weight loss

Should university gyms have scales in them? Sam thinks not…

Image description: Clear snowflake against a blue background.
Image description: Clear snowflake against a blue background.

Carleton University is in the news these days for removing scales from the university’s fitness centre change rooms. Conservatives just hate this. Cue rhetoric about the snowflake generation and safe spaces. Brietbart even jumped in but I’m not linking there.

See Conservative news outlets slam Carleton University gym for removing scales.

And Carleton University comes under heavy criticism after gym scale removed.

Why did they get rid of the scale?

Gym officials made the decision to keep up with “current fitness trends,” Bruce Marshall, health and wellness manager at Carlton Athletics told the school newspaper The Charlatan.

“We don’t believe being fixated on weight has any positive effect on your health and well-being,” Marshall told the school’s newspaper.

“It takes weeks, even months to make a permanent change in your weight. So why obsess about it?

It reminded me of my big success getting rid of the scale at the London YMCA downtown branch. Now the scale I successfully had removed was in the family changeroom. It was being used by children. I wrote a letter to the Y after I watched little girls in my daughter’s swim lesson (approx age, 8-10) weighing themselves before and after class. They were standing around complaining about the numbers on the scale. “80 lbs! I’m so fat.” I wrote to the Y and said that given that they run healthy body image workshops and eating disorders support groups that having a weigh scale for children was inconsistent with their values. They agreed and wrote me a nice thank you note.

But of course university students aren’t children. They’re adults. You don’t have to use it, said lots of readers on our Facebook page when I shared news of Carleton’s decision there. I agree.

Some students think of the decision to get rid of the scale as pandering to those with eating disorders. Aaron Bens, a communication and media studies student at Carleton, wrote to CBC that he is “frustrated” by the university’s decision, which he argues is “the next escalation of trigger culture.” Others argue that the scale is necessary for boxers and rowers and others in weight competitive sports. Note though that varsity athletes rarely use the general student gym and fitness centres. Rowers, for example, have their own training rooms with a scale.

I hear the argument that students are adults and decide for themselves whether to step on the scale.

And yet.

I don’t like scales in change rooms at gyms. Here’s my two reasons why not:

  1. They perpetuate the idea of a connection between exercise and weight loss. There isn’t.
  2. Some people with a history of eating disorders may find it hard to resist the allure of the scale.  It’s why those of us who don’t weight ourselves talk about putting the scale away. It’s hard to walk by. I confess I step on the one at the university gym I go to occasionally. Why? Why?
Image description: Purple scale with a sticky note that says, "You'll never be pleased with the number I show you."
Image description: Purple scale with a sticky note that says, “You’ll never be pleased with the number I show you.”

What do you think about scales in lock rooms at university gyms? Thumbs up or thumbs down? Why/why not?

43 thoughts on “Should university gyms have scales in them? Sam thinks not…

  1. I disagree that students generally can be labeled as adults and society keeps slowing down the maturing process. Removing scales is one of many examples. There is so much immaturity I see in people in their twenties that I can’t define adult the same way I used to.

  2. They had one in the U of T changeroom and I used it and saw other women using it. It promoted disordered behaviour. I think we should look at weight like, say, any other measure only your doctor should be in charge of. And even then… doctors have spoken to me only negatively about my weight – weirdly, the most negative conversations have been when I am closest to my “healthy weight” BMI (in the US and Canada).

    1. My doctor is about the last person I want in charge of my weight. I think your post medicalizes weight in a problematic way. Weight should generally not be viewed as a medical issue at all, though as I comment below it can perfectly well be an athletic issue for totally normal reasons. Trainers and coaches need to know weights, not just doctors, and often more than doctors.

  3. Hmm. I seriously rely on my gym scale as an important tool when I am getting ready for competition. As a former anorexic with a propensity towards eating disorders, it is dangerous for me to have one in my own house – weighing myself has to be something I go somewhere to do. But I definitely need to monitor my weight near competition. I am betting tons of university students don’t have the space or money for a scale in their rooms or like me don’t want one, but tons of them are also engaged serious athletic pursuits and may need to know their weight. I think of the scale as a piece of equipment any well-equipped gym would have in order to support various kinds of training. We don’t want to get rid of all scales altogether because they serve various purposes, and gyms seem like just the right place to keep them for those purposes. So, I am in favor of them. And they have to be in locker rooms as precise monitoring often needs to be clothing-free monitoring.

