NPF: PUBLIC SPACES

Just a reminder: No Politics doesn't always mean fun.

I keep a fairly regular schedule during the work week, including going to the gym at basically the same time every day. As a result I tend to see many of the same people every day, at least those who keep similarly regular schedules. Over the past year there is one girl in particular that I've seen nearly every single time I've gone to the gym on campus. If she isn't thrashing away on an elliptical machine when I arrive she's inevitably there when I'm leaving.

I just realized that the opening paragraph sounds like the intro to a 1970s Penthouse Letter, which it is not.

About a year ago when I first noticed her she was an unremarkable undergraduate, perhaps slightly overweight depending on one's definition. As the months passed she exercised herself down to a point that I think would please most people who started going to the gym with the goal of losing weight. I'd say she lost about 20 pounds. Eventually she was Thin. Then she lost more and got down to Sorority Girl Thin. Then she got to a point at which even sorority girls would say "You're too thin." Then over the last month or so she has become truly horrifying. By now she looks like a skeleton, and I mean that in the most literal sense. Her thighs and calves are the same diameter, and her knees are the thickest part of her legs. Her collarbone juts out a good inch or two from her shoulders. Bones that aren't visible on anyone like the humerus and femur are clearly visible on her when she moves. Her skin is yellow and her eyes have that dark, sunken look of a famine victim.

In short, one would have to be rather ignorant to fail to notice that this girl has an active eating disorder, and quite a severe one from the looks of it. Being a generally nosy and outspoken person, it's rare that I see her without wondering If I Should Say Something. Of course I never do. The excuses for avoiding it are so numerous. It's none of my business. She wouldn't care what a stranger says anyway. She might have some rare disease that causes weight loss. I wouldn't tell a large person "You're fat!" so I shouldn't tell this person she's too thin. Her friends and family are probably already intervening. I'm being paternalistic and sexist. And so on.

I don't know about you, but I struggle with this all the time. It bothers me that we all walk around seeing and hearing these…signs and we almost always look the other way. The woman with the black eye. The guy who "likes to party" but clearly drinks too much. The person with track marks on the arm. The friend who's obviously seriously depressed. The dozens of other people with whom we interact regularly and realize that something isn't right.

What do you do, though? Sure, a lot of us suffer from bystander apathy and blissfully live out the Kitty Genovese Effect. But when you do notice and you do think, "I should say something," there's still not much to say or do. It's not like Emily Post has a chapter about how to suggest to a stranger that she might seek help for an eating disorder. This isn't the kind of post that goes anywhere or arrives at a resolution; I don't have an answer, and a lot of things I notice might not be as they appear. But I tend toward hyper-awareness in public spaces and it never fails to bother me when I see things and can't figure out what (if anything) a reasonable person might do about it.

Be Sociable, Share!

48 Responses to “NPF: PUBLIC SPACES”

  1. FMguru Says:

    Go up to her and tell her you think she has a problem. If it blows up and you end up feeling like a fool, well, you were a fool in a good cause, and that's never shameful.

    Alternatively, there should be some counselors in the student health center that could give you some options. Give 'em a holler.

  2. ladiesbane Says:

    I would strongly avoid telling strangers that you think they have problems. They probably already know that. My recommendation for your wasting-away girl is to start giving her a daily nod by way of greeting, and work up to casual comments. If you can't establish rapport, you might come out with the last ditch play before giving up: "hey, are you doing okay?" Be prepared for icy rejection, and be sure to get in, "fine, but if you ever need someone to talk to, just flag me down, seriously."

    But only if you mean it. Whether she's dealing with anorexia, cancer, grief, trauma, stress, or whatever, she's fragile. I think the same thing goes for anyone on the edge. Sometimes a positive, undemanding presence tilts people away from the abyss. A show of concern with no ulterior motive can mean a lot. Say something, anything! The only thing guaranteed to fail is to do nothing.

  3. Lisa Says:

    At my institution we have a Dean of Students and we can alert them to potential problems students might be having, particularly emotional ones. If you can find out her name, you can anonymously alert the Dean. S/he can then decide if and how to get her some help.

