Pregnant meteorologist hopes that going public with cruel comments she has received will help others.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The joy that Ashlee Baracy felt when she learned she was pregnant in December was followed almost immediately by dread.

“The sad part is the second I found out I was pregnant, I knew I would have to deal with criticism of my body by viewers,” said Baracy, 34, a meteorologist for WBNS-TV (Channel 10) in Columbus, Ohio.

“I’ve been around the business long enough, and I’ve seen colleagues go through that. Anchors can hide a little bit behind the desk, but I knew it would be tough for me, because people see me head-to-toe in front of the green screen every day, and my figure would be on full display.”

Sure enough, as soon as Baracy announced her pregnancy on air in February — the baby is due in August — the comments flowed in via email and social media.

“I can tell. Unless you are just super bloated.”

“Congratulations!!! I knew your face looked fuller.”

As time went on and her belly grew, some viewers got downright mean.

“Pregnant or not, buy bigger clothes!!! You look bloated and uncomfortable. . . it is not likely your dresses will survive another 20 weeks of pregnancy weight.”

“Ashley, I couldn’t see next week’s temps. Your baby was in the way.”

“Ashley, you are really putting on weight. Watch your heart.”

Rather than suffer silently, Baracy chose to clap back. She has posted many of the worst comments on her social media pages and hopes to turn a negative into a positive.

“If I can use my voice to make things better, I will do that,” she said. “I hope this is a platform where we can talk more about it, because there are many women who deal with it.”

This was not the first time Baracy has dealt with the harsh glare of attention. She competed in beauty pageants for several years and was named Miss Michigan in 2008.

“I had to have thick skin to be a public figure,” she said. “But this time for me was a little different. I’m growing a miracle, and I have every right to have children.

“Yes, I signed up to be a public figure, but my family didn’t. My unborn child didn’t.”

Comments on personal appearance — whether it be their weight, hair or choice of outfit — are common for women in the broadcast business.

Colleen Marshall, 62, has been on air with WCMH-TV (Channel 4) for 35 years.

She said she thinks social media has given people a license to say things that they would not say face-to-face. But she also has encountered several people who were not afraid to be more directly critical.

“I had a guy walk up to me and say, ‘I can’t believe you’re this small, I always thought you were a fat lady,’” Marshall recalled.

WSYX-TV (Channel 6) anchor Kurt Ludlow, 58, another industry veteran, said male broadcasters rarely hear criticism, and when they do, it usually is about their tie or suit and not more personal.

Baracy said she is grateful for the support she has received after going public about the comments. Most viewers, she said, are encouraging.

Her husband, Jeff Kunkel, also has been a big help. The two, who live in Westerville, were married in 2017, and this is their first child.

“When you deal with people who take their forecast more seriously than our baby, it gets to be frustrating,” Kunkel said. “We talk about it, and I just try to keep her positive.”

Not everyone is as well-equipped to handle such criticism, though. And it can cause serious problems.

Jason McCray is the chief science, outreach and education officer at the Center for Balanced Living, a Far North Side facility that treats people with eating disorders.

He said weight shaming and body shaming can lead people to not eat enough or begin harmful behaviors such as purging.

“And that can happen even if it’s not them being body shamed,” he said. “If they hear someone else being criticized, they may think, `What does that mean for me, because she looks way better than I do.’”

Marshall said she once had a younger female colleague talk about getting Botox injections.

“I asked her what she was getting Botox for, and she said, ‘I’ve got to get ahead of it,‘” Marshall said. “And I was thinking, `Oh, good Lord, don’t let them do this to you.’”

Baracy will be fine. She hopes that by making this issue public, it will help others better deal with it.

“Now that I’m going to be a mom, I want my child to be confident in their skin,” she said. “Kids shouldn’t look at someone on TV and hear their parents say, `She looks fat,′ because what might they think when they look in the mirror?”