    Your post makes it sound like the only reason to weigh yourself is to see how skinny you are or aren’t, but this is really unfair. Weight is integral to lots of sports, and gyms are exactly the right places to manage that.

    1. Agreed. But student athletes by and large use their own specific training facilities where there are scales. They aren’t using the general university fitness centre.

      1. Sam, you are equating University athletes with fancy Varsity athletes. I think that’s a really problematic conflation. Lots of people are serious amateurs or hobbyists or on less formal teams than that, and that’s a kind of athleticism I really care about promoting. Only the fancy University sponsored athletes get to use the fancy gyms you’re talking about.

      2. Also, having a gym scale does not necessarily equate exercise and weight loss, unless you are assuming that the only reason to go to a gym is to get exercise in some broad sense, and the only reason to track your weight is to try to lose it. That last assumption in particular strikes me as pernicious in exactly the way you are pushing back against. People also use gyms to train for specific activities. Monitoring weight, not necessarily in order to lose it, can be a very important part of that.

  4. If people want to keep track of their weight that badly, they can buy a home scale. “They perpetuate the idea of a connection between exercise and weight loss. There isn’t.” That’s the whole of it right there. I agree with you.

    1. No it’s not the whole of it. See my comments above. People are making the exact assumption they claim not to like by assuming that the only reason to monitor weight is to lose it, and the only reason to go to a gym is to blandly ‘get exercise’ in order to get skinnier.

      1. Rebecca, you’re putting words in my mouth. Some people lose weight when they exercise, some people gain it (eating disorders can go both ways) but the point I think Sam is trying to make, is that exercise shouldn’t​ be primarily about weight. Period. It should be about being and feeling strong and healthy.

  5. I’m not opposed to scales in the locker room. For many, the only alternative is a home scale (since you won’t be going to the doctor every time you want to weigh yourself and weight isn’t necessarily something you want to have as a medically supervised part of your life, I assume). But home scales have even more of a trigger factor for some of us with a history of disordered eating. For many years I could not even own one. I’m not a big fan of scales and weigh-ins. But to me the scale is similar to any other piece of gym equipment — it can be used or abused. It would be great if we weren’t weight obsessed. But overall, having scales in gym locker rooms is a better alternative than having them only available in homes or at the doctor’s office.

    1. Exactly, Tracy. This is deeply simpatico with my comments above.

      The idea above that it would be better if we framed weight as a medical issue and as up to doctors to monitor is pretty disturbing.

      1. Rebecca, yes. I like the point you make above that we need also to stop equating the scale with monitoring weight loss. Perhaps that’s the really pernicious association working in the background here. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to underplay the prevalence of the use of scales to monitor weight loss and to trivialize its impact. Getting rid of them from gyms strikes me as the wrong way to go, however. It would be like not selling carrot sticks or green smoothies at the gym because people use them for weight loss, or not having cardio classes at the gym because people use them for weight loss, or not having gyms at all because people use them for weight loss.

      2. Ooooooo this is very well put. Well done!

        Someone above commented that people should just buy home scales if they want to monitor their weight. I think that’s insensitive to the money and space restrictions of many students. But more interestingly, I’d rather see home scales become much rarer than gym scales, because I bet big money the home scales are much more frequently used perniciously and in disordered ways.

  6. Maybe we need a counterpoint post on this issue since people seem to have divergent opinions. We could co-author it, Rebecca.

    1. I love this idea (though not until tomorrow – I have a 30 page paper due for class today and shouldn’t even be online!)

    2. Great idea. Especially since I was responding to the worry about students with eating disorders but that’s not part of my history.

  7. Good discussion and lots of good points. Mulling. Sarah the engineer also points out the scales in gyms are higher quality, more accurate.

    1. Right, I don’t even bother with other scales as they are likely to make me neurotic without giving me reliable info.

  8. In our PT course we teach about hydration recommendations based on sweat loss during activity. I have seen plenty of people weigh themselves for that reason. Also, looking for gains in size etc. When I worked in campus rec we used the scales to check the quality of our hand weights as they got beat up over time….were they still weighing in correctly or time to replace them? I think we put too much emphasis on the scale as a negative tool and that perpetuates a negative correlation with being weighed.

  9. Would it help if the locker room scale was off in a corner somewhere out of sight unless you actively sought it out. Could be a compromise.