  4. J. Dryden Says:

    The Kitty Genovese event–always as much of a humanity-affirming subject as any social experiment involving the words "Stanford Prison" or "Milgram"–differs from your situation in one key factor. *If* this girl has an eating disorder, then that is suffering that she is inflicting upon herself. Addicts, obsessive-compulsives, self-mutilators–these people are all, in very real ways, ill and in pain and most likely in need of help. But unfortunately they also have the *right* to be ill and in pain and in need of help.

    There's a difference–and not always a pleasant one–of living in a free society and living in a decent one. We try to have both, but when forced to choose, which choice do we make? If you believe in "principle," you probably choose "free"–but that means leaving people alone who might be better off if you forced your help upon them. If you believe in "people," you probably choose "decent"–but that means taking away someone's right to make choices for him/herself, even when (to us) those choices are horribly self-injurious and unnecessary.

    Kitty Genovese was attacked by another person–her rights (her life, her body, her self) were assaulted by another person. We need not choose between "free" and "decent" in her case–the voyeuristic fuckers should have made a phone call. But what if Ms. Genovese was out in that street slowly stabbing herself to death? Do people have the right to kill themselves? Hurt themselves? Abuse themselves?

    Unfortunately, I rather think they do. We have to let them.

    That being said: Fuck it. I have no problem with a little hypocrisy, particularly when it amounts to one person saying "Hey, you OK?" to another. No authorities, no surreptitious tattling. FMguru's advice strikes me as sound. (I don't think Ed is worried about seeming a fool–between lecturing to asshole undergrads, doing stand-up for drunken Southerners, and appearing proudly as part of a band named Tremendous Fucking, I suspect that nerve cluster of the brain has long since died of calloused disregard.)

    What'll almost certainly happen is that the young woman will deny having any kind of problem–what addict/compulsive ever admits to being one?–and you'll then have to let it go. Hence, also not a bad idea to have something in the way of a counseling phone number or suchlike to hand her in departing. You'll have done an inoffensive thing for a profoundly good reason.

  5. Turkler Says:

    Oh, man, asking the internet for help with issues like these is BOUND to be categorically unhelpful.

    I would take FMguru's second suggestion and ask for advice from the professionals at the school counseling office – I would imagine that they are trained to assist in just these sorts of circumstances.

  6. notemily Says:

    I think as a stranger it's not your place to comment on her looks or weight. Who knows–if you tell her you think she's too thin, she might take that as a compliment. Disordered eating comes from disordered thinking, and when you're in that state of mind there's nothing anyone can say to sway you. Change will have to come from her, when she's ready for it.

    If you really, really want to help her, I would say become a good thing in her life. Say hi, be friendly, treat her as a person completely separate from whatever you think about her body. Of course, if she gives you "back off" signals, then back off. But I think the best thing you can do for someone who thinks they're worthless unless they weigh X pounds (or whatever) is to appreciate them for things completely unrelated to their looks.

    (I'm of the opinion that ANY remarks on weight, at ANY time, are inappropriate. I lost many pounds a few years ago due to an illness, and people were complimenting me left and right. It really fucked with my head that people were complimenting me for being unhealthy, and of course it led to a lot of thoughts like "did they think I was fat and ugly before?" I'm sure they meant well, but I wish they hadn't said anything.)

  7. Xynzee Says:

    There used to be a time when we lived and were a part of communities. Today… "rugged individualism" I guess.

    Kids were taken care of by people who cared for and were interested in them…

    Now we break up extended families to "go where the work is/university". In and of itself there is some good for us to go away for university, but the constant flight towards the infinite? Leads to people looking out for themselves and only themselves.

    Does she seem to have any excer-buddies? If so make a comment to them. They're in a slightly better place to make comment. Otherwise, something of this nature is better from relationship, and the nod, to the "hey, 'sup?", to the "I've noticed…" I'd far easier to take if you feel that someone actually has your interests at heart, but "acceptance" is not a condition of your weight etc. Does that make sense?

  8. Natalie Says:

    I'd definitely talk to some peeps at the Health Center. Given that I know what university you work at, I can 100% categorically promise you they are excellent.

