Is It OK to Tell a Stranger That They're Way Too Skinny?

February 5, 2019

In the latest edition of The New York Times Magazine's Ethicist column, a reader wonders whether he should say something to a "severely underweight" stranger whom he sees at the gym and thinks might have an eating disorder. "You know almost nothing about this woman and have no relationship with her," replies The Ethicist. "You don’t have very good reason, in short, to involve yourself here. And bear in mind that one feature of eating disorders is a preoccupation with how you look to others; being addressed by a stranger in a gym who is worried by your appearance is likely to exacerbate that problem. Shame is part of the psychic burden of many eating disorders (she may be struggling to recover from it), but so is a profound body dysmorphia. Hearing that she’s too thin may have the opposite effect than what you intend, by making her feel pleased that her behavior has succeeded in making her look the way she wants to look."