Can someone's standing be vitiated by honesty?
August 29, 2004 12:42 PM   Subscribe

Can someone's standing be vitiated by honesty? For example, telling someone they are fat and need to lose weight?

For a brief time I gained weight. One day I realized what had happened and through excercise and dietary changes lost it all, and now look normal again. Yet, through the entire one year period, no one came up to me and said, "you've gained a lot of weight." Is it so hurtful to present an honest view to another person?
posted by the fire you left me to Human Relations (33 answers total)
Another example could be indicating to someone their girlfriend is loose and predatory.
posted by the fire you left me at 12:47 PM on August 29, 2004

Depends on the relationship you have with the person. I used to work in a shop and we had a lot of regular customers. The store closed and I was terribly depressed. About a year went by and I ran into a regular customer who I got along well with. The first thing out of his mouth after hello was "have you put on weight?" I had, but hadn't "really" noticed (or thought about it much). I said, "Yeah," and he said "You really watch that." And he said it with such concern that I really took it to heart. I was thankful of his honesty.

I have an overweight friend who often comments on other people, saying, like "Wow, is he getting big!" He seems very deluded of his own weight and this troubles me, but discussing it with him seems to be, for some reason, "none of my business," so we don't discuss it, which I suppose is unfortunate. I don't know how to brace the subject, to be honest.
posted by dobbs at 12:54 PM on August 29, 2004

He said, "You really have to watch that." Sorry.
posted by dobbs at 12:55 PM on August 29, 2004

In my opinion, unsolicited advice is rarely appreciated, and unsolicited criticism even less so. Also, some people use honesty as an excuse to be rude to people. In general, it's best to just STFU.
posted by Jart at 1:00 PM on August 29, 2004

Not everybody notices slow changes tfylm. I don't know what you mean by a lot of weight but if it's 15 or 20 pounds you're talking about and it happened over a year then nobody would notice unless they happened to see a year old picture of you.

It's also a really touchy subject as well I guess and on top of that a lot of people consider it to be part of that wide range of topics that are none of my business. Put it this way, watch your friends and co-workers carefully when they eat lunch. How many of them reach for the salt shaker before tasting their food? Would you say anything? I have to a really close friend because I was genuinely worried. We went hiking for a couple weeks and he'd gone so far out of shape his lips were turning blue during the hikes I picked out for our breakin period. On top of that he'd order the hugest breakfast on the menu and instantly salt it, dump a half cup of sugar into his iced tea before tasting it. It bothered me enough I wondered if he wasn't comitting a slow form of suicide.

I was also warned about my weight in a friendly manner when I was in university too. I didn't take offense at it, I just tried to figure out how I started down that path.
posted by substrate at 1:04 PM on August 29, 2004

I don't have any problems telling someone they've gained weight, if they're a guy. I'm something of an asshole, but even I wouldn't tell a woman they got fat. Other than that though, I'm usually pretty forthcoming about that kind of thing.
posted by bob sarabia at 1:09 PM on August 29, 2004

Think of it this way -- I know I'm fat, it's not like I need you to bring it up. Not everyone feels this way, I'm sure, but it falls under the heading of "none of your business." It's an etiquette thing.
posted by sugarfish at 1:13 PM on August 29, 2004

I have an obvious physical deformity. In my experience, people who go to the trouble to point this out to me seldom do so out of a sense of kindness.
posted by SPrintF at 1:18 PM on August 29, 2004

indicating to someone their girlfriend is loose and predatory.

Well, this is a good example to talk about. If you told me this, my first questions to myself would be "Why is he/she telling me that?" Since it's one of those things that is a bit of a judgment call, and a hurtful thing to tell someone, someone might wonder why you told them. If you're a good friend that usually exchanges those sorts of confidences, then it seems appropriate to NOT let that one go by. However, if you're someone who just delights in the misfortunes of others' relationships and this was a way to revel in the security of your own relationship, then maybe it's not so cool. The appropriateness of what you say has a lot to do with the context in which you say it.

