Seven Years of Smashing Scales and Stigma at UNC

Lian V. Folger, BA

November 7, 2019

Led by founder McCall Manning Dempsey, eating disorder survivor and advocate, Southern Smash* returned to UNC Chapel Hill for the seventh time on Monday, October 14th, 2019 to smash scales and promote positive self-image in Union Plaza. Surrounded by members and leaders of Embody Carolina, a Campus-Y committee dedicated to educating students about eating disorders, promoting body positivity, and fighting stigma,1,2 UNC students slung baseball bats at scales and scanned the booths for Southern Smash and its partners, which had information and activities about eating disorders and body image. All scales had been decorated with words of encouragement and empowerment—something more than the number that usually is the sole message generated by scales.

The broad message of the event, organization, and allies is symbolic. Smashing the scales—along with offering a sense of freedom in a culture obsessed with diets—represents a rejection of the societal norm of numbers dictating self-worth. From weight and clothing sizes to grades and number of followers, numerical values have gained traction, through targeted advertising and media messaging, as metrics of worth by which to compare ourselves with one another. Organizations such as Southern Smash and Embody Carolina are offering students with another option—let go of numbers and embrace qualities about themselves that they love. Not to say that this is an easy task—to help, many partners at the event brought tangible ways to practice what scale smashing represents. One booth had cards to write one thing you love about yourself, for a reminder on days when rejecting social norms is more challenging. With scale smashing, the Southern Smash event uses a memorable and fun activity to increase awareness about eating disorders, which are serious, life-threatening illnesses.

College students represent a high-risk group for eating disorders. In a study of the Healthy Body Image Program, which screened college students at 28 universities in the United States, 60% of students were identified as high-risk for an eating disorder or had an eating disorder.3 A recent review of eating disorder screening on college campuses found that college students have a higher prevalence of eating disorders compared to the prevalence in the general population in the U.S.4, which is estimated to be 0.6%, 1.0%, and 2.8% for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.5 Importantly, only 20% of students who did screen positive for an eating disorder reported receiving treatment.4 This value is low and highlights the importance of campus awareness events, such as Southern Smash, to reduce stigma, increase knowledge of symptoms and the importance of prevention, and help students connect with available resources.

Organizations such as Embody Carolina, and events like Southern Smash, are doing the important work of engaging and educating students to support peers struggling with eating disorders and disordered eating behavior, empowering them to fight back against the cultural and social norms that may foster detrimental behaviors and thoughts around eating, weight, and body image.

If you are interested in learning more about Southern Smash, you visit their website at, and on the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness website, Information about Embody Carolina can be found on their Facebook page,, as well as their website,


*Southern Smash recently joined forces with the national nonprofit, the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, in a partnership that seeks to improve awareness and access to care for eating disorders.6 The nonprofit brings Scale Smash events and talks to colleges and other arenas to help with the education and prevention around eating disorders and body image.

1 Embody Carolina. 2016. Accessed 15 Oct 2019.

2 Embody Carolina (Facebook Page). Accessed 15 Oct 2019.

3 Fitzsimmons-Craft EE, Balantekin KN, Eichen DM, et al. Screening and offering online programs for eating disorders: Reach, pathology, and differences across eating disorder status groups at 28 U.S. universities. Int J Eat Disord. 2019; 52:1125-1136.

4 Fitzsimmons-Craft EE, Karam AM, Monterubio GE, Taylor CB, Wilfley DE. Screening for Eating Disorders on College Campuses: a Review of the Recent Literature. Curr Psych Reports. 2019;21:101.

5 Hudson JI, Hiripi E, Pope HG Jr, Kessler RC. The Prevalence and Correlates of Eating Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biol Psychiatry. 2007;61(3):348-358.