Scaling back the damage: Why I ditched weighing myself

Alice French 7 November 2016

Let me start by saying I have never been one of the ‘skinny’ girls – but for five long years I was ddetermined to become one. I was fortunate in that my focus never developed into an eating disorder, but nonetheless, it was often obsessive. I calorie-counted my way through my teenage years, weighing myself every day, fixating over any slight change, good or bad. I tried and largely succeeded in gradually losing weight and in this I have no regrets. But I do wonder what stepping on the scales actually did for me.

Our lives are governed by numbers: we plan our day into twenty-four hours, our essays into a number of words, our university life around the numbers we get from Student Finance (and we count down the days until this number comes). Problems begin when we start assigning numbers to ourselves. As the recent class-list controversy suggests, these personal numbers are not always ones we want to share, or indeed ones that necessairly have any value at all. Our weight is but one of these measures, and potentially the most distressing, because when we are given a number, our weight is immediately placed in comparison to others or our own desires.

In a world where discussions of health oscillate awkwardly between celebrations of increasing life-expectancy to condemnations of unhealthy lifestyles, the need to ‘watch one’s weight’ seems self-explanatory. The efficiency and simplicity of the scales has much appeal. But for me, the scales were the greatest obstacle towards the improvement of my body confidence. Whenever I met my goal-weight, it was never enough: I just didn’t look how I imagined I would, I still didn’t love myself. It was then I realised that there was a much deeper issue here, one the scales would never solve. Your weight isn’t just a number: it is a self-administered verdict on how you rate yourself. The purpose of scales is to provide a definitive and objective assessment, but our personal associations with that number are anything but objective. Scales will give you the truth without passing judgment on it. While some may argue this is a great benefit, I feel this often does more harm than good: it means we alone are passing the judgment. Our views on our weight go unmediated, our insecurities run wild.

In any case, it is increasingly evident that scales are inherently limited in diagnosing one’s health due to their inability to distinguish between weight from fat and weight from muscle. In light of this and my own personal development, I have more or less exorcised the scales out of my life. I am no longer at the mercy of numbers, no longer positioning myself on graphs or comparing myself to an ideal. At the moment I adhere to my mum’s system of weight-watching, namely the tight-trousers test. While it won’t give me numerical accuracy, it will base my views on my body by how I feel, which to me is the unit of greater value.