Culture 28 January 2018
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!
It seemed like everything happened overnight because, well… it did.
One moment, my team and I were business as usual, running a multi-million-dollar edible cookie dough company I built from scratch in my at-home kitchen five years ago and the next we were sitting in an emergency management team meeting asking ourselves, "What do we do now?" Things had escalated in New York, and we were all called to do our part in "flattening the curve" and "slowing the spread."
The governor had declared that all restaurants immediately close to the public. All non-essential businesses were also closed, and 8.7 million New Yorkers were quarantined to their tiny apartments for the foreseeable future. Things like "social distancing" and "quarantine" were our new 2020 vernacular — and reality.
What did that mean for us? Our main revenue source was the retail part of the business. Sure, we offered delivery and take-out, but that was such a small portion of our sales. I had built a retail experience where people from near and far came to eat edible cookie dough exactly how they craved it. We had two stores, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, which employed over 55 people. We have two production facilities; an online business shipping cookie dough nationwide; a wholesale arm that supplies stores, restaurants, and other retail establishments with treats; and a catering vertical for customizable treats for celebrations of all sizes. And while business and sales were nearly at a complete halt, we still had bills. We had payroll to pay, vendors we owed, services we were contractually obligated to continue, rent, utilities, insurance, and none of that was stopping.
How were we going to do this? And for how long will this go on? No one knew.
As an entrepreneur, this certainly wasn't my first-time facing challenges. But this was unprecedented. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. Certainly unplanned. This control-freak type-A gal was unraveling. I had to make decisions quickly. What was best for my team? For my business? For the safety of my staff? For the city? For my family and unborn baby (oh, yeah, throw being 28 weeks pregnant and all those fun hormones in there, it's real interesting!). Everything was spiraling out of control.
I decided to take the advice I had given to many people over the years — focus on the things you can control. There's no point worrying about all the things you have no control over. If you focus there, you'll just continue spiraling into a deeper, darker hole. Let it go. Once you shift your perspective, you can move forward. It's not going to be easy; the challenges still exist. But you can control certain things, so focus your energy and attention on those.
So that's what I did. I chose, for the safety of staff and customers, to close the retail portion completely — it wasn't worth the take-out and delivery volume to staff the store, open ourselves up to more germs and human contact than absolutely necessary.
I went back to our mission and the reason I started the business in the first place — to spread joy. How could we continue to bring happiness to people during this uncertain time? That's our purpose. With millions of people across the globe stuck inside, working from home, quarantined with their families, how can we reach them since they can't come to us? So I thought back to how and why we got started.
Baking, for me, has always been a type of therapy. I could get lost in the mixing bowl and forget about everything else for a moment in time. Sure, I have a huge sweet tooth, but it's about the process. It's about taking all of these different ingredients and mixing them together to create something magically sweet and special. It's about creating and being creative with the simple things. It's about allowing people to indulge in something that brings them joy — a lick from the spatula or a big batch of cookies.
It's about joy in the moment and sharing that joy with others. So my focus is back on that, and it feels good.
We could still ship nationwide, straight to people's doorstep. So we are making it easier and less expensive to send the ultimate comfort food (edible cookie dough) by introducing a reduced shipping rate, and deals on some of our best-selling packages.
In a way for us, it feels like we are going back in time… back to our roots. When I first started the business, we were only shipping nationwide. There were no stores, no big team, no wholesale. It was just me, a small crew juggling it all, and we made it work then. And we'll make it work again. We have to leverage our online business and hope it floats us through this time.
We are focusing our digital content strategy on sharing recipes, activities, and at-home treats with our engaged, amazing social following so they bake with their families and stay busy at-home. We started live baking tutorials where our fans can bake-along with me and I can share all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years with them.
I've leveraged the cookbook I published last year, Hello, Cookie Dough: 110 Doughlicious Confections to Eat, Bake & Share, to come up with fun content and additional things to do at home. We started shipping it and our at-home baking mixes for free to encourage people to get busy in their kitchens!
And as a business, we will continue to connect with our community to bring them joy and focus on what we can control, including our attitude and outlook first.
During times of uncertainty, which this certainly is, you should do the same. Identify the things you can control and focus your time and energy on those things. Distract yourself with the positive. Force yourself to stop asking and worrying about all the what-ifs. Do what you can for the moment and then the next moment. Make a list, and take it day-by-day.
It's going to be okay. You will be okay. We will all be okay.