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How Cyberbullying Helped This News Anchor Embrace Her 'Strong' Legs

Culture

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!

3 min read
Lifestyle

Help! I’m Sick of Seasonal Weight Gain!

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

Help! I'm Sick of Seasonal Weight Gain!

Dear Armchair Psychologist,
How would you deal with the seasonal weight gain that most women experience? I've put on literally 5–7 lbs around my waist/butt/lower thighs and it's the bane of my existence. Getting dressed hasn't even been fun lately:( I know it's "normal," but how do I battle the psychology behind this?
- McFattie in Brooklyn

Dear McFattie in Brooklyn,

I'm sorry to hear that the winter blues is making your zipper hard to close. Personally, I roll with the rolls during the dark and frigid winter season, while chalking the glutton up to a basic survival mechanism. The feelings that accompany being out of shape and not wanting to dress cute (because your clothes don't fit well) can be both demoralizing and a blow to your self esteem. In this fantastic post, the author suggests great techniques that include keeping things in perspective and to "Ignore the panic," "Get curious" about your weight gain, and to keep it moving by "getting out of your room." Best of all is the advice to "Remember all things that are more important than this." If these head games don't serve you over time, and you still feel low, there may be deeper underlying reasons to your weight gain. In this case, I suggest you speak to a qualified therapist.

- The Armchair Psychologist

Need more armchair psychologist in your life? Check out the last installment or emailarmchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get some advice of your own!