    1. Yeah, I wondered about that. I thought about a cubicle like the shower cubicle….

      1. I would prefer that for all sorts of reasons including selfish ones. I am very self-conscious about having other people watch me weigh myself, because (1) I am naked, (2) I know that just as we have seen in this thread, people will assume I am weighing myself because I am trying to get skinny, and it pisses me off, and (3) following on (2), I know lots of women are watching me and thinking “she doesn’t have a weight problem,” and feeling either resentful or patronizing towards me or both.

      2. I’m the same. I would rather be alone when I weigh myself for all those reasons. People tend to make comments that are loaded with assumptions that make me uncomfortable.

      3. Word. Comments or even just loaded looks. But the comments are the worst as they generally require some response.

  10. I get “cheering me on” style comments which I hate. You can do it. Keep at it! Etc etc.

  11. Interesting idea and very robust discussion here. My gut reaction to this news was pretty negative, but I initially wasn’t sure why. I think I’ve sorted it out, although my opinion is just that, not an answer.

    In my mind, the scale is just tool, like any of the other machines in a gym. People are responsible for how they use those tools. And the decision to remove scales feels (to me) like removing a tool that some people need/want/appreciate just because other people didn’t know how to use it or weren’t using it well.

    That is, of course, a simplification. At some point, there’s probably a tipping point when you compare the number of people who benefit from something with the people who are harmed by it. An idea like putting the scale out of sight might be an in-between improvement or solution.

    For me, having access to a scale is important. Maybe that should change, but I do have a home scale and I use it pretty regularly. I have a tendency to not eat enough when I’m busy or stressed and when I see my weight drop, it’s a trigger for me to pay more attention to giving my body the support it needs. Ideally, of course, I would catch those times by paying attention to my body and wouldn’t need an external trigger. But that’s how it is. When I was in college, I didn’t have a scale at home and I needed the gym scale to keep track of when I was pushing my body too far.

    I think that reducing this to a “snowflake” issue is certainly too far, but I’m not wholeheartedly behind wholesale removal either…

  12. Wow, amazing amount of commenting here.
    1. Like many machines in well-used gyms, scales are often broken and/or inaccurate, so sort of pointless and unnecessary.
    2. At my college gym back in the day, it seemed like more men weighed themselves than women.

  13. Love all the comments. In the end, I’m not sure what I think. I watch a lot of young women weighing themselves at the University gym I go to and I worry. Maybe I’m protecting as Rebecca says. Who knows what they are really thinking? But I hear what they are saying, to themselves, to one another, and to me and lots of it isn’t healthy.

    I like the cubicle idea. Stick it away so at least weighing oneself isn’t a public event. And those who want to stay away can more easily avoid it.

    My initial defense of getting rid of the scale had two thoughts behind it. Why the gym? Why weigh there? (RK had some good answers to that. So did Tracy.)

    I also hate the way the criticisms of the decision cast getting rid of the scale as protecting special snowflakes. You know the whole conservative response to safe spaces.

    Anyway, lots to think about. I’m still thinking.

  14. I would agree for children, it’s not necessary to have the scale for them so readily available. However it doesn’t help if their parents are seen obsessively weighing themselves…or talking so much about their weight.

    Guess, where my parents kept our famiy bathroom scale? : in the top drawer. they didn’t want us (6 children) jumping on it too often and throwing it off kilter. So it was rarely brought out for weighing ourselves. 🙂 From a healthy child development perspective, sometimes it is useful a child is weighed a few times annually. How else, are pediatricians defining child obesity that’s causing premature diabetes, heart effort, etc.? Make them run the treadmill, get the blood tests, instead of also weighing them from a physician perspective?

    And I agree, not useful to get into weigh-ins for fitnhess training, to “report” to others/self unless if professional competition of a sport makes it mandatory. It creates wrong obsessiveness or at least mini-worries.

    We’ve used weigh scale for luggage/pannier weight for airflight planning, trip planning (by bike), etc. Rather surprising how much a lot looks like but isn’t really all that heavy from a bike touring trip standpoint.

  15. I hate that “snowflake” nonsense. It reminds me of the drooling idiots–journalists, political hacks, and second-rate “social scientists”–back in the 60s and 70s who labeled college students “hairy barbarians.” (Talk about “criminalization of a generation”–we had it back then!)

