I've had some time to think and reflect on the reaction to my Facebook post a few weeks ago when I decided to answer a woman who commented on my appearance on television. I must admit I was a little taken back by the overwhelmingly supportive feedback. I've had many co-workers come up and hug me.
A cameraman popped his head into my office to tell me that his sister and mom were proud of me – and so was he. A neighbor who I haven't seen in a while motioned me to roll down my window while waiting to pick up my son at school to say “good for you." I've had emails from friends and strangers who dropped a note to express their support. It touched a nerve for not just me, but thousands of others who read and identified with an online bully.
I think through a wider lens; this is all part of a larger movement. A kind of a #metoo moment when it comes to bullying or shaming someone. Right now, in this moment, we feel more empowered than ever to call out behavior that feels wrong.
Here's the comment that I felt crossed a line for me. It was on my Facebook page, under a picture of me smiling as I was reporting weather outside:
Janice Dean. Photo Courtesy of Fox News
"Dear Janice please stop allowing fox to dress you in those short skirts. They are not flattering on you. Your an attractive lady, love the 80's hair, but your legs are distracting every time you walk on the screen."
Right away It felt cruel. She didn't swear or call me names, but it was shameful to me. Maybe others would've reacted differently or ignored it, but this one had neon lights around it. I wrote her back:
"Fox doesn't dress me. I dress myself. I'm sorry if you don't like my legs. I'm grateful to have them to walk with. You're right. I don't look like the typical person on TV, and I'm proud to be a size 10. Imagine that! You can always turn the channel if you're offended by my huge legs. Hope you don't mind. I may share your post with everyone on my FB page."
And then JoAnn responded again. This time saying that I should be careful – I was middle-aged, and there was a “new regime" at Fox. I could lose my job at any time to a younger, thinner prettier reporter. I fired back that it was interesting that she knew so much considering she wasn't in media. She slammed back “You know nothing about me!" I raised my eyebrows. And said to myself “JoAnn you, know nothing about me either."
Over a decade ago, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). It's a disease where my immune system eats away at the protective covering of my nerves. There is no cure for it, and it affects 2.5 million people worldwide.
Janice Dean on Fox and Friends. Photo Courtesy of Janice Dean
With MS, I could conceivably lose the use of my legs at any time. It also comes with challenges many of you cannot see. MS is a neurological storm that brews inside my body. It could affect my vision, bringing numbness, tingling or pain. Sometimes it makes me unbearably tired. But you don't see that on TV. A fellow MS friend calls it the “my you look so well disease" because on the outside, we look just fine. On the inside, there's a body at war with itself for reasons we still don't know why.
After my back and forth with JoAnn, a familiar name popped up under the “distracting legs" comment. It was from my friend Jen Jarvis who was also my first MS nurse. She wrote:
"Dear Janice. I LOVE those strong legs. I LOVE that you stand tall, walk, run, squat, lunge, skip, jump and hop on those legs. You are so blessed and a blessing to have STRONG legs. Wear skirts proudly and show your STRONG legs! Love you my angel."
And then the tears came. A reminder that no matter what size or shape they are, our legs should be celebrated and not be taken for granted. Over the years after my diagnosis, I've tried hard to not “sweat the small stuff" after being focused on career goals and overachieving.
From my teens to my twenties, I used to be obsessed with weight and my appearance, but this kind of body shaming started much earlier. I was teased at a young age about being overweight, and I carry a little more around my hips, thighs and backside. I've been every size from a 4 to a 12. At times I was unhealthy, and lost weight to look “good." And now, I've comfortably settled into a size 10. If you look at the TV landscape, that's large in my world. I'm in a sea of size 0-4 dresses. And I think that's a bit sad since it does not represent the general population outside of the bright TV lights. It used to bother me, but now, I kind of take pride in the fact that I'm different.
A thoughtful reporter who was interviewing me about the viral Facebook post asked if anyone had ever said things about my body to me to my face. And in a flash, I felt my face flush. Yes, I replied. Before I came to Fox, I was bullied on and off the air by a radio host named Don Imus. They called him the original “shock jock" and I can attest for a good reason. Admittedly, being from Canada, I didn't know a whole lot about him. I just saw a job I might be well suited for. So I auditioned and was offered the position. For a little over the year that I was there, he and sometimes his crew would tease and badger me on a regular basis with my weight and it became a popular topic. I tried to laugh it off and fight back good-naturedly, but this was tough. It brought me back to being teased and bullied in school.
