’t care what my makeupÂ looks like while describing the horror that a family just witnessedÂ as their house came crashing down. So why does the viewer? AtÂ what point did the color of my lips become more important thanÂ the words coming out of my mouth?
News anchors across the country share more than just a passionÂ for storytelling. We share an unrealistic standard set by society.Â There aren’t hair and makeup professionals in small-marketÂ television. Many times we are working in the field alone for hours,Â gathering interviews and carrying a 50-pound camera and tripodÂ on our shoulders, only to feel the weight of the job slowly caveÂ our confidence in once the Facebook comments start to roll inÂ hours after we clock out.
I recently heard of a story about a teacher who wrote four statementsÂ on a chalkboard. Three of the sentences were facts whileÂ the fourth was a laughable mistake. While the students snickeredÂ and repeatedly pointed out the inaccuracy, the teacher explainedÂ that while three of the facts were spot on, the class only focusedÂ and criticized the error. Our society’s focus on finding faults absolutelyÂ extends from the chalkboard to the television screen.
The handwritten letters, emails, phone calls, and private messagesÂ sent to journalists across the country are jaw-dropping. IÂ had a man tell me that I need to lose weight as I report about aÂ womanÂ who was murdered by her boyfriend. Another anchor wasÂ told that her hair is deplorable with an invitation for a free service.Â Perhaps the worst one of all, a local meteorologist was told to getÂ off the air by a viewer because she was pregnant. Her response isÂ one that resonates in our industry: “Change the channel.”
It is our responsibility as broadcasters to deliver the news to ourÂ viewers with accuracy and integrity. This responsibility absolutelyÂ trumps the relatively minor importance of our appearance. ThatÂ messy hair you see on the five o’clock newscast is likely fromÂ frantic hands trying to get an earpiece in at the last second. TheÂ black eyeliner that isn’t so straight was probably put on at the lastÂ minute as breaking news was quickly being typed into the newscastÂ just minutes before the show went live. It’s what happens offÂ the air that shapes our profession.
There is nothing glamorous about local television. We sometimesÂ work 15-hour days coveringevents that are critical to ourÂ community, only to wake up and do it again the next day. By theÂ 10 p.m. newscast, if we look tired, it’s because we are. We haveÂ a responsibility to inform the public and while we work hard toÂ maintain a professional appearance, we are defined by so muchÂ more than the image you see on your screen three times a day.Â The moment that my reflection becomes more important than myÂ reporting is the day that I permanently sign off air.