Fat, Feminism, Fillyjonk

The scale that isn’t

While hunting for a gift for my mother in law, I came across these novelty scales. One substitutes affirmations for numbers, and one does away with numbers altogether — but both come with those little sliding scale markers, so you can see whether you weigh more than you did last week.


I’m a little boggled by these, I must confess. It reminds me a little of the Weight Watchers “diets are mean” campaign — a smirking little head-pat that makes body acceptance out to be “sassy” and “a little wicked.” (Those are both right out of the product description.) I object to these the way I object to Jane magazine, Sex and the City, and Sarah fucking Palin; they present themselves as feminist, or at least empowering, but they’re just patriarchy in a fake mustache. Girl power means you can wear any shade of lipstick that suits your complexion!

But on the other hand, for people trying to wean themselves off the scale, as wink-nudgy as this is I think it’s got some real potential. That’s not who they’re made for, of course — they’re made for the cartoon fat woman in a caftan and turban who eats brownies because “you only live once, darling” but then loudly laments about how she’ll have to get her turban sized up. But we all know people who need the security blanket of the scale, but can’t be trusted with knowing what it says. And then there’s the fact that, while the absolute value of your weight is meaningless to your health, significant loss or gain is the sort of thing you do want to be able to track. As hard as I’m rolling my eyes at the marketing, the scale-that-isn’t is actually not a bad idea.

What do you think? Offensive or intriguing? Is this the kind of thing that Shapelings who are still clinging to the scale should try to replicate at home for less than $95? And what should I get my mother in law for Christmas? (Actually, if you are mobility impaired or have chronic pain and there’s one thing that would make or has made your life easier, please let me know — I could always get her picture frames or whatever but I’d rather get her something that will improve her daily life.)

51 thoughts on “The scale that isn’t”

  1. I should say on the record that I have no problem with the Yay Scale, which Marilyn presents as performance art, not commodity.

  2. I don’t know if they have them again this year – and if they don’t, you can surely find a similar product elsewhere – but Bath and Body Works heatable neck wrap is great for easing pain and stiffness. It’s filled with lavender buds, so it smells awesome when you nuke it, and it’s covered with soft plushy fabric. Oh, and it’s not just for necks – you can wrap it around knees, elbows, wherever aches. I gave one to my favorite aunt for Christmas last year (who has chronic neck pain) and she’s still raving about how much she loves it.

  3. I was going to point out the value of tracking weight trends for health reasons, but you already pointed that out. I think the cost/benefit of tracking weight trends really depends on the person. Some people just need to STAY AWAY from the scale for mental health, while others might be totally fine knowing they gained or lost a little. Hell, for that matter, some people probably do just fine with a normal scale. I don’t think that occasional weighing is intrinsically unhealthy – it’s just the attitude that so often goes along with it that’s unhealthy.

    That said, many people can track their weight just fine without a scale, such as by clothing fit. However, for those who really don’t notice weight changes in their body, I think occasional use of a numberless scale could be useful. I’d go for a $20 scale plus art supplies, though.

  4. A Yay! Scale is so much cooler.

    I found the scale with the comments a bit snarky…they were all about eating (and putting judgement on that) and not about affirming.

  5. I think that the scale covered in chocolates is, uhm, horrific. I do get the point of weaning from scales, for people who feel like they need to use them, or wanting to track weight trends, but not necessarily to know the precise numbers behind those trends. Surely there’s a neutral way to do that, though, like with bands of color instead of numbers or stupid “affirmative” phrases.

    For some reason, these scales remind me of the time someone gave me a woefully undersized garment “for when you’re pretty again,” which I think was meant to humiliate me into “making lifestyle changes,” but instead just made me laugh and then explode with rage. These scales seem demeaning, offensive, and stupid to me.

    But hey, maybe my caftan just needs resizing.

  6. I don’t know, it seems to me that for people who are really concerned with how much their weight fluctuates on a day to day basis this kind of scale could be just as bad as numbers. If you can see that you went up from yesterday does it matter if you went up a pound or a little tick mark?

    I don’t know. I don’t weigh myself. Evah.