There was one particular day he brought in a famous personal trainer and decided to call me into the studio. While we were on the air, he had me stand up and in front of this female trainer, he pointed out where I needed to lose weight. My hips, backside and legs. I was mortified. I held back tears, and said into the microphone: “But according to studies, I'm a normal weight. I'm healthy…"
I had already begun my search for a new job.
I started at Fox in 2004 and was diagnosed with MS in 2005. During the time after that, despite initially thinking my life and career were over, I've achieved things I never thought to be possible. I'm the senior Meteorologist for Fox & Friends, and not only do the weather, but I get to travel and reports from all around the country covering feel-good news stories. I married the love of my life who was with me during my diagnosis and who told me that the illness didn't scare him. I had my two beautiful boys, Matthew and Theodore. They are 7 and 9 and are now seeing and feeling what teasing and bullying are like in school. I tell them about my stories growing up, and even now seeing and hearing mean comments from others. Sometimes it's because people are jealous of us, sometimes it's because people don't feel good about themselves, or sometimes it's because they're just plain mean. I've told them to let me know when someone isn't nice to them, and we'll talk it through. If I need to talk to their parents, I will. If we need to go to the teacher or principal, we will do it together. I tell them sometimes it's ok to ignore the mean comments - but if it continues, we have to say something. Sometimes we have to stand up for ourselves.
And I think that's why that one Facebook comment and reply went viral a few weeks ago. It's a reminder to the Joann's and the Imus' and to the bullies in the schoolyard. It's not funny or nice to pass judgment on someone until you've walked in their shoes.
And to the women out there who want to get into television or a world where appearances seem hard to achieve, let me give you some advice that's worked for me: Be yourself. Show them who you are. Be proud of your shape and size, because I am standing up for you, too – on my big strong legs!
We're here. We're queer. Now that it's pride month, it feels like every store and corporation is flooding us with their best rainbow merchandise, capitalizing on a $917 billion dollar consumer market.
The rainbow flags are out. The mannequins are sporting pride tees. And corporate newsletters are full of interviews showcasing all their queer employees ("Look, we have a gay person here! We GET you!").
To me, this is blatant evidence that the future is queer.
These corporations follow the money, and with 20% of millennials and 31% of Gen Z openly identifying as queer, these businesses have to capitalize on the growing purchasing power of LGBTQIA+ consumers. With a recorded market size of $917 billion dollars in 2016, and a growing interest in socially conscious brands among young consumers, this is clearly a market opportunity that corporations cannot afford to ignore.
However, I'm always surprised by how little attention investors and the entrepreneurial community devotes to this undeniable trend, despite being constantly inundated with overwhelming statistics proving the importance of diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship. Only 2.2% of venture capital funding went to women in 2018, less than .1% of funding has been allocated to black women since 2009, and only about 1% of venture-backed companies have a black founder or Latinx founder. These statistics are over-quoted but underacted upon.
This gender and diversity inequality significantly hinders economic growth, since 85% of all consumer purchases are controlled by women, and startups with higher ethnic diversity tend to produce financial returns above their industry norm.
The data is clearly leading to one direction: investing in women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, veterans, immigrants, and other minority groups in entrepreneurship leads to higher revenue and better business results.
As data-driven and forward-thinking as this industry claims to be, we haven't caught up to the queer founders, particularly queer women, who are rethinking the future. These founders understand and speak to a generation of increasing numbers of LGBTQIA+ people whose market share will only continue to grow exponentially. VCs and investors are already behind the curve.
SoGal Foundation, a non-profit on a mission to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship, is helping bridge this divide between queer women founders and investors with the launch of applications for the second annual Global Pitch Competition for diverse entrepreneurs. Hosted in 25+ cities across five continents, and culminating in a final global pitch competition and 3-day immersive educational bootcamp in Silicon Valley, this is the first and only globally-focused pitch opportunity for diverse entrepreneurs.
Startups that are pre-Series A (raised less than $3M) with at least one woman or diverse founder, apply here to pitch! The top teams selected from each regional round will join SoGal's final global pitch competition and bootcamp in Silicon Valley for guaranteed face time with dozens of top Silicon Valley investors, curated educational programming, unparalleled 1:1 mentorship, press exposure, and a chance to win investment capital.
Women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ founders: what's the best way to kick off pride? Apply to pitch!
Regional pitch rounds will be held August-November 2019; final pitch competition in Silicon Valley in February 2020. Details and additional cities to be announced.
SoGal Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and the largest global platform for diverse founders and funders in 40+ chapters across 5 continents; our mission is to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship. SoGal Foundation's global startup competition represents the first and largest opportunity for women and diverse entrepreneurs and investors to connect worldwide. Join the SoGal community & follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.