Funny that Wendy Williams, whose “Hot Topic” segment on The Wendy Williams Show has become something of an internet sensation, is herself becoming this week’s cyber talk of the town ... and not for the best of reasons.
Winnipeg Blue Bomber Adam Bighill is calling out the American talk show host for recent comments she made on her show appearing to mock people with cleft lips.
While discussing the actor Joaquin Phoenix, whose upper lip bears a small nonsurgical scar from a mild cleft at birth, Williams hooked a finger under the corner of her mouth and pulled it upward, presumably in mimicry of Phoenix’s scar.
“He’s got one of those ... what do you call it? Cleft lip palate,” she said, holding the gesture for close to ten seconds. “Now, I find it to be very attractive.”
The studio audience laughed, but to many people online, the joke just didn’t land.
Cleft lip is a common birth defect
Cleft lip, with or without cleft palate, is the second-most common birth defect in the United States, and affects one in every 700 births in Ontario. It occurs when a baby’s lip or mouth doesn’t form properly during pregnancy, resulting in a raised or upturned lip, which may cause problems with food consumption, tooth and bone structure, middle ear problems and speech.
Bighill has previously talked about how both he and his son were born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, and has been vocal about the extensive bullying he endured growing up in the small town of Montesano, Wash. And in 2015, the linebacker even joined the board of Making Faces, a Toronto-based charity that supports children with facial differences through anti-bullying programs and improvisational workshops.
Watch: Study finds babies with cleft lip are likely to have normal adulthoods. Story continues below.
Little surprise, then, that he wasn’t too impressed with Williams’s inappropriate gesture.
“Are you kidding me???” Bighill tweeted on Jan. 10. “We all have a responsibility to #EndBullying. With her platform, like myself, we have a much higher responsibility when it comes to our actions. This is just terrible.”
Williams, though, is no stranger to controversy (gossip might be her second language), and has come under fire on multiple occasions for making inflammatory comments not unlike this one. Sometimes, she ignores the blowback. But this time, Bighill says he will continue to tweet the host, calling her out every day until she makes a public apology and a donation to the cleft lip community.
“Day 3, we are still waiting for a @WendyWilliams apology to the cleft lip community,” Bighill tweeted on Sunday, Jan. 13. “Outside of that, seeing everyone come together on social media to rally around her comments and actions has truly been amazing.”
Blowback to Williams’ gesture
Many people have joined Bighill in bringing attention to the situation. British TV presenter Carol Vorderman, who is an ambassador for the Cleft Lip and Palate Association (CLAPA), tweeted that she was “disgusted” by Williams’s behaviour. (Her older brother, Anton, was born with a cleft lip and palate, and underwent years of treatment and 24 operations throughout his early life.)
Many parents have also expressed their disdain for the host’s comments on her show.
Williams still hasn’t shown any sign of responding to the firestorm online, but a trail of people have organized beneath her tweets to remind her that they’re still waiting on her apology.
“By you putting down people with cleft pallet [sic] you are putting down my beautiful 3 months old grandson Beau,” one person wrote underneath a recent video posted to Wendy’s account.
“Apologize for making fun of ppl with cleft lips,” wrote another.
CLAPA has even published a news item on their website running through the whole controversy, noting that, “with a gesture and a snide, dismissive comment, Wendy Williams has broadcast to her viewers around the world that it is not just acceptable but hilarious to insult people about a condition they were born with.”
The organization has also included a number of comments from adults who were born with clefts voicing their outrage.
“The Cleft Lip and Palate Association (CLAPA) are calling on Wendy Williams to issue an unreserved apology on her show for her ignorant, irresponsible actions, and to dedicate time on her show towards making her audience aware of the reality of cleft lip and palate in the USA and around the world,” the organization wrote on its website.
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