  7. I find the chocolate scale particularly squicky because most scale-owners place them in the bathroom, and in my opinion, the bathroom is not a place for food. Looking at chocolates while sitting on the toilet could lead to icky psychological associations.

    But maybe that’s just me.

    Once I get past that issue, it is still deeply troubling to associate food, and a particular food, with weight.

    Count me among the seldom-weighers, though: I only really act on my weight in two situations (1) if there’s a sudden drop in summer = dehydration, and I attempt to remedy that (2) if it’s over the min. weight for blood donation, I go donate blood.

  8. I’d just gotten on board with intuitive eating and trying to accept my body’s decision on what size it should be and throwing out my scale when I got a disease and was put on massive doses of prednisone which increases your appetite like whoa (I seriously ate three times as much as normal on the highest does). I’ve been really (morbidly) curious about how much weight the stuff has caused me to gain, but realize that if I stepped on an actual scale with numbers I would have a breakdown. A scale like this would be perfect for this purpose.

  9. I find them sort of offensive for the reasons you gave. “Patriarchy in a fake mustache” indeed. Women are obsessed with their weight but can’t put down the chocolate! It’s true and hilarious! I feel like those scales are laughing at me, not with me.

    Unfortunately I don’t have any ideas in the vein of improved comfort or mobility assistance, but I hope you find the perfect gift for your MIL.

  10. I have chronic pain, and I find Audiobooks to be really awesome. I’m a big reader, but when I’m hurting so much, I can’t read – often because I rock to mitigate pain – and the tripe on television usually just bothers me. Audiobooks were an awesome solution. So were light-blocking drapes – I personally can get some sensory overload when really in pain.

  11. That wrap Christine mentions, things like that really are great for aches, especially in cold weather. And they’re a snap to make, too: make a long, narrow sack out of cotton fabric, leaving one end open. Fill loosely with pearl barley or small-grain rice, and add herbs and/or spices for scent (if all you’ve got is the kitchen cabinet, broken cinnamon and a bit of nutmeg smells nice and lasts a long time). Sew it up, and there you are. If you want to get fancy, make a cover to slip it into.

    They should come with warnings, though — heat up in small increments until you know the right setting for your microwave, be careful as it might come out very hot, and if it is wrap it up in something. That last is where sleeves come in useful, not just pretty.

    Mobility aids are too personal, in my experience, to make good gifts. Like, a cane has to be the right height and have the right kind of handle to be really useful, and those will vary individually. Then too, some of the most useful might be embarassing to receive as a gift, especially from someone who’s younger and able-bodied.

  12. Like, a cane has to be the right height and have the right kind of handle to be really useful, and those will vary individually. Then too, some of the most useful might be embarassing to receive as a gift, especially from someone who’s younger and able-bodied.

    Actually, we’ve been joking around about getting her one with flames on like House has, but you’re right that it would have to be a gift certificate or something since her preferences matter much more than mine. She has some plug-in heating thingies but the wraps sound like a good idea.

  13. I feel like those scales are laughing at me, not with me.

    Dude YES. That is totally the problem with the “girl power = chocolate and shooooooes!” type bullshit.

  14. I find those scales offensive for all of the reasons you pointed out, FJ. Also, a picture of chocolate is NEVER a good substitute for real chocolate!

    As for gifts for your M-i-L, one thing that has helped me with my chronic pain has been a memory foam pillow. They take some getting used to, but they help a lot with quality sleep and neck/shoulder pain.

  15. emi, I too would go for a $20 scale plus art supplies! You could make your own Yay! scale.

    Or, people could buy a regular scale, pry off or cover up the paper with the numbers on it, and keep the needle and the sliders. Voila! Scale that doesn’t show numbers but also doesn’t chuckle “had a few more chocolates, have we?” at you every time you step on it.

  16. I have been aware of this for a few years; that scales are no longer scientific measuring devices, but diet aids. It’s bullshit.

    When I was a kid into my 20s, I used to set all my clocks ahead because I was always running late. And then I was always doing the math to figure out how much time I actually had.

    Until one day I had the epiphany that it was the clock’s job to tell me what time it was, and that it was my job to get myself places on time.

    Same idea, only without the shaming fat stigma.

