Scales in the locker room? Rebecca and Tracy say “yes”

Picture of a white upright white gym scale with a black platform to stand on and slider weights on the top part to move across to determine weight.I love it when Sam and I have amicable disagreements about some of the issues we blog about. It doesn’t happen a lot. We are boringly like-minded in so many ways. But when it does, we have fun with it. As we said to each other just yesterday, we’re each the other’s favourite person to disagree with. It’s always congenial and, because we each have a lot of respect for the other, we can live and learn from where we part ways.

The latest issue where this happened is the scales-in-the-university -locker-room-issue that Sam wrote about yesterday. She’s in favour of ditching them. 

Her two main reasons:

  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.

Things heated up in the comments pretty quickly as Rebecca and I and a couple of other people jumped in to disagree.

Rebecca and I have both come out as having histories that include eating disorders. So it may seem odd that we actually support the idea of scales in the locker room. Here are some of our reasons, quoted from the comments.

Scales are for more than monitoring weight loss. 

Rebecca: 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.

If the home scale is the main alternative, scales in the locker room are a better option.    

Tracy: I’m not opposed to scales in the locker room. For many, the only alternative is a home scale. 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.

Rebecca:  [About the idea] 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.                                                                                                                                                    

Having scales available only in doctors’ offices (as an alternative to home scales) is an unnecessary and unwelcome medicalization of weight and weight monitoring as a part of health monitoring.

Rebecca: [in response to a comment about doctor’s opinions about weight] My doctor is about the last person I want in charge of my weight…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.

Tracy: [Y]ou 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.

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

Removing scales from the gym equates scales with weight loss in a way that is not helpful, accurate, or healthy. [variation on the first point]

Rebecca: 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.

Rebecca: 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.

Lots of things in the gym are possible tools for weight loss. Why single out scales?

Tracy: Getting rid of [scales] from gyms strikes me as the wrong way to go… 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.

In the end, we sort of landed, along with Sam, on the idea that having gym scales in separate cubicles, like toilets, would be a good compromise. That way it wouldn’t be like a siren call to unsuspecting people walking by because it would be hidden away a bit. We could also avoid the comments and assumptions people feel entitled to make when they see someone getting on the scale.

Rebecca (re. the cubicle idea): 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.

Tracy: 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.

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

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

Rebecca: Oh ffs. Just f*ck off.

Sam (so polite): Yep. I don’t say that but I think it.

The other thing that came up is that often (though not always) gym scales are more accurate than home scales. Like much of the equipment we use, gym quality stuff is better. And like anything in the gym, we can use it for good or ill. It can trigger us, or not. Getting rid of the equipment won’t solve the problem.

So I ask again, what do you think of scales in the gym locker room?

About Tracy I

Writer, feminist, vegan, triathlete, sailor, philosopher, sometimes knitter.

11 thoughts on “Scales in the locker room? Rebecca and Tracy say “yes”

  1. Fatima says:

    I am of two minds in regards to scales in the locker room. This week, I saw a child, around 8, stand on the scale to get a better view of the TV in the locker room, at my local Y. At first, I thought ‘somebody should tell her mother to tell her to get off’ then thought ‘no, stay on it. Break it little Khaleesi, break the weight loss wheel.”

    However, every Monday I stand on this scale to weigh myself. I do it to make the thing less scary at the doctor’s office and to look the thing in its digital eye. This week I gained a pound but my jeans fit better. So I remember my clothes, how much I don’t want to grow out of them, and regulate the scale to an afterthought. I still don’t if the little girl broke the locker room scale. 😉

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    • Tracy I says:

      This type of terrorizing idea of the scale is exactly what kept me off it for so many years. If I can view it as information instead of judgment I can use it. But as soon as it involves judgment or determines my mood in any way, I pack it up and avoid it, sometimes for years at a time. Good luck with your difficult relationship with the scale.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Heather Veltman says:

    I do not own a scale at home–nor have I ever. I did not grow up with one either. I enjoy the quality of the gym scale because home versions are less accurate. I do feel a self-conscious twinge when I climb on the scale, feeling a bit silly as I take off my shoes and watch. No one has ever made comments or looked at me as far as I have noticed, but I also purposely go into my little bubble and tune out–or keep listening to my music. I just think to myself “weigh yourself and get over it, no one really cares”.

    I find that the fact that the scale is out in the open prevents me from using it too often, as I might be tempted to check my weight since I like tracking. Usually I use the scale once a week, other times once a month.

    Overall I have a pretty good body image but I need the scale to reassure me, in the same way as my heart rate monitor does. How are things going? Although my sports activities and nutrition are relatively constant–so is my weight. But every now and then I assume that my body is changing—it ”feels” different (so says my mind) especially if I’ve been to more dinner parties than usual, enjoying food and friends, Time and again, I realize that my weight fluctuates a bit, but stays within 2-3 pounds. This gives me a lot of freedom, as I have learned over my 4 year fitness journey to enjoy movement and trust the process. Since last June, I have had a knee injury which has prevented me from my usual sports activities (running, swimming, martial arts). I almost fell into a depression during all these long 8 months of waiting to heal a micro tear in my meniscus. Realizing how much muscle I have lost and seeing that I have gained 5 pounds recently (since I hadn’t weighed myself in six months) has helped me seek more professional help to heal my knee. The scale has been more of a friend than foe.

