This Sunday I answered a question from a woman whose family criticizes her weight. This is clearly out of line, as I stated. (I also didn't write the headline "Overweight and Out of Patience," for what that's worth.) But here's another question about the appropriateness of talking to someone about their weight.
I told the person who sent this question in that I wouldn't answer it in the column, but would post it on my blog and ask for your perspectives. The original letter-writer will, I think, be able to make up their own mind after reading the different perspectives.
I am a frequent runner around my local reservoir, and as such I've become familiar with some of the regular runners, dog walkers, etc. One woman, whom I've gotten to know just that tiny bit that comes with such minute but recurring interactions, has gotten visibly thinner, alarmingly so, over the past year. She's also upped her mileage; where she used to just walk once around the pond, she now runs two laps.
I am truly worried for her health, and have kept myself awake at night, trying to think of a non-judgmental, non-confrontational way to say something to the effect of, "Are you running to burn calories? Trust me, you needn't, because you seem to be fading away before my eyes...are you okay?"
Honestly, I know I'm not alone in wondering if she is suffering from an eating disorder, but I suspect we are all keeping that wonderment to ourselves. On the one hand, it's none of our business. On the other, if she is truly suffering, maybe a kind word from a friendly source might help.
So, my question: Is it ever appropriate to ask someone how his or her health is, when the reason for asking is concern based on appearances? Does a real concern (and the notion that I might be able to point her toward some professional help) ever trump good manners?
What do you all think? Should bodies and weight be strictly off-limits as topics of discussion for strangers? Should we be willing to take a risk in order to help someone? What if that help backfires?
In 2005 I wrote about what to do when a friend has a risky health habit (in that case, excessive sunbathing). But that was a friend, not a nodding acquaintance, and while I don't disagree with the advice I gave, I think today I'd lean even more strongly toward leaving it alone. I'm inclined to give the same advice to the letter writer above.
But I want to hear what you think.
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