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?

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