When I began working as the editorial assistant at Cosmopolitan.com the day after I graduated college two years ago, I invested every ounce of energy into my dream job, hustling to prove myself in the Real World.
The only downside? Between the job and my long commute, I'd feel too tired to work out before or after a day at the office. That, combined with delicious office snacks (OMG, office snacks), led to some weight gain. In an effort to stay fit, I began a hot-and-cold relationship with exercise about six months ago.
I'd go through two-week phases where things would be hot and heavy, and I'd tell anyone who would listen that I've been working out lately, and oh my god, it's the best!
But juggling exercise, work, and my social life would become too challenging, and everything would unravel, culminating in a biweekly face-off with a judgmental bitch who made me regret all the time I spent in the gym: the scale.
The scale is a tool that's supposed to measure weight, but for so many women, it's become a barometer of success and happiness.
For a while, I felt the same way. I'd step on the scale after a workout, high on endorphins and cute Nikes—until the number appeared. It would be the same or higher than the last time I weighed myself, and I'd shut down, defeated and deflated. I'd quit the gym for about three weeks, and then begin the cycle again. (I know, I know—it's not logical to think that way. Seeing change requires hard work. And, more importantly, the number on the scale is just that—a number.)
In February, I once again renewed my relationship with working out. But little did I know at the time, my whole relationship with exercise—and, ultimately, my scale—was about to change. I don't remember the exact moment, but I was probably lying in bed when I saw an inspiring before-and-after photo posted to Instagram by some fitness blogger. (Oh, the places you'll go when you're lurking on social media at 11 p.m.)
With my newfound motivation, I remembered passing a fitness studio near my apartment. I looked it up, finding photos of fit women alongside inspiring captions. Intrigued, I showed up two days later, yawning and groggy-eyed, for a 6 a.m. abs class.
First workout classes can be awkward, intimidating, and feel like you're walking into the lunch room on the first day of junior high school. About 10 women—some of whom looked like they stepped out of a Lululemon ad, others who wore college T-shirts and resembled former athletes—filled the purple and white studio. And then there was me, in my yoga pants that have never been to yoga class and sneakers that have been worn to the bagel store more than the gym.
We didn't stop moving for the entire 50-minute class. Regardless of how out of place I felt at the beginning, once the 10 of us were on our mats doing burpees and what felt like a million push-ups, we became one team with the same end goal: to make ourselves better.
I walked out of my first class feeling confident, knowing I had just put myself through the most rigorous workout of my life. I couldn't wait for the next one to push myself even harder.
Each class left me feeling more inspired. I'd go at 6 a.m., and although it sucked waking up so early, it was worth it. Encouraging texts from my mom—"You'll never regret a workout! You'll only regret not working out!"—also kept me going.
The classes became the only part of my day when I didn't have to deal with work emails, group chats, and other daily distractions—it was my time to focus on myself and make myself stronger. The intense relationship I had with working out finally felt serious, like it would last.
After 10 classes—a mix of spin, upper-body, and lower-body sessions—and about two weeks of exercising, I decided to break out my old frenemy, the scale. I was about to place one foot on, but then I paused: I felt good. So. Fucking. Good. Why let a number get in the way of all those positive vibes?
So I picked up my scale, walked out to the trash room in my building, and threw it in the bin. I texted my mom, who replied, "You don't need the scale. Only you can determine how good you feel! Don't give it that power! Also, you are beautiful!" (Mom texts <3.)
I haven't looked back. I was finally working out for me—not for validation from a scale.
Now, my validation comes from feeling healthy—and being able to hold a plank for a full minute or use a 12-pound weight when I do curls (which, TBQH, has made it easier to blow-dry my hair, an arm workout in itself).
It's been two months, and I don't know what I weigh now—nor do I care. And while I don't have a six-pack or the butt of Jen Selter, I do have the body of a young woman who decided that working out has a lot more to do with feeling good than looking any certain way.
I understand the medical purposes of the scale and why doctors use the measurement for health reasons. But in my own bedroom, as a healthy 23-year-old, I don't need to obsess over it.
It feels empowering to be in good shape. And it feels even better to exercise for myself, not a number.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.