  17. I second the wrap idea. My elderly aunt really liked getting one of those (not from me). My all time best gift as measured by compliments and Wow, I really used that comments was an anti-stress eye pillow (you know, the kind with lavender flowers in it, sort of like a bean bag). Someone with mobility issues probably has a lot of stress in their life. Not very expensive, either.

  18. I could see those being sort-of okay if the marks were just GENERALLY life-affirming and positive, rather than “I’m a perfect ten!” and other stuff… as it is the scales come across as alternately being mean in a snide way or slightly hysterical, in a desperate kind of way.

    And, as has already been said above, anyone who actually cares will notice that the scale is in a different position in relation to the various comments than it was the last time they checked.

    Still, it could be worse. They have a baby-scale, for measuring how pregnant you are, with silhouettes of a woman with an ever-increasing pregnant tummy, and I can just see that being changed to a “motivational” scale for dieters, with silhouettes of varying levels of fatness.

  19. I think a joke scale would only be funny if the needle spun at random. Otherwise, it’s just another scale — it doesn’t matter if the dial shows no numbers, you know they’re there all the same.

  20. Ditto to the warmable wraps – I got booties for my stepsister, and she said that she’s really enjoyed them. My mom has enjoyed a lavender eye pillow that I got her ages ago, and my grandmother really liked it when we got her one of those pick-upper things (I think it was called ‘the claw’ and she loved the campiness, as well as the ability to get stuff that was just out of her reach.)

  21. FJ, is she into movies or tv at all? if I had chronic pain/mobility problems I would be ALL OVER a subscription to NetFlix or something like that, because it would be something I could do and enjoy without having to move.

    A friend of mine was diagnosed with a genetic condition that causes pain/mobility issues and as an engagement present I got her a subscription to her local video store because she is about as big a tv freak as I am, and she was SO HAPPY. Especially since one of the (many) problems that tends to accompany disability is money worries so she didn’t feel she could afford such a luxury otherwise. It might not be suitable for your mother-in-law if she’s not into dvds etc ( I know my mother avoids them like the plague), but otherwise maybe somethign to think about?

  22. My boyfriend wants a “Sound Asleep” memory foam pillow with integral loudspeaker, because he likes falling asleep to music and headphones are uncomfortable in bed.

    I’m trying to find somewhere we can test it first, and I’ll buy it him for Christmas if it doesn’t sound annoying from two feet away.

  23. Seconding the heat wraps and the claw grabby thing. (and the heat wraps are SOOO easy to make yourself if you’re on a budget. No sewing necessary- take a sock, fill it with short grain rice, a little spice, and tie the top of the sock into a tight knot. That’s your heat pack. For the outside cover, just slip the matching sock over it. Or, cut fringes into a rectangular piece of fleece and tie the fringes together in order to make a pocket.)

  24. I was thinking that for the scale I would love to take off all numbers or marking devices and leave the little pointer and the markers. Then I’d like to get on, put the marker on and then a few weeks later get on and if it went up; but another marker there but leave the lower one; or vice versa. I would love to just find my weight RANGE and have those two markers, moving the lower one if it goes lower, moving the higher one if it goes higher. Then if it is anywhere in that range; whatevers. If it goes widely OUT of the range then maybe I’d worry about meds I recently started, etc. At least, the idea sounds good in my head. Not sure I’d actually go out and do this though since I only just finally got RID of my scale a few months ago!

    I have given the gift of the heat pack before and gotten rave reviews. Warm slipper socks are also a boon, super fleece lap blankets rock my own world but I’m not sure if she’s a slipper person or if a blanket would be too personal?

    Good luck!

  25. but I’m not sure if she’s a slipper person or if a blanket would be too personal?

    A blanket would TOTALLY not be too personal — and actually, I wonder if she could use a new one for her armchair. We got her slippers already a couple of years ago, but good instincts! Netflix is also a GREAT idea. You guys want to help with my sister in law too? :)

  26. What a stupid idea for a scale. The last thing I want when I am trying to lose weight is to be reminded of chocolates every time I step onto the scale.

  27. This reminds me of when, at the age of 11 or 12, I thought it would be funny for my mother’s birthday to buy her a fake silverware setting that had a whole in the spoon (you know, so teh foods will slip out and not hit your mouth). I thought it was a harmless anti-diet joke at the time since she was constantly dieting (still is) and I didn’t see the purpose, but she didn’t take it so well. So if it were me, I wouldn’t buy something like that for anyone who is afraid of their fat or still trying to diet, as they might be offended.

