In the New Year, many of us go after this health and wellness thing in earnest. But since it's a new -- or at least not continuous -- pursuit for so many of us, it can be hard to know how to integrate our new regimes into our well-mannered lives. Enter Mind Your Manners, our just-in-January series on all things health and etiquette.
There are certain questions and comments that, however innocuous, almost always come off as offensive. The age-old example: Asking someone if they are pregnant. First of all, it's none of your business. Second, you might be giving someone a complex rather than a compliment.
Steven Petrow, manners columnist for The Washington Post and USA Today, puts this question firmly in the "do not pass go, do not collect $200," category. "If she’s never told you she’s pregnant, how could you possibly know for sure?," he says. "You can’t and that’s why it’s always wise to wait until she confides in you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had well-meaning people write me for advice after they asked a friend if she was pregnant only to be told: 'No, I’m not!'”
What else is nobody's business? We've rounded up a few questions that make up just the tip of the rudeness iceberg.
"Can I touch your belly?"
There is a distinct group of people living among us who think it's perfectly normal to just reach out and touch a pregnant belly, for instance. If you find yourself looking up at your screen right now and going "What do you mean that's weird?," then let this be your definite answer: Stop it.
"I’ve heard this frequently from friends and letter writers. Where are people’s boundaries? How is it that complete strangers feel it’s okay to touch your belly?" Petrow says. "Let me say clearly: It’s not. Even if you mean well. If you’re the one who’s pregnant and you see someone about to reach out, my advice is, first, to say firmly: 'Please don’t.' If that doesn’t stop them, cross your arms over your belly and take a step back. Body language can be more powerful than words."
"Were your twins 'natural'?"
Parents, in general, are catnip for the boundary-less. And anyone who diverges from a rude person's idea of what a "traditional family" is will be subjected to awkward, occasionally offensive interrogations.
Petrow rattles off just a few. "I think every gay parent-to-be gets asked these kinds of questions: Who’s the ‘real’ mother? How did you do it? Whose egg? How much did you pay the surrogate? The best answer to all of these questions, whether gay or straight, is very simple: 'When I’m ready to answer, you’ll be the first to know.' Don’t call folks out for their unbridled curiosity –- but definitely shut them down."
"I couldn't help but notice -- have you gained weight?"
You might have noticed a theme here: The rudest questions generally involve commentary about one's body. Weight gain is another topic that just shouldn't be approached, ever.
"Unless it’s a spouse, child or other close relative, I’d stop you in your tracks and say, 'Don’t.' It’s just not your business -- and don’t you think that person knows they’ve gained some weight?" Petrow says.
If you're somehow still on the fence, Petrow asks to try to think the conversation through. "I can imagine a conversation going like this: 'I’m worried about you -- you’ve gotten fat.' The friend replies: 'Who asked you your opinion?' Believe me, they don’t need you to bring it up."
Still utterly convinced that you really, really need to ask about a loved one's body? "For those in your inner circle, here’s how you do it: Very, very, very carefully. Start with, 'How are you feeling?' Again opening a door but not asking the impertinent question," Petrow says. "Maybe they’ll ask you for help -- in the form of advice or a referral. Be ready to help with that. But more likely they won’t. At least then. Maybe the next time."
"You look SO much better now! How much weight did you lose?"
If your friend or family member has lost weight or transformed their appearance in some way, a compliment might feel like a neg, often implying that they looked bad before. Petrow advises keeping your comments upbeat and positive, yet still a little more on the cautious side.
"I always like to say: 'Did you get a new hair stylist? You look terrific.' That’s innocuous enough for anyone to take the compliment and enough of an open door for that person to disclose her weight loss, plastic surgery, or new found lease on life."
When it comes to other people's bodies, though, remember this:
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