  9. M Says:

    First I need to make a few things clear:
    1. If it is an eating disorder, it is not necessarily true that she knows she has a problem, or that she understands the full extent of the problem. The most dangerous lies are those we tell ourselves.
    2. eating disorders are not a choice, though it involves choices.
    3. eating disorders require professional help.
    4. untreated, EDs can lead to chronic health problems, organ failure, premature death. It is quite different from things like self-mutilation and OCD in this respect.

    I speak from experience. In highschool I developed anorexia nervosa, and almost died from it. The thing is, I had no idea. I thought it was "just a diet". Because I never felt hungry, I thought nothing was wrong (turns out my stomach had shrunk). I thought my metabolism had slowed down and so I couldn't go off my diet. So when the school's guidance counselor confronted me I was furious. I was furious at the people who went to her expressing concern because they weren't my friends — at least they weren't friends who ever invited me to do things on the weekend. When the counselor contacted my mother I was angry about that too. But looking back I see it was necessary because I had so effectively deceived myself into thinking I wasn't sick. Eventually I saw the problem.

    By the time I got into inpatient treatment I weighed 74 lbs (20 lbs less than I thought I did), had a heart rate in the upper 20s, and blood pressure so bad they kept me confined to a wheelchair for two weeks. Had I not received treatment I would have died, even though the inpatient hospital didn't really help me beyond getting me medically stable. Looking back, I wish someone had intervened earlier. Hopefully a residential or partial hospitalization program will be sufficient for the girl in question (if she does, in fact, have an eating disorder), because it was a residential program that really saved my life (http://www.rogershospital.org/monroe/content/eating-disorders-treatment).

    In conclusion: yes she will probably initially resist the idea of treatment, she might even be angry. It would be best coming from friends and family, but they may be scared and have no idea what to do. While friendliness and warmth on your part would be good, I don't think you are in a position to strike up the required kind of friendship, so I doubt she would take it well coming from you. Therefore, I think it is a good idea to contact the Dean of Students. Chances are they've dealt with this issue several times before.

    To anyone concerned about eating disorders: I suggest visiting the National Eating Disorders Association. http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/index.php and look under Get Involved. They also have a lot of excellent information about eating disorders and what to do when you encounter one. If you can donate that would be brilliant because these are complex illnesses with woefully insufficient funding for research, especially considering the prevalence and significant premature mortality rate.

  10. M Says:

    Dean of Students or the health center*

  11. c u n d gulag Says:

    Yeah, since she's a student, I'd go find the appropriate Dean or councelor. I think something like this would be best left to experts.

    Now, if she were your student, that might be slightly different. But that might also depend on the size of the class and your familiarity with her. If the class is huge, and there's little interaction with students (though you don't seem the type for that kind of class), that might not be that much more different than the gym. Dean or councelor might still be the best bet.

  12. Mrs. Chili Says:

    It's already been said here, but it bears repeating – EVERY college has some sort of intervention protocol in place. Go to the athletic director (since you're already at the gym) and express concern. Someone better placed to handle this sort of situation will do something.

  13. ladiesbane Says:

    A lot of the practical don't-get-involved advice has a CYA element that can be detrimental to YOUR heart, mind, or sense of honor — whatever you want to call it. Even if only for the sake of your own self-respect, whatever else you do, be a mensch and make direct human contact. It *will* do her some good, even if you never find out that it did. And whenever you are feeling low yourself, knowing that you tried to reach out to someone will remind you that humans are not all worthless, self-serving pieces of shit. What happened to Kitty Genovese was a double dose of man at his worst. But how do you think those people feel, who turned off the lights and kept watching?

  14. punkdavid Says:

    Ask her out for burgers and ice cream.

    No, I completely understand. It's hard enough to say something to someone who you know well as a friend, much less someone you don't know at all. But maybe the fact that she is nothing but a random person to you can be to your advantage.

    I'd approach her as if coming on to her softly (she would probably be flattered at the least, as in my experience persons with eating disorders are generally somewhat vain). Tell her that you've seen her at the gym often tand that she has caught your eye. Once you have her attention, you can say that you've noticed that she has become much thinner over the past year and that you think she was a lot more healthy and attractive about 15 pounds ago. If she hasn't stomped off yet, mention that if you, a random person has noticed this, that surely her friends and family must have noticed too, and are probably scared for her well being.

    Maybe she'll totally dismiss you, but at least you've planted an idea in her head.

