Miss Manners: OK to answer ‘thin’ question honestly
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I come from a family in which the women tend to be overweight. In my teens, I was following in my relatives’ footsteps; to be blunt, I was fat.
However, when I was 16, I went on an eight-month diet, lost all the extra weight and have kept it off ever since, via nothing more strenuous than portion control and some daily exercise.
I am now 52. As I’ve aged, I’ve been asked more frequently, “How do you stay so slim?” I answer honestly: “Well, I don’t eat too much, and I try to get some exercise every day.”
I have been told that I am being rude. The woman who said this explained that the question, “How do you stay so slim?” doesn’t require a real answer; it is merely a compliment. If I answer truthfully, I am implying that the questioner does eat too much and doesn’t get exercise.
Fair enough, I suppose. However, according to my accuser, I am supposed to respond, “Just lucky, I guess,” or “It’s genetic.”
Miss Manners, I am not going to claim that I was blessed by the weight gods when I wasn’t, and I feel that I’m not telling anyone anything she doesn’t already know: The way to avoid weight gain is not to eat too much and to get some exercise. However, if you agree that I am being rude, I’ll avoid this answer. But could you suggest what I might say instead without actually lying?
GENTLE READER: There are many conventional questions of the “How are you?” variety for which an “honest” answer is neither expected nor welcome. Given how alarmingly common the weight question has become, Miss Manners can understand why your acquaintance thinks it has fallen into this category.
This does not, however, lessen the fact that the question itself is, if asked casually or of a stranger, not complimentary, but rude. Compliments take the form, “You look wonderful” – and then only in situations and with people about whom it is acceptable to notice personal attributes. While you are under no obligation to answer the question, you cannot justly be called rude for doing so.