The year that I was 14, I weighed myself every morning. The mood of my day was determined by the number I saw on the scale. If the number was low, I deemed myself worthy of having a smidge more confidence for the next 24 hours. But if it was higher than expected, I spent the day feeling disgusting, gluttonous, and out of control. Both the media and medical landscapes of the mid-2000s, the era of my early teens, put a generous emphasis on weight. It was the age of quickie weight-loss supplements and crash diets like TrimSpa and SlimFast. It was a time when it seemed like every cover of every tabloid featured some celebrity who'd gotten "too fat" or "too skinny." In the spring of 2007, a now infamous email went public, written by Nicole Richie to her friends, inviting them to her Memorial Day party. It read, "Let's glorify this day in your sluttiest tops and your tightest pair of Tsubi jeans. … There will be a scale at the front door. No girls over 100 pounds allowed in. Start starving yourself now. See you all then!!!" It was meant as a joke and obviously ridiculous, but teenage me was scarred—not just by those words, but by the attitude toward weight shared by our general culture at the time. I grew up obsessively weighing myself, and it wasn't healthy. I can't help but think perhaps others in my generation had a similar experience.
When I was younger, I had absolutely no idea that a person's health (or attractiveness) was based on anything more complicated than weight. Perhaps it was this inundation of weight-related messages from magazines and advertisements or poorly delivered information in health class or some combination of all of it, but I genuinely thought as long as you were skinny, you were in good health. Before doctor's appointments, I'd literally fast, making drastic cuts in my calorie intake in preparation for stepping on that dreaded beam scale. My blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, hormones, nutritional levels—none of these stats mattered to me. I never focused on how my body actually felt or how well my brain could concentrate. All that mattered to me was that damned number on the scale.
After a decade of personal growth, education, and advancements in our culture's knowledge about nutrition, I now realize how shockingly uninformative your weight is in determining your overall state of physical health. According to registered dietitian Lauren O'Connor, the number on the scale can help you "gauge whether or not you are within an ideal range for your height and build." But the operative word there is “range." As O'Connor says, "There should be no worry over an exact number, as weight can fluctuate depending on what you've been eating or where you are within your menstrual cycle." Not only that, but it is a myth to assume that we are all built the same and that every 5'3" person should weigh an equal amount. "Factors such as bone size and frame, muscle mass, and even age play a role in the ideal weight range for an individual," explains O'Connor. And either way, it's not an important enough stat to consume your entire attention. "Obsession with a number on the scale can lead to unhealthy behavior (e.g. food restrictions or obsessive exercise habits)," O'Connor says.
Despite now knowing this wisdom, I still find myself fretting over my weight—allowing it to control my mood. I recently overheard an absolutely beautiful woman about my age mention that she listed her "goal weight" on her driver's license, as if that number was so anxiety-inducing for her, she couldn't even be honest with herself or with the DMV. If it were our blood pressure we had to list on our driver's licenses, can you imagine us feeling so distressed or placing our self-worth on that number for even a second? We have been traumatized into crash-dieting and hating ourselves by the poorly informed, weight-obsessed culture in which we grew up.
One of my good friends just gave birth to a baby girl, and it breaks my heart thinking about that cool little kid ever wasting even an hour of her life unnecessarily fixated on her weight. So here's an idea that occurred to me: Let's raise the next generation to not care. We forget how impactful subtle messages like keeping a scale in the bathroom, complaining about a five-pound weight gain, or keeping negative tabloids in the house can have on impressionable young minds (or on one another, for that matter). For the betterment of future women's confidence, productivity, and actual health, let's all agree, as best we can, to forget that weight ever existed. With young people, friends, and ourselves, we can base our health conversations on how we feel, the delicious balanced meals we're making, and the cool workouts we're trying, instead of our weight.
This isn't a vote for self-censorship or political correctness but instead for focusing on what factually matters in terms of fitness. I don't know about you, but if I had a 14-year-old daughter, I'd want her to spend her mornings not weighing herself but kicking ass and loving herself along the way.
What was your experience with the scale growing up? Feel free to DM me your thoughts on the matter @amanda_montell.