  15. WyldPirate Says:

    this is a very tricky issue and it is quite difficult to know what–if anything–to do.

    Having suffered from essentially the opposite condition of trying to commit "suicide by fork"; which was exacerbated by long-term chronic depression, substance abuse, smoking and poor family history, I wish at times people had attempted to me and said something along the lines of "dude, what the fuck are you doing to yourself?" I don't know that it would have worked before my "crisis", but I'll never know as no one–not my friends, family or even my doctor laid out the ramifications and gave me the "WTF are you doing to yourself?" talk.

    What woke me up was laying on a cold ass steel table in a cardiac catheterization lab and having the cardiologist that was about to install stents in my RCA saying to me as he was pointing out on the monitor my problems: "you ignoring your diabetes was likely the direct cause of the heart attack you're having and the the three mostly blocked arteries that will have to be repaired surgically". That and having the nurse pointing out my ECG and telling me in response to my question about those "square things" where my S-T wave should have been were called "tombstones".

    I guess my point is that almost everyone has to–in the parlance of addiction treatment–"hit rock-bottom"–before they can implement the necessary changes to begin to battle back to normalcy. In my case, I might have had my own "wake-up call" had my primary care doc or relatives/friends been more outspoken. Then again, I may have simply ignored them.

    What is crucial is that almost no one knows what that "rock-bottom" point is and when it will occur for themselves if they are lost in the ancillary problems that cause one to damage themselves physically or mentally. I'm of the mind now given the seriousness of certain "life-style diseases" in our society that it is OK to risk being mildly to moderately offense in an effort to impress upon someone that they appear to have a problem that needs to be addressed.

    In the case of the young lady at your gym; if I were in your shoes I would most probably make an inquiry of her, point out the changes you have noticed and have in hand sources of help available on your campus. Alternatively, you could take the sneaky route suggested above and anonymously contact health officials on your campus. Colleges are the land of in loco parentis now more than ever.

    My vote would be to point this horse—err, young lady–towards the water somehow. It will be up to her to take advantage of the help.

  16. Satchel Says:

    So far I think I see three proposals:

    1. Do a one-time "driveby" intervention.

    2. Form a friendly relationship that might lead to an opportunity to intervene.

    3. Pass off the responsibility for intervention to campus professionals.

    Of the three, I'd say that number one is the least likely to be helpful.

  17. N Says:

    There is a lot of (let me be kind) misunderstanding here.

    An eating disorder is a mental illness. It is not an addiction. Please visit the links on M's post and educate yourselves, if necessary (I'm thinking of you, mr. persons with eating disorders are generally somewhat vain). Treat this person as you would someone with schizophrenia or depression or any other suspected mental illness–go to the professionals who are trained to deal with it.

    Also, Ed? "Girls" are preadolescent females. I suspect she is actually a woman. Kindly give her the respect she (and all women) deserves. Thank you.

  18. elly Says:

    FWIW, I'm a gym rat myself, and also mod two private health and fitness forums. In the latter capacity, I've had to deal with a few people who almost certainly have eating disorders. In practice, they aren't too difficult to smoke out: they're the ones who can't let go of their routines for a moment, and are constantly on the lookout for tips/advice on how to do even more. They're quite open about this, fortunately, since the culture most young women "swim" in is one that gives social rewards for extreme behavior… so they innately believe that fitness experts will likewise praise them for their steadfast devotion to extreme exercise and diet discipline.

    NOT. But what I have found, is that being a fitness professional (and one with abs) means that at least I get listened to (if the private messages I've received are anything to go by) vs. being brushed off… we share something in common, after all.

    I agree with some of the other commenters here about contacting the appropriate university professionals (assuming that the woman in question is actually a student). But you might also want to approach one of the trainers in the gym, as well. The young woman you're observing may be more receptive to a suggestion to seek help from a fitness professional (whose opinion on exercise/diet she's predisposed to respect), vs. a layperson.

  19. mj Says:

    I don't know how else to get this to you so I'm going to post it here.

    NYU Prof Vows Never to Probe Cheating Again

  20. Mike Says:

    1970s, 80s, 90s…today…the classics never get old.

    You forgot, "I never thought it wouldn't happen to me…"

  21. evrenseven Says:

    yeah dude that was LOTS of fun. thanks for the great start to my Friday.