I think the past few examples aren't drawing the clear distinction between the "Your looks have changed, what's going on that I should know about?" type of question and "Do you know you're overweight/pimply/freakish?" question. The second kind is rarely appreciated, the first kind might be. There's a comfort range of course. I'd tell a friend they had parsley in their teeth, might not tell a stranger. I might tell a stranger their fly was down in public, but maybe not if it was a guy about my own age. I'd ask my sister if she gained/lost some weight, but probably would not say that to my boss. I have certain friends who always comment on my weight or their own weight and I find it a bit on the annoying side since I'm never sure what they're getting at, and why they always bring it up since it's not a topic I really care too much about one way or the other. I also have some friends who are brutally honest [as I have been accused of being] and I have spent some time thinking hard about whether you can always hide behind honestly as a defense against saying something hurtful to someone, even if that something is true.
posted by jessamyn at 1:30 PM on August 29, 2004

On the opposite end, SPrintF, my boyfriend also has an obvious physical deformity and he actually prefers people to ask, "What happened?" as opposed to tactfully ignoring it, while all the while internally speculating. He hasn't had someone be unkind to him about it since he was young.
Then again, in this case, circumstances could change based on the type of deformity.

Also, if a stranger came up to me and said, "You're getting fat. You should watch that," I would be stunned by their rudeness. If a close friend or family said the same, it would be a different story. People most likely have honest support systems in their life that will keep them in check if needed; they don't need random strangers butting into their business.
posted by Zosia Blue at 1:34 PM on August 29, 2004

I think jessamyn gets at the nub of it: it's the spirit in which you say it. I've told a friends that I was concerned about her weight gain, or that he was dating an evil hell-bitch, and I don't think it was taken badly (then again, I might simply be so oblivious to social niceties that I missed their offense).
posted by adamrice at 1:46 PM on August 29, 2004

There's honesty, and then there's sharing every little thought in your head without regard for whether or not it's constructive. "Brutal" honesty is not a virtue. Being hurtful is never justified.

And some people like dating sluts.
posted by padraigin at 2:03 PM on August 29, 2004

Jessamyn gets at it...

...but there have been times when people have told me I need to lose weight, quickly couching it with a health concern -- and all the while knowing absolutely nothing about my medical history or personal habits.

That makes me dismiss the comment faster than "Hey, you're fat" ever could.
posted by gnomeloaf at 2:42 PM on August 29, 2004

substrate: Honestly, is too much salt the worst possible problem? It's 1/10th as bad as too many calories, no?
posted by abcde at 2:46 PM on August 29, 2004

I think the rule for mentioning people's problems to them is that a) it should be something that they don't realize is a problem and b) it should be something they can do something about.

One time I was walking down the street behind a woman who had blood soaking through the heel of one shoe. She was swinging along is such a carefree fashion I decided she must be unaware of any injury to her heel. So I told her. She hadn't known, and she thanked me for telling her.

I would really hesitate to tell anyone she or he is getting fat - I have never yet found it necessary to do so. Most women at least are acutely aware of their weight, and no one is so blind to not notice that his or her clothes don't fit anymore. Mentioning it is not going to be helpful. And I would never presume to say so to a stranger - what do I know about their circumstances? But I can imagine occasions in which I might decide it was necessary to tell a friend that he or she was, say, drinking too much or not taking proper care of his or her health or that his or her partner was cheating on them. Sometimes people can be sunk in denial, and sometimes they don't know things they have a right to know.

But these things must be decided on a case by case basis, and given careful consideration.
posted by orange swan at 3:08 PM on August 29, 2004

abcde, I've got a couple of friends with insane blood pressure (and I'm in my 30's). They don't sprinkle salt, they coat with it. So no, at least in this case excess calories aren't 10 times worse than excess salt.
posted by substrate at 4:17 PM on August 29, 2004

Honestly, is too much salt the worst possible problem? It's 1/10th as bad as too many calories, no?

