The Bathroom Scale: Just One Way to Obsess About Your Weight

Zero Gravity Bathroom Scale

I have been puzzling all week over Sandra Tsing Loh’s essay, “Taking a Leap of Faith Onto the Scale,” which ran in Sunday’s New York Times Styles section. And I do mean puzzling. Because it starts out with such promise.

As we edge into the new year with too many resolutions, I can say I am at least one of the few American women who is not obsessed with her weight. This is because after spending 48 years (and 48 New Years) together, my weight and I have finally struck a deal. Yes, by necessity, we still cohabitate […] but it doesn’t ask after me and I don’t ask after it.

Hooray, right?! As part of that majority of American women who does obsess about her weight, I am so inspired and delighted whenever one of us stands up and says screw it. It is just a number. There are so many better and more accurate ways of tracking your health and happiness. There is so much else you could be getting done with your time, when you are instead obsessively hopping on that scale.

But then Loh tells us why she is able to exist without all this weight worry that gets the rest of us down:

The secret is to eat just one meal a day. How I do it (when I am doing it) is to ingest nothing but coffee starting from the time I get up in the morning until the clock reaches that magical number 5.

Ruh-roh.

Getting through your day on nothing but coffee and sheer grit? If Ms. Loh were a sophomore in college, her RA would be handing her pamphlets on disordered eating patterns. It’s so miserable-sounding, I can’t quite decide if she’s kidding. But even if it’s supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, I hate the fact that plenty of girls and women will read that and think “oh, so that does work.”

But here’s the thing. The rest of the essay is still sort of great: Loh decides to weigh herself “like a man,” which means hopping spontaneously on the scale out of sheer curiosity, without doing that first thing in the morning/no solid food consumed/not a stitch of clothing or even jewelry on dance that women tend to do. It also means rounding your weight off to the nearest ten-pound increment (the guys in her world think 165 is skinny, 175-185 is fine, and 195 is getting a tad heavy) rather than fretting every one-tenth increase (Loh thinks that 145 is “depressing” and 147.2 is “terrifying”). I love that idea! If you can’t deal with not weighing yourself at all, then giving yourself a ten-pound range to run around in would sure cut down on a lot of the angst.

And then she concludes with this year’s New Year’s resolution: “Back to black coffee.” And, sigh. Because trading away your bathroom scale and its attached drama in exchange for two meals a day (oh! plus sensible snacks!) feels like a pretty raw deal.

Do you weigh yourself? Have you ever tried not weighing yourself (while, I hope, continuing to eat)? I took a solid three month break from the scale over the fall and it was deliciously freeing… but I recently hopped back on. (And yes, I’ll be telling you why the change of heart very soon.)

[Photo: “Zero Gravity” Bathroom Scale by mrjorgen, via Flickr’s Creative Commons Pool.]

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22 Comments

Filed under Beauty Labor, beauty standards

22 responses to “The Bathroom Scale: Just One Way to Obsess About Your Weight

  1. I have this bizarre inherent knowledge of exactly how much I weigh all the time. The scale just confirms what I already know or gives me a nudge when I’m in denial.
    I felt liberated when I stopped weighing in for a while. Of course I stopped weighing in at a point when I felt a bit more comfortable in my body than I do right now.
    …then my weight started to creep up and I went into denial and so the scale re-entered my life. I haven’t been as obsessive about weighing in, but I have started it doing it a it more regularly that during my break=up with the scale.

  2. brianne

    I haven’t weighed myself in months. It’s great for my self esteem but bad for my waistline. I’m back at the gym and trying to eat less fast food. But I still want to avoid that number

    • Brianne: I think that makes sense! Because really, if you’re exercising and eating well — why does the number even matter? And yet just seeing it (or thinking about seeing it) gives us such agita, sigh…

  3. anne

    I NEVER weigh myself.
    I don’t own a scale and I don’t think we even had a scale growing up so it’s something that was just never a part of my life.
    I know when I gain or lose weight by the way my clothes fit.
    My only connection with the scale is at my yearly doctors appointment
    and the number usually falls within range of where I think my weight is at anyway.

    Besides, it would just be one MORE thing I would have to do in the morning and I would rather not!