  22. WyldPirate Says:

    N says:

    "An eating disorder is a mental illness. It is not an addiction."

    Addictions have mental and physical components as well just as eating disorders do.. "Curing" the physical part rarely fixes the mental part of an "addiction" whether that addiction is overeating, heroin or under-eating/over-exercisng

    You could stand "educating" yourself some more as well.

  23. Liebchen Says:

    This happened to my sister. Once, when my mother took her shopping, the size 0s were too large. My mother said "That's OK, we can find you something in the children's section." That got through to her, and she's been healthy and strong ever since.

  24. jeneria Says:

    Having been anorexic, I can tell you it won't do any good. For the most part she'll take it as a compliment. Anorexia/over exercising are in part about control. Usually it's the one part of your life you feel like you have control over. And you're not going to give that up.

    By intruding into her life, as a stranger, you're just going to freak her out. I guarantee you her friends and family are telling her to stop and it's not making any impact. It won't until she literally collapses.

  25. Tosh Says:

    ONLY YOU CAN SAVE A LIFE…
    (decide well sir)

  26. Tosh Says:

    The fact that you have thought about it is the first step.
    That you have asked other about it is the second step
    (hell, you're halfway there)
    The third step is to ask for help, and you will act when the time is right. The outcome cannot be predicted, but if you have satisfied yourself, everything gonna be alright.

  27. deany Says:

    I can't speak to the specifics of whether or how to intervene in the case of someone with an (possible) eating disorder, but I think in a more general sense, it's better to reach out to someone than not.

    When I was in college, I saw a girl I knew only enough to nod hello to as we passed on campus get slapped by her boyfriend. She turned and walked through the now-silent hall alone as everyone watched her and no one helped her. A few days later, I passed her in the hall and stopped to say I hoped she was OK. What came out of our conversation was that she'd wished someone — anyone — had come up to her and walked with her, walked to campus security, just been with her so she wasn't so alone. I was so ashamed that I hadn't done anything.

    From the other side: I bruise easily, so when I had my wisdom teeth out, my jaw was deeply bruised. The bartender at the restaurant where I worked took me aside and quietly asked if I needed help. I wasn't being abused, but I was really glad there was one person who took the signs seriously enough to ASK.

    It's true that you don't know how the other person will respond, and I suppose it happens that sometimes the person doesn't want to hear it and gets angry… but I think if you come from a position of real concern without condescension or superiority, human contact can only help. For me personally, I won't be happy with myself if I let someone who clearly seems to need help swing in the wind without trying to make contact and offer what help I can, whether they take it or not.

  28. N Says:

    To wyldpirate–you are right, of course; I worded my comment poorly. I meant that a direct comparison to a drug or alcohol addiction was probably not the best 1:1, as it seemed that was the direction some comments were going. The key point here is choice. You don't choose to get a mental illness. I think drug or alcohol addiction can be different. Some people choose to become addicted to drugs or alcohol by virtue of irresponsibility. They want to have fun and it goes too far. I DO realize some people self-medicate their mental illness with drugs/alcohol and become addicted that way (or have other underlying issues as you note), and I exclude those people from that statement. It can be a gray area.

  29. acer Says:

    Every situation is different. Even this vivid description of yours doesn't tell me enough to know if speaking up would be wise.

    I'll just throw this in. When I was in college, I became severely anxious/depressed, and was prescribed a rather large dose of benzodiazepines. These drugs, as it happened, produced a particularly powerful effect when mixed with hard alcohol. I promptly went from a typical heavy-drinking undergrad to a guy with, on top of everything else, a serious drinking problem.

    I survived some really dangerous situations and got uninvited from a few friends' homes, and I was sick and exhausted most of the time, but I was convinced that this was normal and what college was all about. I made no effort to cut back until after spending a weekend in jail, at which point EVERYONE I KNEW mentioned that they were glad I was dialing it down, that I'd gotten a little scary there. Gee, thanks, guys. If ONE person had spoken up beforehand, I think it would have made a difference.

  30. parent-of-anorexic Says:

    Hi

    My daughter (high school) is anorexic, still recovering (knock on wood). Anorexia is best considered a mental illness. There's no point in talking to the patient about the illness until she gains back close to normal weight. So expressing concern to her about her condition is fairly pointless.