Too much salt for someone with extreme hypertension might be a hell of a lot worse than too many calories, actually. How bad something for someone is depends on the individual, not on arbitrary fractions.
posted by padraigin at 4:20 PM on August 29, 2004

I guess it depends on the degree of tact you can muster up when telling it, and how necessary it is. I find it very hard to believe that anyone thinks it's really helpful or necessary, for example, to tell someone who's overweight that they're fat (barring saying something about a worry about the health of a spouse or very close friend). With regard to telling a good friend that you think their SO is a slut, that's another issue, and I can see cases where the friend might not know and where being a good friend might necessitate saying something: "I don't know if you've noticed this, or even if it matters to you, but I've noticed that sometimes Trashy seems to give the impression that she's single/I noticed her getting a knee-trembler from Captain Kirk at that party last week/I've seen her being a lady of negotiable affection downtown".
posted by biscotti at 4:30 PM on August 29, 2004

I have hypotension (the opposite of hypertension) and I seem to have this craving for salt all the time. Perhaps the salt actually makes me better.. (going on the assumption that it makes people with hypertension worse)..?
posted by wackybrit at 5:56 PM on August 29, 2004

I would say sure, go ahead, if you're a really good friend. My best friends have always been my most ferocious critics -- it's because they care enough to make sure I'm not letting myself go. I think that if you do it in a spirit of friendship, the other person will -- if not immediately, then soon after -- be comfortable with it.

It also helps to be immediately constructive. In your case, since you've gained and lost weight, it seems like an obvious thing to do would be to say, "I noticed you've gained some weight -- I gained and lost, and here are my suggestions." That shows that you're not being judgmental -- you're being helpful. Being clearly helpful and caring is, I think, really what's meant by 'tact.'
posted by josh at 6:12 PM on August 29, 2004

Your general nature is quite important.

Are you one of those people that always seems to say the wrong thing? Are you always offending people? Do you have a reputation of being tactless and rude? Then perhaps lay off the advice.

On the other hand are you known as considerate, empathetic and kindly? Maybe you can get away with a lot more.
posted by meech at 6:33 PM on August 29, 2004

Also, if a stranger came up to me and said, "You're getting fat. You should watch that,"

In all honesty, that's a poor example. A stranger won't know that you're getting fat, just that you are fat. </pedant> Being told you're fat by a stranger is a few shades different from having someone who's known you for an extend time point out an outward indicator of increasing health risks, one that most frequently responds to the intervention of the person it affects.
posted by NortonDC at 7:05 PM on August 29, 2004

Using words like vitiated can certainly reduce someone's standing, for sure. Just bein' honest.
posted by bonaldi at 7:08 PM on August 29, 2004

While in the middle of a perfectly normal dinner (or as normal a dinner as you can have at the best burger joint in the world), a friend stopped mid-mouthful and accused me of being "the most disgusting eater I've ever seen." It was an absolutely crushing thing to hear - who can be prepared for that kind of out-of-nowhere criticism from someone you trust?

That was four or five years ago. Ever since, I've compulsively critiqued my eating habits and "objectively" compared them to those of friends and other diners. I've gone so far as to pull friends aside and ask them for dining tips. Not one person has ever even partially agreed with the first person's accusation.

Though I have yet to ask her if she really meant it or was just kidding around, I'm inclined to think it was probably the latter. While I have no eating disorder, strong feelings about food, nor mental illness of any sort that might predispose me to a strong reaction to her comment, the point is that even relatively innocent attacks can be profoundly impactful when they hit between the scales of someone's personal armour. Tread carefully.
posted by Sinner at 7:09 PM on August 29, 2004

Yes and the worst insults happen from the opposite sex. If the person is the opposite sex, never critize them. If a guy came up to me and made fun of my appearance it's nothing, guys do it all the time and I take it as a grain of salt (and usually shoot a witty remark back).

Though the smallest criticism from a female can be devestating. And if anyone disagrees they are either overconfident or have such a large penis that such things don't offend them and they confidently cross their arms laugh and proceed to not take care of their bodies.

So uh, unless you're family or the person is being destructive just let them be.
posted by geoff. at 7:19 PM on August 29, 2004

A close friend has a miscarriage (stillbirth?) after 7 months of pregnancy, the last two months of which she spent on bed rest, gaining something like 65 lbs in the process.