  4. Elizabeth

    I threw away my scale when I was a senior in college, for all the reasons you delineate in this post. I never had an eating disorder, but I certainly had disordered eating patterns, and that number every morning was becoming way too important to how I felt about myself every day. I am weighed at doctors’ appointments, but lately I’ve been turning my back to the numbers so that I don’t have to know.

    My weight has gone up and down in the (many) years since college, for various reasons. I’m currently about half-way between my thinnest and my heaviest, and thinking this is my right size.

  5. Since putting on 30lbs (due to medication) last year the number on the scale has become completely inconsequential to me. I don’t even own a scale.

    I joined a gym at the end of last year and I’m working pretty hard on getting into shape but the number is irrelevant. I judge my weightloss based on the way my clothes fit and I’m ok with the fact that I may never be 116lbs again.

    It’s funny because I will step on the scale at the gym sometimes and briefly feel guilt or shame or anger at THAT NUMBER. But then I step off it and it’s immediately gone. I guess it still has some sort of power I just ignore it.

  6. FM

    I weigh myself when I can tell I’m getting out of my normal range (about a 5-pound range where I feel healthy and comfortable with how I look). Having experienced a span of almost a 30-pound range (as a small person) in my adult life, I feel pretty confident about the scale match to my health/comfort. If I feel I’m going over, I weigh myself to confirm and then regularly to help me lose to get back into my range. If I’m not actually over my range, I figure I’m just having a bloaty day and let it go. If I feel I’m going under, it might mean I’m sick so if the scale confirms that I start paying attention to other signs that I might have been ignoring (I have a chronic illness that eats up calories when it’s active).

  7. When I’m not pregnant, I weigh myself a couple of times a week, just to check on things. When my weight starts to creep up a few pounds, it means I need to make a few adjustments to my food and exercise, lest I stop fitting into all my pants (which happens pretty quickly). Unfortunately, weight problems run in my family, so I don’t feel that I have the luxury of tossing the scale. Having watched my parents struggle with their weight for years and years, I’d rather avoid that battle and the health problems that have come with it (for them). I’ve been about the same non-pregnant weight for the last 13 years, so it works for me.

  8. As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder for almost ten years (wow! Except the last full year has been ED-free, woohoo!), I never step on the scale except at the doctor’s office. And even then I turn around and tell them I don’t want to hear it or see them write it down. Or I argue with them about the medical necessity of it (really, gynecologist? Does that number have any effect on my reproductive health, especially when you can see I’m in a healthy range?). I threw away my scale about a year ago and I haven’t looked back since. It’s hard sometimes: my boyfriend is a wrestler, and by necessity he hops on the scale several times a day and it often piques my curiosity about what I might weigh now. But knowing that number has never done a damn thing for my piece of mind, so I prefer to remain happily clueless.

    • Such a good point about the gynecologist — I mean, I can see a case for her checking on your weight if you’re pregnant, because it’s a way of making sure the baby is developing on schedule. But if you’re not pregnant, it’s hard to see a connection between the number on the scale and your Pap smear or your STD risk or whatnot.

      PS. Congrats on being ED-free for a full year — that’s amazing! xo

  9. Helen

    I actually don’t own a scale, and only weigh myself occasionally out of curiosity when I’m at someone else’s house and they have a scale in their bathroom. Most of the time this is totally fine, but recently I got on the scale at my grandmother-in-law’s and realized that I’ve gained 25 pounds in the last five years. Yeek. After a few days of obsessing about that (yeah, I sounded really good about not owning a scale until THAT comment, I bet) I realized that until I had weighed myself, I had been totally happy, and even after stepping on the scale, I felt healthier than ever and was still just fine with my body.

    I recently checked out a book called “Good girls don’t get fat” (about how our culture’s obsession with weight is affecting our daughters) and it is both fascinating and chilling. I suppose we can only change a little bit at a time.

    • AH. This is fascinating. So it was only when you saw the number (and did the 25 lbs math) that you felt unhappy with your current weight. Before/after you felt healthy and happy. And more to the point, WERE healthy and happy. Because the number is just a number.

      I suppose that might be what some folks are talking about when they say they need the scale to get out of “denial” — but if you’re happy and healthy, I’m not so sure a little scale-denial is such a bad thing!