    I would ask staff at the gym for her name, with the explanation that it looks like she needs help, since they would otherwise consider it an invasion of privacy. Then assuming she's a student, go to the student health service and tell them her name and your story of her history. They will know much more about her medical history, the locality- and age-dependent issues of intervening, etc. They will know better how to approach her. Unfortunately if she's old enough there may be legal requirements that she agree to treatment, which she probably won't. There are usually ways to impose intervention, but that's typically hard to arrange.

  31. moi Says:

    I saw this happen to SO MANY girls when I went to a large state university. No one said anything to most of them. Their own mothers thought they looked great, even when they were clearly getting close to organ-failure thinness.

    It might be rude to say something, but you might be the only one to say something.

  32. moi Says:

    Also, yeah, my #1 recommendation would be saying something to the Dean of Students. It's their job to intervene when a student needs help like this girl obviously does.

  33. Ellie Says:

    Well, for what it's worth….

    Have some second-hand experience with anorexia, domestic abuse, and alcoholism/drug abuse. As in, I've had more than one roommate, friend, or relative involved in one or more of them.

    What I've been told by professionals (and, in some cases, layman's literature) back's up N's statements on eating disorders and addiction.

    Supposedly, the nature of anorexia lends itself to interventions – but those interventions are best handled by professionals (or at least by families and close friends under the guidance of a professional), so the correct thing to do is to contact a professional, and let them follow the correct protocol (which will probably involve family and maybe close friends but not a stranger).

    Addiction, on the other hand, is difficult to "intevene" with – the going wisdom seems to be that bystanders can "express concern" and refuse to "enable", but addicts have to choose to recover. The recommended approach for domestic abuse is a lot of expressing of concern and support, but no attempts to force the victim to leave until they are ready.

    Again, that's just what I've been TOLD when I spoke to professionals about the addict/anorexic/victim in my life. If you disagree, take it up with the professionals.

    But anyway – I'm coming down on the side of "alert the school professionals designated for dealing with this."

  34. Brad Says:

    There seems to be much optimism about Deans of Students and Counseling Centers and the like. My personal experience is that they are good at getting people involuntarily hospitalized and kicked out and not much else. Their overriding priority is to keep anyone from bleeding on campus. Maybe they do a better job with eating disorders than with mood disorders but I wouldn't count on it.

    Also, "impose intervention" has all the honesty and forthrightness of "harsh interrogation." Presumably p-o-a wants to say, "There are usually ways to lock her up."

  35. Da Moose Says:

    stick a flash light up her cootch and her breasts become headlamps. Is that in appropriate?

  36. M Says:

    dear parent-of-anorexic,

    I understand you have been threw something painful and frustrating, to see someone you love go through that. But to say that there is "no point in talking to the patient about the illness until they get back to a normal weight" is simply not true in most cases. I had a number of people treat me that way and it was both insulting and counter-productive. I think the need for "control" is often over-emphasized in discussions of eating disorders, but it is usually a factor and making someone feel completely out of control probably won't help. As it is, treatment can be frustrating and make one feel like less of a person. Yes it may be hard to get through to someone at first, because one can become "locked-in", but that doesn't mean there is no good in trying.

    to punkdavid: hitting on them is a terrible idea. the idea that it could solve something is insulting. in fact, there are some people with eating disorders who developed it in connection with sexual assault. I know at least two who were partially motivated by a disgust with their adult bodies and a desire to become *undesirable* to men. Though the fact that eating disorders aren't really about being attractive should be sufficient reason to not employ that strategy.

  37. moi Says:

    Brad, isn't it more important that this girl NOT DIE than that she avoid hospitalization and pass all of her classes this semester?

  38. Em Says:

    Say something. Or say something to someone else. It may not work out but it's hugely better than doing nothing.

  39. Mackeyser Says:

    Best advice ever:

    Be a Human Being.

    Say Hello.

    Introduce yourself.

    Compliment her work ethic and tell her that you've noticed her change.

    Then listen.

    Be a Human Being. (not that you aren't, just saying that all too often, this advice is the last given). Listen. You'd be amazed how often THAT very thing is the one thing no one took the time to do.

