I saw an interesting factoid yesterday, thanks to BookForum:

Many women spend about 100 minutes a day scrutinizing their bodies and their caloric intake… If a woman obsesses for 100 minutes a day, every day, from age 12 to age 85, she will have devoted three years of her life to the negative caloric value of celery sticks [emphasis mine].

Three years. Imagine what else we could do with that time. At dinner last night (perhaps a fitting activity, given the nature of the statistic), I asked whether one could choose exactly which three years to give up. If it was the years from say fifteen to eighteen, I spent those years feeling pretty ugly anyway, so I don’t mind spending the rest of my life feeling good about myself.

In all seriousness though, that’s incredible. I took a yoga class last night that was less than 100 minutes long, and it felt like a long time. That’s the length of most movies. Sure, I spend the odd moment debating whether or not to have that piece of chocolate that’s inevitably on the front desk at work, or reading the labels before my husband throws things into the pan for dinner. But does it really add up to 100 minutes a day?

The most fascinating part is the history of this phenomenon. A little over 100 years ago, the situation was much different. Women were actually trying to gain weight, if you can believe it, because advocates of women’s education thought it would prove some of their detractors wrong:

Defenders of women’s education pointed to students’ healthy glow and “robust physique[s]” as proof that women could write term papers and remain healthy, and college administrators who were committed to women’s education became deeply invested in making sure that women students ate well, exercised, and even gained weight.

What a contrast to the universities of today, which are breeding grounds for all kinds of eating disorders. Apparently the change occurred in part due to the new and more revealing flapper clothing, as well as the invention of bathroom scales – I always knew those things were evil, but not on such a deep historical and social level.

I’m not really sure what lesson I can take away from this new knowledge, but perhaps next time I stop to obsess about how many calories I’m about to eat, I’ll just eat the damn thing and then go learn a new language or something. I’ve got three years to catch up on, after all.