Opinion: The international debate weighing in on Carleton’s scale removal missed a crucial voice in the discussion

By Grace McGrenere Amongst the countless animal videos and political rants on my Facebook feed, a CBC article featuring Carleton University emerged. The title read, “Carleton University comes under heavy criticism after gym scale removed.” The article outlined a number of tweets and other online responses from a swath of people who seemed to magically become experts when behind a computer. As I read, several more pieces popped up. The Toronto Star, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Global News, CTV, Yahoo, The Rebel, and Breitbart News were among the many national and international news services to cover the controversy. I realized what was most troubling about it all was not the removal of the scale, but people’s response to it.

Due to a lack of communication between the gym and its users, reactions towards the scale’s removal have blamed those who were not at fault, targeting people who ultimately had no say, but whose livelihood can be greatly affected by the scale.

This debate over the past two weeks has been particularly troubling for me as someone who has struggled with an eating disorder. Reading the various tweets and responses has left me quite conflicted. Carleton’s scale controversy was a shock. Without any form of announcement, the athletics department removed the scale.

If they had consulted gym users and put the decision to a vote, perhaps there would have been less backlash. Unfortunately they didn’t and the angry responders ensued. One user tweeted, “So #Carleton gym removed the scale so that people won’t be offended by the measurement it provides. Novel concept, don’t step on the scale.”

Ha! I wish it was that easy. On my worst days when I was struggling daily with an eating disorder, the scale and I were best friends. Weighing myself became an addiction. In the morning I would pull the scale out of my parents’ view and determine how much I would eat for the day. This ritual would continue throughout the day after every meal.

According to The Canadian Mental Health Association, weight is the prime focus for someone with an eating disorder. As a result, a person who has an eating disorder uses their body weight to measure their self-worth. But in the process of trying to gain control of one aspect of our lives, we lose control of all others. Telling someone with an eating disorder they should simply not step on a scale, is like telling an alcoholic they should just not drink for the day.

Some reactors took an obesity versus eating disorder approach. One tweeter said “Obesity is far more of a problem than other eating disorders. Stop this ridiculous ‘everything is triggering’… #bringbackthescale.”

Comparing obesity to eating disorders is like comparing apples to oranges. Every disorder requires the same amount of attention and treatment. People go to the gym for many reasons, and university is a pretty stressful place! We don’t know who may be suffering silently.

Even more, the prevalence rates of anorexia and bulimia appear to increase during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood. Those far away from home, concerned about their grade, and social status are susceptible to low self-esteem and eating disorders. The countless tweets that chose to brush aside the seriousness of eating disorders further prove eating disorders have a certain stigma attached to them. What is required from those who don’t have eating disorders, is a degree of empathy rather than sympathy for those who do.

In the CBC article, Carolyn Carson, a certified personal trainer at KRX Fitness thought a different route should have been taken by the athletics department. “Instead of just removing something I thought a better approach would be to educate around other measures of health and fitness success.” Yet she admitted to CBC she used to have an unhealthy relationship with the scale, especially in her university years. I am not denouncing education as a tool to prevent unhealthy relationships with food, but sometimes it is not enough.

Growing up, I was taught to love myself by taking care of body mentally and physically. In school, I was taught the same. Yet, media, and bullies were able to override my core foundation of self-esteem. Having an eating disorder is not always preventable, but it is always fixable.

Removing the scale from the gym serves as an educational tool for those who are unaware of holistic approaches to weight loss and gain. As well, it eases those with eating disorders by ridding them of a tool that hurts them mentally and physically. In conjunction with educating people on the importance of taking care of themselves, informing people on how to treat someone with an eating disorder should also be required. By educating those on the importance of empathy, the backlash we are seeing can be prevented.

On the importance of education, it must be noted that scales do not determine how healthy you are. For the longest time, I was convinced that the number on the scale determined my worth and health. As a 5’10, athletic female, I remain at a healthy 150 (I could even gain more). When I was sick though, I weighed 109 pounds (at my worst). The number read fat.

There are several factors that must be incorporated when analyzing a healthy body. A large number does not immediately indicate “fatness.”

Throughout this two-week period, no one with an eating disorder has been interviewed. How can we point figures at a group of people who have not even commented on the matter? If it is triggering for some, should we not respect those who are fighting a battle that is so debilitating? I agree the Athletics Center should have spoken to gym users before removing the scale. Here, voices from various perspectives could have contributed to the discussion, possibly even those with eating disorders.

Blame has never resulted in solutions. It is through empathy that we can understand each other, and come to solutions that work for all.

Grace also spoke about the scale controversy on our Rights News Roundup segment on Speak Out’s Mar. 21 radio show on CKCU 93.1 FM.

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