  40. Quixy Says:

    A friend of mine this last semester pointed a girl out to me in the cafeteria and essentially told me this very story about her: how she'd been on the hefty side and now you could see her collar bone through her shirt. It then came up where she lived a few years ago when we were freshman, and it turned out we lived on the same floor, and I used to see her and say hi to her all the time, but now, I didn't even recognize it was her and it took me a good 5 minutes of socially unacceptable gawking to realize who it actually was.

    I felt the exact same way Ed. There was something that was strangely compelling me to go over and talk to her, even though I knew I wouldn't ever actually do it in a million years because, more than being compelled to try and help, it seemed to be the WRONG thing to do for me to go over there and say something. Is that societal? I don't know. It's weird that it was unquestionably the correct decision for me to sit there and not say anything. Sure it seems to boil down to "it's none of my business" and "I can't save the world" but what the hell is that?

  41. Politicalguineapig Says:

    While it sounds likely that it is anorexia, please keep in mind that eating disorders are not the only things that can cause extreme weight loss. One of my friends has had a very unfortunate year, medically speaking, and she now looks like she could blow away. She was slim before, but very healthy looking.
    That said, the young woman in your post sounds like she needs some help.

  42. g Says:

    This reminds me of the Jill Sobule song "Lucy at the Gym."

  43. prosopopeia Says:

    I had almost exactly this experience at the gym on my campus: the undergrad was on a treadmill, and already looked sickly thin, as I was going around the outside of the gym. After an hour or so, she had stopped—her nose had started gushing blood. She was back two days later on the treadmill.

  44. Mari Says:

    I used to deal with the same internal struggle at IU's pool where every day I would encounter The Super Scary Skinny Lady. Over the course of 5yrs I learned her name and profession and may have had an opportunity to help her. It's hard to say. It's hard to watch.

  45. Amanda Says:

    Speaking as someone who has recovered from anorexia, I will tell you that while your inclination to say something may be good intentioned, it often has the opposite effect. Anytime anyone commented on my body, I worked harder to get thinner. I wanted to be in control of my body, nobody else was allowed to tell me what to do with it, and whenever anyone did, I got angrier and thinner.

    You're not a professional. You cannot help her. Not being a professional and not knowing what you're doing will only make things worse.

  46. Brad Says:

    moi, do you really think the Dean of Students gives a shit whether she dies or not? Or is it just a question of whether she dies on campus? Do you really think that what amounts to basically getting thrown in jail makes people less likely to kill themselves in the long run? Or does it just make it less likely to happen on campus ('cause the skinny bitch got thrown out for her own good)? Having had multiple "imposed interventions" myself, I can certainly say that the main effect has been that I avoid hospital psychiatrists at all costs.

  47. LanceThruster Says:

    Though my observation is pretty much an apples an oranges comparison with regards to anorexia, I'd like to add it because it addresses the issue of helpful strangers and medical issues. I have/had a bad complexion since sophomore year in HS (Class of 75). One day at lunch the HS janitor approached me and said, "Did you know that Coke you're drinking is one of the worst things for your skin?" Before I could say much he went on to say that his 5 daughters all had bad skin but had a remarkable turnaround since going to this new dermatologist in the neighboring city (the daughter in my class *was* drop dead gorgeous). He said the part of his approach that was most effective was diet (but not in the conventional sense). I awkwardly accepted one of the doctor's business cards and made an appointment (had been going previously to the one under my dad's med ins). Sure enough, what the janitor had told me was true. The diet dealt with avoiding certain foods that did turn out to wreak havoc with my skin. And this was before the "cure" (Accutane) came out.

    I was always grateful to this man for singling me out despite the how uncomfortable people noticing my complexion made me feel.

    Despite this fact, when I see students at the college I work at, or young people out and about with the severe scarring acne I had, I tend not to approach them and tell them about Accutane (or the diet list) even though the whole time I'll be desperately thinking about a way to hurriedly broach the subject without embarrassing them. About the best I can muster is to bring it up with someone that I've already interacted in some other way, however trivial.

    I still feel bad for the kids that I do not "single out", knowing the treatment could be remarkably effective, based on the the fact it might cause either of our egos to be wounded to some unknowable extent.