At about 3 p.m. on June 25, Lindsay Iadeluca, a 28-year-old broadcaster for Rhode Island’s NBC10, received an email. She had to read it through three times, she says, she was so shocked.
The email — a transcription from her work voice mail — was nothing short of “fat-shaming,” as Iadeluca puts it.
Iadeluca posted the message to Facebook and Twitter, trying to track down the sender — purportedly someone named Mike Cyronak. “I’m honestly looking to call him back,” she wrote. “I want to let him know that I am sorry he sees my body type as vulgar and horrendous. … I’m sorry you are looking at my ‘private area’ instead of listening to the important news I am delivering.”
Messages of support from her followers started popping up: “Someone is jealous of you and unhappy with themselves”; “I am dumbfounded”; “Don’t ever let anyone bring you down.”
But it got worse when, a few hours later, Iadeluca listened to the actual voice recording. It was from a woman.
By that point, hundreds of comments were flooding in, and Iadeluca wanted to keep her followers updated. She commented on the thread with a video of herself playing the message aloud, tears filling her eyes. “This is tough to listen to, but I want to play it for you guys,” she said.
Speaking to The Lily a week later, Iadeluca says it was difficult for her to square that “in 2020, women are still tearing each other down because of their physical appearance and not building each other up.”
The reality is that many women in broadcasting are judged on their physical appearance. In recent years, a meteorologist in Georgia received a voice mail calling her pregnant body “disgusting.” A traffic reporter in Las Vegas got a racist email about her natural hairstyle. A 50-year-old broadcaster in Chicago was told to lose weight. The list goes on.
It’s an unfortunate truth for any woman working in the public eye, says Renee Engeln, a psychology professor and the director of the Body and Media Lab at Northwestern University. That we live in a society “obsessed with women’s bodies” means women have a very different set of job requirements than men when it comes to those roles.
“Every time we talk about how a woman looks, we are continuing to send a message that that’s what matters most about women,” Engeln says. “That the most important thing we have to offer the world is prettiness.”
Rhode Island state Rep. Anastasia P. Williams (D) was one of the high-profile Rhode Islanders following Iadeluca’s story. When she caught wind of the news, it made her “feel a certain kind of way,” she says.
“I see Lindsay while she’s doing her work, and she does a great job,” Williams says. “So for someone to be so lowly, so salty, so bitter, so angry in their lives to verbalize something like that is appalling, to say the least.”
Williams is no stranger to being in the public eye; she’s been a member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives for 28 years. And while disproportionate scrutiny extends to all women, it’s particularly difficult as a woman of color, Williams says. As a black woman, she endures “unfair judgment” — from the way she speaks to her educational background — on a daily basis, she says.
Iadeluca has been in broadcast journalism for her entire adult life — ever since she graduated college. She worked in Michigan, then in Massachusetts, and for the last three years has reported in her home state of Rhode Island. She says she’s “not naive to the fact that people are going to judge the way I look.” But this was by far “the worst message” she’d ever received.
Growing up, Iadeluca didn’t love her body. She got made fun of in elementary and middle school. So hearing the message kind of felt like “going back to when I was little and someone would tell me that I was chunky,” she says. “It just hurts.”
She decided to share the message publicly because she hoped it might help someone else — maybe a younger girl like herself — who’s struggling with body image. She had no idea the type of response she’d receive.
Her Facebook and Twitter posts now have about 1,000 likes and several hundred comments each. She’s been flooded with direct messages from men and women talking about their own body image issues, saying that her openness gave them hope. On Tuesday, a sophomore in high school reached out: She was feeling bad that she was a size 6 and most of her friends were a size 2.
A day after Iadeluca posted her story on social media, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) gave her a call. The gesture was “so nice,” Iadeluca says: “It was a woman who was also a mom who took a minute — during a pandemic, mind you — to call a young woman and tell her to keep her head up.”
All of these words of encouragement have “helped me realize there are good people out there,” Iadeluca says. And now she’s seeing that she can turn something negative into something helpful for others: It’s also sparked a conversation about mental health, which Iadeluca has long been an advocate of. After the incident, she discussed body-shaming and anorexia for an NBC10 segment.
Engeln, the professor, says body-shaming “is terrible for your health”: It not only leads to increased anxiety, depression and eating disorders, but also has physical effects. Studies have shown that such stigma can actually lead to weight gain.
The bottom line is that people need to “stop talking about how other people look,” Engeln says. “Particularly strangers, when you have absolutely no context, you have no idea what’s going on in their life.”
Even positive messages around women’s appearances — “You’re beautiful” or “Your body looks great” — can be damaging: They still perpetuate a body conscious culture, Engeln explains. “The response I would prefer is, I value you, and I don’t care what you look like. That’s a really powerful message to send someone — a stranger or a loved one.”
As Iadeluca continues to build her career in local news, that’s what she’d like to hear.
“There’s nothing better than when you do a really good story and someone is like, that interview was awesome, you really got into it,” she says. “It’s like, thank you, that’s my job, that’s my work. That’s really fulfilling.”