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    • Tracy I says:

      Your story of scale as more friend than foe is unusual. Congrats to you on finding it a helpful source of info that doesn’t make you feel badly about yourself.

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  3. karenashg says:

    I will use a scale after an intense workout to help me check in with my hydration levels. Down a couple pounds=keep hydrating.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Dmitri Pisartchik says:

    The scales have been “temporarily” removed from, at least, the men’s change room at Western University – for the last two weeks! I can only hope that this is not related to the Carleton disaster.

    There is a connection between exercise and weight loss – I am an example of it, having shaved off close to 20lbs in the last 6 months. That didn’t happen by positive thought alone. It took getting up at 5am 5 days a week, working hard and measuring my progress. When I would fall out of my routine, I couldn’t lie to myself that it was inconsequential – the scale didn’t care about what I would be telling myself. Besides, scales are not just about tracking weight loss, they are also a means of tracking progress in the other direction – weight/muscle gain. Bottom line – there is a connection between exercise and weight.

    Which brings me to something else that must be said. If I know myself to be triggered by the mere presence of a weight scale in a public space like a gym, then I shouldn’t be at the gym. I should be seeing a therapist about my abnormal (dare I say, pathological?) anxiety. I must recognize that it is my problem, to be dealt with by me. No one else can solve it for me, no matter how helpful or well-intentioned. Even if every last scale was vaporized from the face of the earth, my underlying problem (and it may have nothing to do with weight at all!) would remain, and would (sooner or later) manifest in something else that I would find triggering.

    No one should be forced to go on the scale. No one should be goaded or teased into going on the scale. People struggling with their weight (on either side of the spectrum) should be encouraged and praised for their efforts to take control over their lives. But the rest of society should not be expected to play therapist and public spaces treated like therapy rooms. To do so would be to infantilize and thereby show a terrible lack of respect for people that are supposedly being helped.

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  5. Tracy I says:

    Interesting and thanks for your thoughts. I’m surprised that they took the scales out of the men’s locker room. I’m not going to contest the idea that exercise can assist in weight loss. However, the point is that exercise is not only or even primarily for weight loss because weight loss is not an essential component for being healthy and physically fit. There are way more reasons to exercise — better reasons — than weight loss. Many of us exercise a lot and experience very little weight loss. And the body adapts so that the same amount of exercise does not always serve that goal. It must be adapted and increased. So there had better be other reasons to exercise. That is why it’s troublesome to strongly link exercise with weight loss and to link scales with the sole purpose of tracking weight loss in the way that (ironically) feeling the need to remove the scale in order to address eating disorders does. Scales have other uses.

    Also, I’m going to generalize and say that women have a much more troubled relationship with weight and weight monitoring and weight policing and with eating disorders than men do. I purposely avoided commenting on the posts that suggested removing scales was coddling or pandering, depriving people of opportunities to grow up and make adult choices.

    And as a matter of fact, I do not think there is any good reason to praise people for losing weight, even if we acknowledge it as difficult to do successfully (because it is — five years out the vast majority have gained it back). I am much more inclined to want to stay silent when a friend is losing or gaining. None of my business. I do not monitor or comment even if I know they are actively trying to lose weight. The assumption that we ought to congratulate people for their weight loss efforts rather than change our cultural assumptions about the admirable nature of losing weight strikes me as wrong-headed. Permanent weight loss is not sustainable for most people. It is not a moral success or a moral failure to lose or gain.

    Scales do trigger lots of people precisely because we have been conditioned to associate them with only one thing: tracking weight loss. I think the solution of making them available in cubicles or behind curtains addresses that issue in a way that balances the issues quite well. It recognizes the reality that they can be triggering while also recognizing the reality that there are other uses to which scales can be put than as tools for weight loss (and further, that if you’re using it as a tool to help track weight loss, that’s okay too. That is not a problem for everyone even if it is for many).

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  6. Sarah says:

    I really dislike having scales in gym changerooms, at least in open spaces where they are usually kept. The fact that my current gym doesn’t have one was a big deal to me when I first started going there, and it was a good example of the many ways that it is mostly a weight-neutral space (e.g., they don’t have weight loss contests, they don’t advertise classes with the promise of losing weight, they don’t post before-and-after shots on the walls, they don’t assume everyone in a larger body there is hoping to lose weight, etc).

    I find it hard to separate out how incredibly toxic the environments of many, many exercise facilities are when it comes to how weight is discussed/treated, and so I have a really hard time imagining the idea of a scale being in one of those places and being totally neutral to the majority of the folks there.

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