Thursday, October 23, 2008
The Great Scale god (Or Instrument of Self Destruction)
Ruler of internal universes across lands far and wide. Focal point of countless obsessions. And final judge and jury on self worth, progress, beauty, success and value. Not to mention dictator of permission to eat, commander of starvation and excessive exercise. And last but not least: sedative and relief injection, or more likely, instrument of extreme mental (and sometimes leading to physical) torture.
In all my years of working with eating disorders, from anorexia to food addiction, and all shades of grey in between, there is one very common denominator and that is the scale. I am shamelessly un-techie, so I only recently learned that there are actually digital scales that will calculate your body weight to the tenth of pounds. I am, alas, so dismayed. I get it though. I am no stranger to the mighty scale g-d. Few women are. Nor do I take lightly the enormity of the compulsion to weight one's self. And of course I am well aware of the complexities of eating disorders and the cultural and personal demands that influence body weight, body image and our relationship with food.
If you are suffering from any version of scale worship then you know exactly what I mean. If you get on stark naked, (and some women remove their earrings as well) and the scale is up, the number is higher, even by, now days, a 1/4 pound, then the voice in your head takes off. "You are a pig. You are a cow. "(name calling fest) "No food for you today. You must run six miles after class." (Dictation fest). "You are a horrible rotten piece of nothing and cannot accomplish a thing in life. You can't even lose a stupid pound. (Attack fest of worthlessness).
So there it is. Your value, your self esteem, your entire ability to feel good is wrapped up in a machine. It calls the shots of your mood, your value, your faith in the universe.
Of course if the number is lower then calm can set in. For the moment. "Good. Okay. Now you can keep going. Now you can breath. For now. Don't think you are off the hook."
For some, there is no number low enough.
I know that the scale is a distraction from life. For some it's better to focus on the numbers than on whatever else is going in life. What ever other pain and problems may be beyond the bathroom door. And I know that it is real, the addiction to the scale. And that to kick it takes a whole lot of effort, on top of some recognition that the value of life and self are not dependent on what the number under your feet is.
I have known women who get on the scale 60 to 100 times a day. A day. The feelings of dread, panic, loss of control just gurgle and froth and threaten to take over. And I know that to be caught in scale rip tide is as frightening as it is painful.
So here's what I think. It starts with being willing to think about what is really valuable in life. And continues on to being willing to digest the idea that your worth is not connected to that number. And that you do not have to hurt yourself with the scale anymore. Not even under the guise of helping yourself. I am not saying that you should not care about your weight, or that if you are stuck in this swamp that it's an easy climb out, I am saying that it's worth some pause.
It's worth a bit of distance maybe. And some grace. Always some grace. Perhaps someday you can study what this is all about for you. Most folks don't register at Macy's for self destructive scale obsession. But in the meantime, I do think it's possible to be comfortable in your own skin without a verdict from the metal box each morning, noon and night. If you take the scale out of the equation of your life, then what? That's the question. Then what?
Maybe better days. Maybe more grace. Maybe new ideas. Maybe a lighter life, even.