Update: After the publication of the article below, 9News' Becky Ditchfield told the story of being pregnancy trolled on the Today show. Then, on April 5, she gave birth to a son, Jeffrey Thomas. Mother and son came through the process just fine. Continue for our previous coverage.
For the most part, viewers' responses to 9News forecaster Becky Ditchfield's pregnancy have been kind and solicitous. But there have been notably vile exceptions.
"Someone said my body was disgusting and nauseating to people and they're never going to watch 9News again," Ditchfield says. "And when I hear something like that, I instantly want to dig in my heels."
Instead of remaining silent, Ditchfield specifically targeted a troll who claimed online that she looked like a "freak with your belly sticking out 2 miles," using high-level math to break down the claim in relation to the map she uses to present her weather predictions. Then she shared the whole thing on Instagram.
The subsequent reaction — nearly 700 likes and more than 160 positive comments to date, with more arriving regularly — has been gratifying for Ditchfield, who is open and honest about the impact that body-shaming has had during her time in the public eye. "Having all that support for me personally in my struggles to stand up for myself helps me continue to learn that lesson," she says, "and it gives me more courage to keep doing it in the future."
Women in TV news have always been targets for haters, who appear to get some kind of twisted pleasure out of belittling those whose images are beamed into their homes — and the rise of social media has only made the problem worse.
Among the Denver personalities who have had to deal with such attacks the longest is Ditchfield's colleague, 9News lead meteorologist Kathy Sabine, who reflected on the issue in a recent Westword Q&A.
"I don't even think you have to be in the public eye to deal with negative social-media impacts from unhappy people who just like to hit people blindly — and there's no way to really protect yourself from that or defend yourself," Sabine told us. "As social media and the platforms have grown and we've all become more involved in them, it's become a sport for people."
Sabine added: "Why can't we all just be kinder to one another and focus on the positive instead of the negative and making other people feel bad so you feel better?"
Like Sabine, other women on TV are speaking out about this situation. Denver7's Dayle Cedars went public about being body-shamed in 2016; her Facebook post in reaction to a note reading "Dayle, we are all big fans and would sure like to see you drop 20 lbs. or so" was widely applauded.
As Cedars told us at the time, "People can really have a negative or adverse reaction" to such slams, "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 offered several examples to bolster her point, including one that's extremely apropos for Ditchfield: "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 Cedars's view, "That's a sad statement about our society. It's saying that only beautiful people are worthy."
Ditchfield is no stranger to this phenomenon. "I graduated from [Indiana's] Valparaiso University in 2002 with a bachelor of science in meteorology, with minors in math and broadcasting, and that summer, I took a job in Hastings, Nebraska, where we didn't even have individual emails," she recalls. "You could only email the entire station — but some people would still send mean things. Then I moved to a station in Little Rock, Arkansas, that was a little bigger, and I started getting those emails directly. I'd get the good and I'd get the bad. Then social media came around, and I feel like it kind of gave people a mask to hide behind, so they could say whatever they wanted."
In 2007, Ditchfield joined the 9News team. She says she's loved her time at the station, during which she got married and had two children. But as her third pregnancy progressed, the invective from a minority of correspondents increased.
Here's how she countered the commenter who had problems with her midsection:
Earlier this week someone wrote in telling me that I looked like a “freak with (my) belly sticking out 2 miles...” Today, I brought my handy tape measure to work to verify if this was, in fact, true. Let’s begin.
1 mile = 63,360 inches. According to picture #1 my belly sticks out approximately 6” from where my stomach normally sits, when I’m working out, and in great shape. Therefore, the 2 mile assessment is FALSE.
However, I also understand that perception is everything. So I asked our maintenance guys for measurements of our blue screen in the backyard and green screen inside. For comparison purposes, I’ve decided to go with the blue screen measurements since the camera never captures the entire indoor chroma key.
The blue screen measures 8’ 4” wide by 2’ 5” tall. 8’ 4” = 100 inches. Since my belly measures an extra 6 inches out from my "normal" stomach, then that means it’s only taking up 6 percent more blue screen space when I stand to the side.
Now, I’ve also included a map that shows our typical statewide view. From west to east, this measures 770 miles. If 100” = 770 miles on the map, then 1 inch would equal 7.7 miles. So if I’m standing in front of the statewide map, then my belly is taking up a whopping 46.2 miles. And that means this person MUST be giving me a compliment because that is A LOT more than 2 miles!
The reality is, the bump is just a little bigger than a basketball that’s been cut in half. The official circumference of a basketball used in the NBA is 29.5”.... As seen by my back measurement and measurement of the belly, the radius of the bump is somewhere between 5.75” and 6”. That makes the circumference of my baby bump between 36.11 and 37.6 inches. And if you want to measure it’s volume... If r = 6”, then the volume of my baby belly is 904 cubic inches...or approximately 1/2 a cubic foot.
So to the people out there who are offended by the (giant) life growing inside me, let’s please be accurate when sending me your hate mail.
BTW. Still Pregnant.
For Ditchfield, finding the right tone for her reply was key.
"When I manage things that are stressful or hurtful, I try to put some humor in it," she explains. "This idea kind of popped up when I was dealing with other emotions I was feeling from the emails and phone calls and Facebook posts and everyone else complaining about my size. So I thought, I want to know exactly how big I am, and how factually that relates to me standing against the weather wall. I looked at it in a very scientific, logical way, and in doing that, it allowed me to take back my power in this situation.
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"It helped me process what was bothering me and why it was bothering me," she continues. "It wasn't the actual person, but sometimes I have an emotional reaction to the comments they say. And putting in some humor helps me with that."
Why does she think people denigrate women this way? "It's hard to say, since I haven't looked inside their own boxes," she acknowledges. "I can only speak from my perspective, and I'm more of an emotional person. I wear a lot of my feelings on my sleeve, and I have a lot of insecurities that make you feel worse — and if you don't know how to deal with that, it can be a problem. So I'm fortunate that I've had the opportunity where I have access to a great therapist, where I can figure out how to process what people are saying about me and deal with where those emotions are coming from."
The outpouring of goodwill that's followed her Instagram math lesson serves as a reminder that "the people who are saying these mean things are in the minority," Ditchfield says. "The overwhelming majority have been positive, and that's meant the world to me. People say, 'Just let it roll off your back,' but I want everyone to know that it's still okay to have these emotions. You just need to know how to deal with them, so that you can take your journey to the high road."
En route, she delivers this message to those body-shaming trolls: "You need to have a little more kindness and compassion for yourself. Because once you're able to understand yourself, hopefully you'll have more compassion for someone else. And once that happens, we can start having conversations that are less combative and more constructive. But the change starts with you."