Parker Molloy
Updated Aug 28, 2014 @ 4:06 pm

On a recent Monday evening, a group of young women gathered outside a high school in Park City and proceeded to smash scales with sledgehammers. It was part of an organized event—one of many taking place around the country—to promote body positivity and raise awareness about eating disorders. Launched in 2012, Southern Smash was founded by eating disorder survivor and recovery advocate McCall Dempsey. The organization travels the US, bringing along with them balloons, photo booths, and most famously, sledgehammers.

“Through our unique scale-smashing event, students learn that they are more than a number by literally smashing the scale to pieces with a sledgehammer,” Dempsey tells us. “We encourage young people to see beyond their physical appearance and discover that their real beauty is inside.”

Participants each write body confidence messages on their scales, then wrap them in plastic and beat the heck out of them with sledgehammers, bats, hockey sticks, whatever.

While it may take more than smashing a scale to discover body confidence, it’s a symbolic act that sparks further discussion about where negative messages and unreasonable physical expectations stem from.

Dempsey points to the media as part of the problem.

“While there seems to be a growing trend of companies using self-love and real-beauty advertising, there is still so much work to be done,” says Dempsey. “Young women and men are holding themselves to unrealistic standards of perfection, partly thanks to the countless airbrushed images they see each and every day. The great news is that Americans are getting smarter and becoming critical consumers of the media.”

National Eating Disorders Association director of programs Claire Mysko tells us that the problem lies in the idea of a “perfect” body size and shape.

“We live in a culture that constantly reinforces the message that thinness and ‘perfection’ are the keys to happiness” Mysko says. “But something powerful happens when we’re given the tools to look critically at those messages and to talk back and advocate for change. I’ve seen again and again how activism can be an effective strategy in both early intervention and eating disorder recovery.”

According to a National Institute of Mental Health report, one in five women currently struggle with an eating disorder, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 90 percent of those with eating disorders are women between the ages of 12 and 25. A Journal of the American Dietetic Association report concluded that 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.

While the physical act of smashing scales is just a small, symbolic step in confronting body image issues, it is an opportunity to momentarily minimize an object that presents such a threat to one’s self-worth.

After the Park City event, one participant told KUTV local news, “Numbers don’t matter and they don’t define you.”

They shouldn’t, but unfortunately it sometimes feels like they do. That has to change.

(Images via and via.)