I don’t know about you, but my relationship with the scale has never been a good one. Even today, as a seemingly outspoken, empowered woman in her late 20s, ask me to step on the scale and I immediately regress to my former, chubby 12 year-old-self. All at once, I’m no longer in the present, but rather I’m stepping onto my parent’s medical scale after a week of eating little more than cottage cheese and obsessively working out to Jane Fonda’s aerobics VHS tapes. If the number on the scale went down – things were great. In my mind, I’d made my parents proud, I was that much closer to wearing the clothes I wanted to, and maybe, with just a few more pounds, I’d finally have my first kiss. Can you guess what happened if the number on the scale didn’t go down? All hell would break loose. I’d be miserable for days, I’d mentally criticize the food I had eaten, and I’d tell myself I was undeserving of anything and everything I wanted in life. Yes, at just 12 years old, my brain was already an aggressive version of Minesweeper with the scale doing all the clicking.
As a trainer I hear my clients, both men and women, complain about the scale. Now, I measure my clients’ progress by other means – never do I require them to report weigh-ins. I find that measuring progress and change by factors such as: how much has your deadlift increased, or has your endurance improved, or even are you feeling more empowered today provide much more positive feedback. Should a client have specific esthetic goals, I am willing to assist in calculating body fat percentage when requested. But the scale…well the scale is tricky – it doesn’t differentiate between water, fat, or muscle. The scale can fluctuate depending on time of day, temperature of the room, or even because of what you are wearing. It’s not a perfect system, and yet it’s the measurement we often put the most stock behind.
I’m very understanding as to why – the subject of total bodyweight is everywhere. This starlet weighs “x,” you’re obese if you weigh “y.” If you haven’t yet realized – body image issues are slammed in our faces every day and with it the basis for our own self-worth. To be considered sexy you must be below a size “x,” clearly she can’t control her eating if she weighs “y.” Ask me the names of my college professors and I can only name a few. Ask me what I weighed at any point during my life starting from age 12, and I can tell you without hesitation.
The other day I was indulging by watching “Bridget Jones’ Diary.” It’s one of my favorite movies, and I have watched it probably close to 50 times over the years. This modern version of Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice” has resonated with me from day one. I watch the movie and envision myself as Bridget – far from perfect, always a little overweight, but loveable in her own right. I remember hearing the buzz around the movie and it’s ultimate sequels. “Renee Zellweger gained 30 pounds to play the role.” I remember people reflecting how terrible she looked. “Why on earth would a woman who could achieve the frame she had in Chicago willingly gain all that weight?” I heard this kind of talk so often that I know deep down I viewed her (re: me) the same way – that is until this most recent viewing.
Bridget Jones mentions her weight multiple times throughout the film. Her heaviest? A whopping 131 pounds. Seriously? Bridget Jones – that pop culture icon best remembered for being “fat but loveable,” the one that’s always referring to her “huge arse,” weighed in at one hundred and thirty one pounds. I get that frames are different. I get that 131 pounds on the very petite Renee Zellweger looks much different than 131 pounds on me, but holy crap, are you kidding?! I’ll go ahead and admit right now, I haven’t seen below 150lbs since high school, and honestly, I don’t want to. For my physique, for my frame, for the activities I enjoy doing, dropping below 150 would start to look scary for me. But the thing that frustrates me the most is the lack of understanding on this conversation. “Bridget Jones says she is fat at 131lbs – therefore, I must be fat weighing 140lbs.” I know you’ve all had similar notions for yourself because that is an exact thought I had back in junior high. Another person’s weight (especially a fictional one) should make no claims on you, but this all remains a dangerous conversation, doesn’t it? It’s hard as a young mind to differentiate between what media is building up for purposes of a story or an ad, and what is the actual truth.
So here are a few truths for you. Muscle does not weigh more than fat. 1lb of muscle = 1lb of fat, however, muscle is much denser and compact. Therefore, 131lbs of muscle will always look smaller than 131lbs of fat. The scale can only tell you one thing – your body’s relationship to gravity. It cannot tell you how smart you are, how hard you work, how much heart you put into your relationships, or even how attractive you are. I know that last one is hard to believe, but it’s true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and frankly the only beholder that matters is you. It’s your body, it’s your life, and at the risk of only getting one – be sure it’s spent focused on your own happiness. I’ll aim to do the same.
Step one: step off the scale.