We’re still doing this, huh?
Still writing to women who have degrees in meteorology and telling them to “STOP WEARING PATTERNS.” Still contacting grown professionals about their butts. (“VERY wide.”) Still watching morning news like we’re Us Weekly’s Fashion Police, armed with salty insults and not afraid to hurl them.
Recently, WGN Morning News anchors Morgan Kolkmeyer, Lauren Jiggetts and Sarah Jindra read aloud some of the feedback they get from viewers about their bodies and their wardrobe choices during their pregnancies. Kolkmeyer is due to give birth in eight weeks. Jiggetts and Jindra both had babies within the last year.
Set to Taylor Swift’s “Mean,” the clip opens with Kolkmeyer (who studied meteorology and applied mathematics at Northern Illinois University) reading, “Please tell the weather girl to get some maternity dresses she is so pretty but wearing regular dresses at this stage in pregnancy looks so trashy.”
Next up is Jindra, sharing a note she received while pregnant: “Love your work but u need to wear clothing that fits u this trimester. Some of those dresses look terrible especially when u turn to the side or the camera gets your VERY wide butt. Sorry don’t want 2 b mean, just honest!”
Jiggetts jumps in with a note directed at her. “Must be ‘ugliest dress day’ today on WGN mornings, Morgan’s dress looks awful but Lauren’s ‘polka dot disaster’ look hideous a true wardrobe failure.”
And this gem: “What is Morgan thinking when she chooses her wardrobe?? I used to think she dressed beautifully. Has baby brain gotten to her?? STOP WEARING PATTERNS … Stick with solids.”
A few years ago, I interviewed ABC-7 meteorologist Tracy Butler. She showed me her calendar where she writes down what she wears on air every morning (“fuchsia dress,” “aqua sweater, gray pants,” “sleeveless pink dress”) so she doesn’t repeat an outfit too soon and so she has a reference point when people write or call about her clothing. Which they do. A lot.
“Over the years, I would get calls, especially from men who would say, ‘My wife saw that you wore this sweater or suit or something, and it was back in April,’ and this would be, like, August,” Butler told me. “And I’m thinking, ‘I can’t remember what I wore yesterday.’ So I started keeping a calendar of every single thing I wear. I’ve done it since the late ‘80s, early ‘90s.”
They also call and write her about her hair.
“Not too long ago, I had a woman who said, ‘You make way too much money to have your hair looking like a mop. I can’t believe none of your friends tell you how bad you look,’ ” Butler said. “I called my best friend and said, ‘You’re my best friend. Why didn’t you tell me I look like I’m wearing a mop?’”
Butler told me the feedback doesn’t really bother her.
“I’m just truly blessed and lucky that I have a job that allows me to reach people,” she said. “Growing up in Pittsburgh, I was so shy. Never in a trillion years did I think I would grow up and people would ask where I purchased something. It’s a humbling and crazy honor for me.”
The WGN anchors hardly look fazed by the garbage thrown their way either. They work in a newsroom. They’re surrounded daily by stories about grief and violence and inequality and corruption. If their wardrobes aren’t top of mind at every waking moment, it’s not because of baby brain.
Still, I think it’s telling that for some viewers, the primary thing they notice about a woman doing her job is how she looks while she’s doing it.
I think it’s telling that the women who bring us our headlines and weather reports and traffic conditions and stories that shape and inform our daily lives are reminded, day in and day out, that nothing they say or do is as important as the body they inhabit: the size of that body, the shape of that body, the clothing on that body.
I think it’s telling that some people feel so comfortable sitting in judgment, so righteous in their scorn, that they take the time to shame and scold strangers.
I think it’s time to put that thinking out to pasture.
If you feel that letting a woman’s face and voice into your home through your TV screen gives you the right to tear her down a peg or two; if you feel that women have a moral obligation to please your eye; if you feel that sharing your righteous indignation about a pregnant woman’s terrible dress and very wide butt simply makes you honest (not mean!) … examine that, would you?
It’s really getting old.
Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @heidistevens13.