    But I really can’t agree with the notion that scales in the locker room are a problem. They are not a philosophical problem, not a political problem, not a health problem. As has been said above, gym scales are usually more accurate than the bathroom scales which many people don’t own anyway. I weigh myself probably every couple weeks or so if I happen to think about it–if my weight is going up or down I want to know about it, although the fit of my jeans is also a good indicator. This is at the university rec club where I’ve been a member since 1989, And I’ve never had any comments while on the scale, or noticed any “loaded looks” aimed at me or anyone else. The only rude personal remark I’ve ever heard came from an older woman who told me I was too thin; I remember it because it really was breathtakingly rude. And, rather than flipping her the bird, I said, “my doctor doesn’t think so,” and strolled away to my locker.

    Once in a while at the gym I overhear a conversation about weight, but it doesn’t happen often, it’s as likely to be between men as between women, and it isn’t particularly fraught. Most conversations I overhear concern social events, essays, laboratory exercises, family, and so forth.

    If a gym member has a problem with the scales, they brought that problem with them to the locker room. Don’t take a useful tool away because a few people might have an obsession. Weighing oneself every day–that way madness lies.

    Incidentally, I left about twenty pounds behind in the first couple of years of regular exercise (mainly swimming), so don’t tell me exercise and weight are totally unconnected. I had gone to a doctor for a follow-up on a torn leg muscle, and she told me that I was getting out of shape (I think she meant flabby–I was not overweight) and needed to exercise more. Well, I was a bit embarrassed; it was absolutely true that, like many grad students, I’d been neglecting my physical health while researching and writing and teaching. I was not “shamed”! And if that doctor had not brought up my lack of fitness, she would not have been doing her job.

  16. Scales are torture devices. I usually do use the one at the gym I attend for class as I threw mine away years ago. I am definitely overweight and need to use it occasionally to judge progress. It should be the students’ choice yet I would be the last person to lead a charge to bring them back. Great article! I wonder my institution’s policy is on this; must inquire soon.

  17. When I finished Tracy’s article I thought: hells ya, I love this, university women are so obsessed with weight and normative appearance, smart move, etc. I was gung ho to respond here with this opinion, too.

    Now, after reading this compelling thread, I’ve changed my mind about what to say – and I’ve nuanced my thinking too. (PERFECT evidence of this blog’s wonderful epistemic – knowledge making – power!)

    I’m a university teacher. Gyms in universities are *part of our teaching and learning environment*. Why not grab this opportunity to create a series of conversations about our students’ gym habits, their relationships to weight and exercise, and to share our feelings about how the gym functions, visible and invisibly, for the constituents in our university communities?

    Above we have a number of perspectives: Rebecca’s on how amateur athletes use the scale, Sam’s on how children and those who are still emotionally connected to their childhood selves (me too, btw) use the scale, Crystal’s on how the scale can function as a hindrance to emotional wellbeing, and everything in between. I bet there are quite a few more – and I bet that we’d learn a lot from such a conversation about how “visible minority” students, and CLASS minority students, feel about their experiences in the locker room, with or without scale.

    In January I curated a “long table” performance conversation at Western about mental health and wellness on campus; it was a big success. Sam, Tracy, if you think this issue might warrant such a conversation, let me know and we can organise it together. Maybe for during exams.

    Thanks again to ALL of you for demonstrating this blog’s fantastic community power!


  18. I rarely use the scale in my own bathroom, nevermind the one at the gym. lol First, I hate that term, “snowflake”. We have had generations of it being ‘ok’ to belittle or berate others and somehow, now the millenials and others are aware of the affect it has on people and of course we become the target of another term to belittle or berate. It is never ending with certain groups that insist on flexing their proverbial muscles to show how ‘manly’ (even women do this) to bully others into conforming with how they think things should be. Anyhow…The scale. Why not? Get rid of it. Face it, you know how you look. You know how you feel. Why do we all have to have a number to guide our paths? If you want a scale, go get one. Women and men of university age have a lot of pressure to conform in one way or another so I say toss those scales and numbers be damned.

  19. I think this is a great thing for those with eating disorders! I’m so glad this is my future school! Go Carleton for cracking down on what is triggering for those with mental illnesses.
    If there are people want to weigh themselves for varsity sports, etc., they should be able to access a scale at the clubs office/meetings or they should get their own scale. They aren’t to expensive, so if it’s important to you invest in the equipment for your sport, etc.
    Great article!

  20. I’ve been attending a gym regularly now for just over 2 years and It troubles me that I see so many people obsess over this number. Even friends are solely focused on this number to the point where they won’t drink water during training because they’re afraid of the weight it contains.. =[

Comments are closed.