You just rolled out of bed and you're about to jump in your morning shower. You spy that scale hiding in the corner of your bathroom, and you're curious. You haven't eaten since dinner last night... Maybe your numbers have gone down. There's only one way to know, so you gently step on the scale, hoping for the best but trying to prepare for the worst. After a few seconds, you gather the courage to look down at your feet. And...
...well, does it matter? Is there a number in the world that would satisfy you? I hate to break it to you, but the answer is NO.
I see you, girl. You're already formulating your reasons for clinging to an ideal weight. I get it. I still struggle with this. So let's figure out why we think we need this number.
At some point in time, you've developed an ideal for your body. Like most other women, you played the comparison game and accepted defeat. There's a picture in your mind detailing exactly how you want to look, and along with that image, a number is attached. You've done the calculations in your head, and you know you need to lose __ pounds to earn that body. No matter how you get there, you're determined that this is the number you need to see when you step on that scale. Once you see it, all of the comparisons and ideals will disappear, and you'll live happily ever after. The end!
Let's get real. That happy ending doesn't exist, because when you take the bait to play that comparison game, you'll lose every time. There's always going to be a new and improved ideal to chase. Sure, you may feel a fleeting sense of accomplishment when you see that perfect number on the scale for the first time. But when you weigh in again and realize that you've stalled or worse, gained a pound or two (gasp!), your happy ending is already over.
I've experienced this over and over, starting at a very young age. When I think back to when this cycle of discontentment started for me, I am truly saddened. It's a narrative I hope the next generation of girls will overcome, starting with our generation of women leading them.
My Experience with Body Image
I was probably 7 or 8 years old when I began noticing my own weight. Somewhere along the line I had picked up the idea that weight gain was bad. And, as children often do, I made the association that weight gain meant that I was bad, or at least, not good enough. Think about that for a minute - I was afraid to gain weight at a time when growth was the most important thing for my body.
This is hardly an isolated case. Studies have shown that many young girls become aware of their weight and develop the idea that they need to lose weight in their early years, much like I did. They grow up believing that their weight isn't the right number, even if they're unsure of what that number is supposed to be. Soon, they begin to notice all the ways their bodies are different from other girls' bodies and narrow down their ideal body. This is when many young girls develop a poor relationship with food and exercise (but that's a topic for another day!).
From this very early age, I was both fixated on and terrified of the scale. Weighing myself was something I had to do if I wanted to be "better," but obviously, since I was still growing, my numbers went up much more frequently than they went down. And so the scale became my frenemy for years to come.
Fast forward to my early adult years, when hormonal changes caused weight to come off naturally here and there. People started noticing and commenting on the fact that I looked slimmer, and it felt good. And if the weight was coming off naturally, just imagine how much would come off if I started dieting and working out religiously! Then I'd finally be happy. The end. Cue the credits.
Yes, I did drop a bunch of weight, and yes, people noticed. And yes, I did feel good when I got on the scale! It was validation for all my hours spent working out and all the calories I deprived of myself. Even at a weigh-in at the doctors office, my nurse told me, "Wow! That's a number every girl wants to see on the scale." According to others, I had reached the ideal. But discontentment still managed to creep in, and soon the number on the scale wasn't small enough. I worked myself to exhaustion and counted every calorie I ate (shooting for under 1,000 a day!). It was absolute madness.
Ditch the Scale
I don't know what saved me from that super unhealthy, discontented comparison cycle. Maybe it was others sharing their stories, just like this one, that helped me realize that I was not alone and there was a way out. Among many changes to my diet and workout structure, one of the most beneficial ways to get out of the crazy comparison game was to ditch the scale.
No, I didn't actually throw it out. My husband uses it occasionally - he doesn't struggle with the number, he's just genuinely curious! But I am strong enough now to walk past the scale and to say no when I feel the urge to step on it. My husband will occasionally ask me, "Don't you just want to know?" And truthfully, even though I do want to know my weight, I also know myself. I know the mind games and the internal turmoil I go through when I see that number. It is NEVER good enough. It doesn't matter if I've reached my own ideal number, or if I've reached every woman's ideal. For me, stepping on that scale is taking the bait to play the comparison game. And I will lose.
Of course there are reasons for some people to consistently weigh themselves due to legitimate medical concerns. If that is the case for you, please follow the steps your doctor has given you to become healthier. However, for most women, this is not the reason we're weighing in. We do it to measure up to some ideal standard we've set for ourselves at a ridiculously young age.
Does this story sound too familiar to you? Trust me, you are not alone! If you've been rolling the dice on the comparison game, please STOP. Ditch the scale - it's not an accurate measurement of your beauty or your worth. If you feel you need to make changes to the way you eat or exercise, do it because you have made the choice, not because of an arbitrary number. Let's find positive, constructive goals to measure up to and do away with the "ideal."