"Dayle, we are all big fans and would sure like to see you drop 20 lbs. or so."
This e-mail was sent anonymously to 7News morning anchor Dayle Cedars earlier this month — and she could have shrugged it off. After all, the Internet can be a cruel place, particularly for women in the public eye. But rather than ignoring this assault, Cedars took another tack, decrying body shaming on Facebook and in a subsequent 7News post. And far from prompting an avalanche of additional online hate, her words have attracted widespread support from viewers and colleagues alike.
"Everyone has been so kind and loving toward me, or they've talked about how in our society, we need to stop this kind of thing," Cedars said. "I've had e-mails from anchors all over the country about it, too, thanking me for speaking out."
Cedars acknowledges that she hasn't often been the target of such vile invective over the course of her career.
"I've actually been very lucky in that sense," she acknowledges. "There haven't been a bunch of negative attacks and e-mails and such. You always get one here or there from people who disagree with a story and send an attack. I'm used to that. But I haven't had many negative attacks on me personally. And I don't even think this person meant what was sent as a personal attack. This person may not have meant to be rude or mean."
At the same time, however, Cedars sees such communication as symbolic of a larger issue in the Internet age.
"I think things have totally changed," she says. "It's not so much how we talk, and I think that's a key difference. It's that people feel comfortable typing something, e-mailing something, posting something they would never say to your face."
Viewers or fans might "walk up to you and say, 'We love you,' or 'Have you been working out?' or 'Have you lost twenty pounds?' But they won't say what this person e-mailed me. And if it's not appropriate to say something like this to our face, why do we think it's appropriate to say it through social media or e-mail."
When it comes to body shaming, Cedars notes, "people can really have a negative or adverse reaction to it — and we don't know how someone will respond. You think of people who are just on the edge of having some kind of eating disorder, or who are depressed and think they're an awful person. So when someone says, 'You're too fat' on top of that, we have to step back, because we don't know what's going on in this person's life."
She offers several examples to bolster her point: "It could be someone who's gained weight because they're on a certain medication, or they're pregnant, or they're stressed because they're going through a divorce. Or it could be a death in the family. There are so many different things that could be going on when we accuse someone. And when we body shame, we're basically saying, 'You are not worthy because of your physical attributes."
In her view, "That's a sad statement about our society. It's saying that only beautiful people are worthy."
Cedars poured such thoughts into a post on her Facebook page — and she clearly touched a nerve.
"Within three hours, I had over 250 comments, and it's grown dramatically since then," she points out.
Shortly thereafter, she continues, "one of our web staff came to me and asked if I would be willing to write a piece for our website. And that's when it just exploded."
She was particularly heartened by the lack of trolling in the replies. "I just assumed someone would come out and not necessarily defend them, but perhaps question what I had done. But they didn't."
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Cedars acknowledges that "in this business, we're given an incredible platform — and it was really empowering to think that a few words would make such a difference to so many people out there. Here I was, a morning TV anchor who was being body shamed, just like so many other people."
She adds that "I hope talking about it opens up a lot of doors to us continuing to discuss it. And I have a feeling it's going to keep generating new conversations."