I was in the gym the other day when I saw a young woman on a cycling machine who was clearly suffering from an eating disorder. She was distressingly thin to the point of looking ill and yet she was pedalling away as though she were desperate to burn more calories. Concerned, I mentioned her to the staff on the front desk and was told that they were aware of her, that she had been getting progressively thinner since joining over a year ago – and she wasn’t the only one, either – but that there was nothing they could do. She was over eighteen and was responsible for her own life decisions.
Whilst I understand the position of the gym staff, I do find it depressing that, as a society, we feel unable to intervene in situations where people are clearly in very real need of actual help and support. We live in a country where it is considered perfectly acceptable for the government to try to dictate our lifestyles through taxation and prohibition, allegedly for the public good, and yet it seems that we are impotent and afraid when faced with situations in which we could and ought to try to make a real difference.
Surely it is the responsibility of each of us to try to help those around us, our fellow travellers through life, by offering a hand of assistance or a word of reassurance when it is needed. Certainly I would anticipate that gyms, which attract the body-conscious and profit from their patronage, might consider employing the services of jobbing therapists who could consult with those who were perceived to be at risk. Surely no health club wants to be seen to be dealing in assisted suicides.
Clearly, however, there is more to be done than this. The media incessantly peddles images which generate neuroses and self-doubt in the population and, whilst I am no believer in a nanny state, this needs to be addressed. When profit has become the only motivation, what is humanity worth?
For myself, I only wish there was something I could have said or done. In my mind, I keep seeing the image of this young woman pedalling incessantly towards her grave, and I am trying to think of the right words to say to her if I see her again. There has to be a way of broaching the taboo of offering unsought advice. We need to drive home to people that the only thing that size zero fits into is a coffin.