  10. paige

    I do not want to trivialize anyone else’s struggles with their own weight, but I am a little confused by the importance placed on the number on the scale.

    I was always taught in running clubs that the number of pounds you weigh means almost nothing. I tend to judge my own size by how I look (not that judging size in any way is a good thing). So, if your scale said you had gained 15lbs but you still looked exactly the same, would that still be seen as a problem?

    Again, I don’t want to be rude, I am just not knowledgeable about scale-stuff at all.

    • Paige, I don’t think you’re being rude. I completely agree with your premise — the number is just a number and if you’re happy with how you look and are in general good health, then why on earth does it matter if the scale reads higher or lower?

      My point in this post is that Loh’s essay presents a major contradiction: On the one hand, she’s embracing this “it’s just a number” ethos about bathroom scales. On the other hand, she’s controlling what she eats to an alarming degree (skipping two full meals a day!) in order to maintain her weight. So whether she tracks that weight in terms of a number of pounds or in terms of how her clothes fit, she’s still obsessing over the concept of weight as her main barometer of health and well-being. Which is what troubles me — especially because she’s trying to dress it up as something else by emphasizing how happy she is to stop weighing herself! Argh.

    • Miss Jane

      Part of my body dismorphic disorder means I always see someone way bigger than I actually am in the mirror. It is never consistent, so for a long time I relied on the scale to tell me that I was small as I wanted to be (turns out that size doesn’t exist). I can’t speak for everyone, but giving up the scale was a big deal for me.

      Hope that helps! 🙂

  11. Anna

    I’ve never commented before, but this post really prompted me to.
    I have never weighed myself voluntarily. As a young kid, I would get weighed once a year as part as vital statistics for my academic portfolio (and back then, weighing more was seen as good- I distinctly being wowed that my brother was over a hundred pounds). But in my teen years and over, the only time I would be weighed was if I went to the doctor, and the last time I went, I didn’t even look. The reason for that is because I don’t want to obsess over my weight, measure myself daily, or keep statistics on it. I should admit that because I sew and like to make my own patterns, I am pretty familiar with my measurements. But the difference with measurements is that there are tons, so it’s not as if ideas of health or attractiveness are being condensed into just one number that we rate ourselves by.

    • Anna, so happy you weighed in! (Gah — weight-related puns… it is clearly the end of a long day 😉 Really interesting about sewing measurements vs. the single number on the scale. Because I could also see more information = even more reasons to obsess. My scale has the potential to tell me my weight, body fat percentage and body water percentage — no idea why I even need to know how much water is in my body, and I deliberately never look at those extra numbers, because for awhile I did… until I realized, oh goodness, I’m getting anxious about my body fat and body water and I have no idea what those numbers even mean!

  12. Miss Jane

    I haven’t weighed myself in over 3 years now. Every time I go to the doctor’s office, I get on the scale backwards and ask them not to tell me how much I weigh. I’ve struggles with an eating disorder and serious body image issues for over a decade, and for me the number was scarier than anything. Knowing that what I see in the mirror will probably never make sense, I was relying on the number to tell me I was beautiful. Since I gave up the number, I have been focusing on what my body can do and how I feel in my clothes. My doctor told me I am at a really healthy weight, so I know that worrying about what it is will not help me any. As long as I fit in the clothes I have now and feel good, I am having an easier time telling myself that I do look good and I’m doing right by my body.

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  14. I wasn’t sure if she was joking about the coffee; I’m glad you caught that too. It’s “terrifying” to me that mainstream news media still give platform to these damaging anti-feminist practices and paradigms, as if they weren’t incredibly dangerous. How can a woman think she is empowered if she is so clearly still a slave to patriarchal conceptions of female beauty?

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  16. Michelle

    I was tired of the scale dictating my mood for the day/week. Going up 2lb was terrifying for me. So in this last year I rarely weigh myself. If I feel like I’ve gained, I get on the scale and realize I need to drop some pounds. But I’ve stopped weighing myself every day. These days its once every few months. I feel better about it, and better about myself now. I realized I’m not a number on a scale, that there’s more to me than that. I hear my MIL fretting constantly about her weight. I don’t want to be obsessed with my weight in my 30’s/40’s/50’s. So I just stopped weighing myself so often! Its been wonderful.

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