  28. The number in the scale is still so triggering to me – to say the least. I really look forward to the day when the little number doesn’t have that kind of power, but in the meantime…..

    Just finishing pregnancy number 2, I would have liked knowing how much weight I’d gained during the pregnancy and how much, if any, I’ve lost since. Its not useless information, but its too triggering for me to take the risk of knowing the number. A numberless scale is something I’ve thought about making.

    I saw midwives who didn’t weigh me, which was great.

  29. Totally, what the hell. A perversion of the Yay! Scale.

    But then, I’m one of those weirdos who think weight loss and fat acceptance as concepts don’t really work well together.

  30. Amandaw, the blogger at three rivers fog, has fibromyalgia, and writes a lot about chronic pain/disability. She’s also just plain brilliant.

    If you scroll down a bit, on the left column, there’s a series called “things that make my life easier” that might give you some more good ideas for gifts. Some have already been mentioned here: memory foam pillows, heat. She also has listed a shower chair and a decorative pill case, IIRC.

  31. One quick thing to remember with the heat wraps is allergies. My mom has fibro, and I’ve never gotten her these, because she and I are both allergic to… well, everything. Flowers. Perfume. Grass, trees, etc. So, lavender-scented sounds nice, but make sure she’s pro-scented things.

    On the other hand, maybe now I’ll make my mom one, or a few, unscented…. hmmm….

  32. I recommend natural latex pillows as an alternative to memory foam. I have one – it’s incredibly comfortable and it has helped somewhat with my TMJ pain. Depending on how memory foam is made, it may “outgas”, ie release chemicals, including some carcinogens. Worth a little research before you buy… (google “memory foam outgas”)

    I also have a Theracane, which is a really useful tool if you need to manage pain by massaging hard-to-reach bits of yourself. It’s helped a lot with my shoulder pain.

    And I looove my heat wrap… thanks to those above who suggested easy ways to make them! I particularly like the sock idea.

    Hope you find something good for your M-i-L!

  33. I’ve never had a big attachment to the scale – even when I was one the one diet I’ve ever tried (and never will again) last year, I didn’t weigh myself much.

    There is a scale in my mom’s room, and maybe once every two or three weeks I go there to see if she’s “accidentally” put that blouse I wanted to wear that day in her closet instead, and I stand on the scale since it’s there.

    Last week, to my surprise, I found out I lost 5 kilos without any effort whatsoever. I thought this was infinitely amusing – I’m finally in a place where I am perfectly happy being fat and I don’t want to lose weight or diet *at all*, and yet, I lose weight by the total effort of zip nada zero nothing at all. Couldn’t get it off when I cared, and now that I don’t, it just disappears on its own? It almost makes me want to weigh again next week to see if the weight is back on, once more without any effort at all.

    See, bodies do that – they change their fluid and fat storage around, depending on the time of month, day, hour, before or after bathroom breaks, before or after meals, so much that the difference can be 5 kilos between morning and evening. And trying to obsess over every little pound going on and off pretty much drives you crazy and smashes your selfesteem, getting you into a position where your entire mood depends on the number on the scale. When truly, your body changes day by day, and there is no way a number can ever tell you what all of the existing, fine-tuned senses in your body *can* tell you: if you feel good, happy and comfortable. And that, you can feel at any weight, no matter what the media tries to tell you.

  34. I would sort of like to own a scale, because I appear to actually be losing weight and while this is good (I was at the top range of clothes I owned, and this opens up more pairs of jeans to the rotation, including some favorites) I also want to keep an eye on it because fat acceptance for me meant I realized that I don’t want to be thin. The men I love both like big girls, and to me being a fat woman who has solid and ample hips and thighs and ass and a thick waist and big bustline has to do with the fact that I am not and refuse to be like everyone else and I refuse to be invisible and silent and repress how I am and how I live.

