Is There An Ethical Obligation Not To Shock, Nauseate, Or Blind Your Neighbors? Of Obese Joggers and #FreetheNipple

A Facebook friend posted the following letter, posted by one of her friends, and supposedly passed along by the target of the letter. The individual subjected to the complaint is reputedly trying to overcome obesity and various health issues. The letter:

Mean letter

I have my doubts regarding the authenticity of this, but it doesn’t matter to this post. I assume we can all agree that the letter itself, if genuine, is cruel, mean-spirited, cowardly (it is anonymous), hurtful, and indefensible. It does raise an valid ethics question, though, which is this: Do we have any ethical obligation any more to exhibit modesty and a degree of public decorum out of doors, when we are likely to come under the gaze of others? If so, what are that obligation’s parameters?

Some Hollywood B-listers have been agitating for an end to the alleged “gender discrimination” of city ordinances that allow men to appear topless in public, while women may not. These, of course, are generally unusually attractive people—unusually attractive people who can apparently find no real social policy issues to lend their support to—but this is the law, and we are discussing ethics. As with dress codes, the ethics behind public modesty is respect for your fellow citizens. We have the right to shout obscenities in public (most ordinances and statutes making that a crime have been declared unconstitutional), but it is still ugly, irresponsible, selfish, boorish and disrespectful behavior. We can get on airplanes, go to church, visit Arlington National Cemetery and sit in 300 dollar theater seats wearing flop-flops and wearing a tank top, but is that really ethical public conduct?

There is no question about it: traditions of modesty and decorum are often arbitrary, and we set out to destroy them, they will soon be gone. (See: The Dress Code Effect.) The #FreetheNipple crowd, for example, is pushing this beachwear…


…which is sure to be a big hit when Kate Upton or Jennifer Lawrence wears one, but perhaps less popular when the model is Rosie O’Donnell, Cloris Leachman or Nancy Pelosi. Is this really going to make society more pleasant, fair, respectful and accommodating, or just more crude,  callous, and chaotic?

Our late neighbor, a colorful veteran of two wars, used to walk his dog on hot summer days shirtless, well into his nineties. The sight was not far removed from some of the horrors that greet viewer’s eyes on “The Walking Dead,” but no one would ever have been so unfeeling as to leave a letter like the one above in my neighbor’s mailbox. But should he have been more considerate?

I think maintaining some degree of modesty and respect for onlookers in public is still a worthy societal goal. It is a value, however, that requires intelligent self-regulation and common sense, as well as some tolerance and compassion. Between the #FreetheNipple  crowd, the narcissists, the clueless, the slobs and the author of the despicable letter, I doubt that we have much of a chance at arriving at a reasonable and ethical balance.


Sources: SG Gate1, 2Huffington Post


20 thoughts on “Is There An Ethical Obligation Not To Shock, Nauseate, Or Blind Your Neighbors? Of Obese Joggers and #FreetheNipple

  1. I dunno what’s worse, this or the equally poisonous letter someone wrote to the parent of a special needs child who screamed outside every day, telling the parent to take this child to the woods where no one would have to put up with him. I see nothing wrong with taking a jog fully dressed, even if you don’t look like Josef Pilates. That goes double for working out on your own property, even if it’s visible from somewhere else. You are under no obligation to hide your fully clothed self. Funny, but I bet the author of this same letter would be the first to his window when the 26yo hottie sunbathes on her deck and might make a point of being up if he knew the 2 coeds down the block took their morning jog at 0530 on the nose.

    Are we obligated to display decorum? Of course. But how does maybe trying to lose some of that fat by doing healthy activities while fully clothed, and in one case, not leaving one’s own property, violate decorum?

  2. I give the 90-year old neighbor a pass. Anything he can do to keep moving is fine (not sure if the shirtless look was for comfort or habit/culture (my dad was raised on a farm and walked around without a shirt all the time; not my thing though).

    Same goes for the target of the letter. Exercise wear is always a little more revealing than regular clothing. Add in obesity and it may not be a pretty picture. And, we would hardly want to say that the only people allowed to exercise in public are physically attractive people. Everyone else has to pay for a gym or do it indoors? No. The cruel neighbor has to put up with the fact that there are obese people in the world (and neighborhood) who come outside and try to improve their condition through exercise. In any event, the rules of decorum for exercise have to be a little different because you have a different “uniform” for it.

    I will cut kids a little bit of slack in public because they are developing their own identity. But, at the same time, they need to learn how to dress where. Walking down the street with a hole in your jeans is fine, but it is not fine for School, Church or Court. And, hopefully it is something they are taught to outgrow.

    And, I regularly appear in public in torn jeans, but that is when I am mowing the lawn or working outside, where torn jeans and old T-Shirts are acceptable attire.

    But, absent these sorts of cases, modest attire is a good thing. I am just not sure if it is good because I owe you a duty not to offend your dainty eyeballs, or if it because I have enough self-respect not to want to look like a slob.


  3. Mixed feelings on this one. First, where is that beach and more importantly where is the young lady? Still I would feel uncomfortable about children or young teens being around her. As far as old guys with their shirt off, yes it’s not attractive but I could be on some beach in Europe or Brazil where really unattractive guys are wearing speedos.