About two months later, after she had lost about 20 lbs of the pregnancy weight, she ran into a former co-worker at a local resturant. The former co-worker said something to her to the effect of "gee, you've really let yourself go" and then was mystified why my friend took off for the ladies room, weeping.

Moral of the story: Don't offer this kind of comment unless you know the backstory. Period.
posted by anastasiav at 9:04 PM on August 29, 2004

It's an etiquette thing.

...depending on which part of the world you currently inhabit. One of the harder cultural mores I had to adjust to here in Italy was the dead-on bluntness between friends and acquaintances concerning matters of appearance.

"Ciao bella. You're getting fat, eh?"
"Buongiorno. You've got a huge zit on your nose."
"You've lost way too much weight. You look terrible."

etc. etc. etc. Observations like these are not meant in a rude way. I consider it an offshoot of the Italian obsession with health and well-being. Took a while to get used to and on cranky PMS days I still don't take it very well.
posted by romakimmy at 5:45 AM on August 30, 2004

IMO it is just as dodgy to tell someone--even a good friend--that they've put on weight, as it is to praise someone's weight loss when you have no idea what their story is.

The classic cringe scenario: "Wow, you've lost so much weight!" "Um, I had cancer." The reverse can apply, too. There are lots of things that can cause people to gain significant weight; only some of them are "letting yourself go."

The only time I ever appreciated any comment on my weight was when I'd been living at a friend's house for a month, got such a bad stomach flu that I was reduced to a diet of watered-down juice for two weeks, and managed to gain five pounds. (And yes, when your metabolism gets very out of order, that can happen.) My friend commented that I didn't eat very much, and I'd been so sick, she really didn't understand how I could be so fat. Her bluntness got me wondering how in the hell I could be so fat, and I started looking at possible metabolic problems. This eventually ended in removing all refined carbs from my diet, and although I'm sure most MeFites would still consider me quite fat, my weight is now under control where it was not before.

But I hasten to say that the only reason I did not take massive offense at this comment was that this person had been my best friend for ten years and we could say pretty much anything to one another.

Unless the relationship is like that, better to stay away from the subject of weight.
posted by Tholian at 11:04 AM on August 30, 2004

I think the rule for mentioning people's problems to them is that a) it should be something that they don't realize is a problem and b) it should be something they can do something about.

I absolutely agree with this, and I think a corollary is that if it's a particularly touchy subject (as weight gain usually is), if you've mentioned it once, you should either drop the subject entirely or be extremely cautious about mentioning it again. There's a fine line between helpfulness and nagging, and crossing it can make someone resent you, no matter how close you are.

That said, I'd never mention a friend's weight gain unless I was directly asked, or I was certain they weren't aware of it. 99% of the time, they already are aware.
posted by granted at 1:06 PM on August 30, 2004

personally, i don't think it's anyone's duty to bring these sorts of things (weight problems, skanky girlfriend problems) to someone's attention. outside the narrow confines of very close relationships (and sometimes within them), you're just being (whether intentionally or not) cruel. if you're genuinely concerned, like jessamyn points out, you don't point out that you think is the problem, you ask open-ended questions, designed to show your concern and give your friend an opening to talk about something that might be bothering them.

if you suspect someone's girl/boyfriend/spouse of cheating, you know, it's just not your place to say anything. it really isn't.

on the other hand, telling a stranger on the street she's got blood dripping out of her shoe, or the tag is sticking out of her sweater is another matter entirely. (i've had both pointed out to me and was grateful)
posted by crush-onastick at 1:23 PM on August 30, 2004

Just recently I had to point out to a very good friend his rather erratic driving.....well, I was forced to......I was in the passenger seat at the time. Priorities.
posted by SpaceCadet at 2:11 PM on August 30, 2004

>Can someone's standing be vitiated by honesty?

That's a very specific question, which most of your respondents are ducking.

I think in general the answer is "yes." I certainly think less of a person when I observe them to behave rudely in the name of honesty. And the examples you give could certainly be rude in the right (wrong?) contexts.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:47 AM on August 31, 2004

ikkyu2, you're right. and i agree with you--that sort of honesty, yes, vitiates one's standing.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:14 AM on August 31, 2004

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