    But, you know, given that this medication and winter oncoming and redecorating the house is causing me to lose weight, I’d sort of like to keep track of it so as to be able to increase calorie intake deliberately if I am losing fast enough to cause my body problems. I don’t mind being an eighteen in jeans at all, but I don’t want to fuck my body up more than it is getting there.

    But I don’t know how to use a scale in a way that isn’t pathological, and I don’t trust myself to use a scale. Yet. This is annoying, but I assume since I fell in love with my fat self it’ll pass.

  35. chronic pain:

    -the shower chair (you know this ;))
    -those razors with built-in shave prep, for if/when you shave at all (i’m off and on, i know some people don’t have the time or energy to worry about that shit)
    -a stool in the kitchen for cooking, doing dishes
    -lots of comfortable pillows, varying sizes and density. (i know my mom likes to sleep with about six or eight different pillows on the bed — she moves them around however feels best in the moment)

    just off the top of my head.
    help dressing. massages. those sorts of little things are huge. do some extra dishes or fold some laundry when you visit, out of the way so she doesn’t have the chance to get on your case for doing it (if she’s like a lot of moms i know :)).
    and you know, a favorite meal or dessert, or a movie night in, or those other sorts of comforts… annaham made a great point somewhere recently that you know what, dammit, YES i eat food for comfort — the rest of my life just feels universally awful, who are you to deny me something that feels *good*? if you can provide those sorts of reprieves, i’m sure she’d love it.

  36. There are a lot of great disability/chronic pain suggestions up there, and I have most of them :-)

    A few things I will add:

    – one of those sponges with a really long handle for the shower/bath; this was an amazing help during my worst pain times

    – Its kind of expensive, and a little impersonal, but my HUGEST help, especially in the winter, is a heated mattress pad. Its like a heating pad, only all over! I know that in the winter I wouldn’t be able to move in the morning without one of these on my bed.

    – I understand your concerns about the cane, but one thing that was a godsend to me was one of those canes that fold up, so you can put it into a bag or something when you don’t immediately need it. For me, I don’t always need it to, say, walk around the house, but I use mine on the bus, both as a practical tool, and as a bit of a security blanket- people are far more apt to be careful around, and give seats to someone who walks on the bus with a cane (this was huge for me, because I have a hard time telling a bus full of strangers that I have needs). I wouldn’t have had the courage to start getting around again without one of these.

    Oh yes, and I will add my voice about those things you put in the microwave, and put on where you hurt-they’re awesome.

  37. Ugh… I want my scale to have real numbers, thank you. I only weigh myself when I’m flying and have to weigh my bags (I weigh myself, then pick up my suitcase) and I have to have the actual numbers for that.

  38. Thanks amandaw! Of course I’ll help out as much as I can while we’re there, but she’s exactly that kind of mom… she won’t get on my case for doing dishes, but she’ll always insist that she doesn’t need help with anything. Of course!

    Oddly, even though we’re very close, I do feel like a shower chair would be too intimate of a gift. Because it involves nudity? Or because it’s a very overt acknowledgment of disability? I’m not sure. She’s got a lot of pillows in the bed, and I believe at least one of them is memory foam (so’s her mattress, though it really needs to be rotated — we should do that while we’re there), but she spends a lot of time in her recliner and I bet she could use more comfy pillows there.

    That Theracane thing looks amazing, but I’m not sure she’d have the strength/leverage to do it… she injured her rotator cuff fairly recently and is still doin PT. I kinda want one, though! And some kind of massager would be a good idea.

  39. I’m a fan of giving experiences, rather than things, if you can. Like a few years ago when I paid for a good friend to take a really fun cooking class with me. We had a blast, and learned new stuff, and it was perfect.

    In that vein, maybe a gift certificate for a massage, a mani-pedi, a facial, a haircut, whatever is appropriate for her. Everyone needs a little pampering, especially when they’re recovering or fragile. Or tickets to a concert or lecture or museum she would enjoy, something like that. Or pro house cleaning. Who couldn’t use THAT?

  40. But then, I’m one of those weirdos who think weight loss and fat acceptance as concepts don’t really work well together.