    • Comparative Virtue, or“It’s not the worst thing.”

      I was on business in Acapulco, and I swear, a naked 300 pound woman who had to be 75 lay down on the beach chair next to mine. I almost screamed. This may explain the stream of illegal immigrants coming over from Mexico.

  4. Of course we have an ethical obligation to avoid imposing ourselves unreasonably on others, unless such imposition supports a greater societal value.

    The obese man jogging, cannot sequester himself and still become a more “attractive” specimen for the angry neighbor to then gaze upon. The obese man does have the obligation to reasonably cover himself.

    The real problem is our society doesn’t expect the attractive people to also reasonably cover themselves, because as a culture we’ve wholeheartedly been worshipping at the altar of narcissism and physicality for generations.

    That’s the source of trouble here.

    Growing up, I lived on a street that was almost exactly a mile long. Our house was close to the mid point. I used to do my homework looking out the window and one day, about 7th grade, a morbidly obese man pedaled a bicycle laboriously up the street (for there was a noticeably rough incline at our section of the street). Then about 30 minutes later he’d come back and manage to make the downhill just as painful.

    This went on for years and I never paid it any mind (because I wasn’t concerned about physicality and he was modest in his dress). About 9th grade, I paid attention again. This time a svelte athletic man, riding the same bike as the obese man, zipped by at a brisk 20 mph uphill and within a minute or two was probably breaking the speed limit on his way back. He did that route 5-6 times before ending the day’s exercise. Still modestly dressed even for an attractive fit man.

    Had he been compelled to hide his obesity further by not even appearing in public, he’d still be obese at his home.

  5. Ya know, with all of the pain and misery in this country, what kind of brain dead idiot gives their time and money to a cause as f-ing stupid as rallying so women can go topless just because men do.?

    As for the note, the author should be beaten senseless.

    • Gee, YOU’RE in a good mood today. And you weren’t even fencing with Ken!

      That silly strain of feminism has been popping up (or out) periodically since the bra-burning days. First these women will want the right to go topless, then they will be offended when men stare at them…”Hey, up here, buddy!” Follows as the night the day.

  6. Had he been compelled to hide his obesity further by not even appearing in public, he’d still be obese at his home.
    Two out of three Americans are either overweight or obese.
    It’s time to get over seeing big people exercise and mind your own business.

    Here is FL, where it is stinking hot and humid nine months out of the year, you can see all manner of under-dressed delights.
    Depending on the mental condition of your neighbors you may even see
    someone out in their Depends.
    Life isn’t always pretty.

    • “Depending on the mental condition of your neighbors you may even see
      someone out in their Depends.”

      Yikes. This is why Fark has a Florida tag, and why I stay away as much as I can.

    • As a personal judgment, person A is disgusted by fat person B displaying themselves immodestly, then they should also be disgusted by attractive person C displaying themselves immodestly. If person A is cool with attractive person C doing so, then they should be find with fat person B doing it. Otherwise they elevate physical appearance to an illogical level for making conduct judgment, it is unethical.

      For a community judgment, manners COMPELS erring on the side of people who are disgusted by immodest displays and therefore manners COMPELS people to dress modestly.

  7. What about doing something offensive rather than looking offensive?

    One day we were outside and my husband said, “go inside right now unless you want to see something upsetting!”
    It was the neighbor killing and gutting his pig.

    • Quick razor:

      If it’s a white guy doing it, he’s a horrible person engaging in animal cruelty and deserves disgust for engaging in no-longer customary or reasonable behavior.

      If it’s a Hispanic guy doing it, then it’s a beautiful example of a fine culture engaging in perfectly acceptable conduct, in fact you could learn a thing or two from the resourcefulness and industry of that individual.

    • That was called family BBQ day at my house growing up. But, I also grew up on a farm and, even on a farm, slaughters are terrifying. Good times.

  8. As a fat guy I will wear shorts and a ratty t-shirt to mow my lawn. I wonder if that neighbor would rather see me mowing the lawn or would they rather my lawn look like crap?

  9. There are many people who seem to think that the young and beautiful should show off their bodies, those of us who are no longer young or may be a little overweight should cover up from neck to toe and the worst of us who are fat or ugly should stay out of sight or wear something akin to a tent like the people in the middle east wear. But the world is not a beauty contest, each person when at home or out on the street should wear what is practicable or what they find comfortable.
    If shops, businesses, schools and clubs want to have a dress code or ban swearing then that should be their right but at home or out in the streets people should be freer in what they say or wear.

    My parents taught me that if you see anyone who is out of the ordinary, whether it is some disability they have, or if they are ugly, or if a female was topless then I should mind my manners i.e. I should not stare.
    If you shocked or nauseated when you see someone who is obese, ugly, topless or whatever then you are too sensitive, you need to do what a former boss of mine used to say “you need to harden up”.

    As for me personally on a hot day I will sometimes take off my shirt to work in the garden and if I walk to the beach I see no point in wearing my shirt that I will not be needing at the beach.

  10. If a person is fat and old and walking around, I give them credit for at least getting some exercise. What I do get appalled by are all the millennials and genyers covered with stupid tattoos which they’ll probably really regret when they are 50+. The beaches are not the private property of the young and hot even if they think they are.

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