    They can. If you’re losing weight because your health is suffering, you are out of shape and your quality of life is poor, plus you are working on accepting your body while learning what is and isn’t possible, it’s a very real and positive combination,

    I speak from experience. I had to lose weight for the reasons I mentioned (though I maintain that my reasons are my business and I shouldn’t have to justify them just to be OK with FA people). I’ve gone from 300-ish to 230-ish in the past year or so, through healthy and doctor-supervised means. I’ve also learned a lot about myself and my body. And I’m working on loving it (I’m a hell of a lot better but not there yet). I’ve learned how much exercise my body can handle and what kinds. I’ve learned what foods make me feel good and bad – not because they are “good” or “bad” foods but because they are healthy or not and actually physically make me feel a certain way. Maybe the most important thing I’ve learned is that my body simply will never be thin. Size 6 is not in my DNA. Hell, size 10 or 12 may not be. I generally wear a 16 now and am a lot happier in it than last time I was this size (which was high school – before I ballooned to a 22/24 in college – and I thought I was disgusting).

    So, to sum up, yes, weight loss and fat acceptance can work well together.

  41. I hate to comment and run, and I don’t know what I think about the scales, but can I tell you how much I wish I could lounge around in a turban and a caftan, eating broccoli mashed potatoes (not a big chocolate fan)? It seems so glamorous and fun!

    As far as presents, I learned to crochet on Saturday, and now am on my fifth and sixth scarves. Scarves for everyone for Christmas this year!

  42. I want my scale to have real numbers, thank you. I only weigh myself when I’m flying and have to weigh my bags (I weigh myself, then pick up my suitcase) and I have to have the actual numbers for that.

    :) Lately my scale has been primarily used to weigh things I’m going to sell on eBay. Usually what I’m selling doesn’t register by itself, so I weigh 3 cookbooks, then the 3 cookbooks + the thing I’m selling in its box.

    My suitcases do register on their own since they’re at least 20lbs. But again, good to confirm the bag is under 50lbs at home while you can still change it!

  43. I threw my scale out today. This is the first time I haven’t had one to obsess over since I was…15? Fuckin’ yeah.

    It’s all your fault. Rabble-rousers.

    Liza, here’s the thing. You cannot be simultaneously accepting your fat and trying to diet it away. That cognitive dissonance is a step almost everyone goes through while they’re trying to find their way to FA, but it is not fat acceptance. It’s like saying, “I accept my gay daughter, I’m just sending her to conversion therapy for her own good.” It’s not acceptance if you’re trying to get rid of it.

    The things you mentioned are all very good reasons to do things to improve your health (not that that’s a moral imperative), and I’m very happy for you that they’re working and you’re learning about your body and yourself. This society tries so hard to disconnect us from ourselves that finding your way back is always a victory.

    But what happens if you’re one of the 95-98% of people who gain the weight back? Because diets don’t work. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing them for your health or your partner or yourself or because you want to look good in a bikini on Ipanema Beach; they don’t work.

    So if the weight comes back on, as the odds are it will through no fault of your own, how are you going to feel about that? Would it not be better to look at your health and wellbeing as independent goals — as targets you can reach regardless of what it says on the scales? Because there are hugh health benefits to be gained from eating more mindfully and moving more, but they have nothing to do with the number on the scale and by twinning things you can control (your own actions) to something you can’t (what weight your body wants to be), you’re setting yourself up for failure.

    Fat acceptance (with a side of HAES) is the one movement that says you don’t have to lose weight to be healthy. And you can be losing weight while working toward fat acceptance by all means, because the whole point of this thing is that it’s your own damn body and you can do what you want. But fat acceptance and deliberate weight loss don’t go together. They’re pretty much diametrically opposed. Because that’s what fat acceptance (as a political movement) is.

  44. There’s a tricky line to walk between wanting to be healthy and wanting to lose weight. If changing your life to include more exercise, better food, and a healthier relation to food results in you losing weight, that’s fine. It’s seeing the weight loss as the essential goal that’s the problem.

    The essential goal is being healthy. What happens to your weight is a side-effect. For some people the side effect is losing weight, for others it’s gaining, or staying the same. Since you do get a lot of social kudos from the weight loss version, it’s pretty hard not to see that as a good thing. Of course, that can cause you to lose focus: I didn’t exercise for a month, but it’s OK since I didn’t gain weight? Nu-uh. (Yes I am talking to myself.)

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