A pioneering history of personal hygiene and body-care, from the earliest times to the present. From pre-historic grooming rituals to New Age medicine, Virginia Smith looks at how different cultures have interpreted and striven for personal cleanliness and shows how, throughout history, this striving for purity has brought great social benefits as well as great tragedies.
Smith, a British historian and honorary fellow at the Centre for History in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene, traces the origins of our modern standards of cleanliness by reaching back to the ancient Mesopotamians to look at the kind of grooming we now call "pampering": baths, manicures and hairstyling. She argues that the impulse toward maintaining a cleanly outward appearance, which plays a central role in sexual attraction, is opposed by a psychological or religious desire for "inner" purity linked to Christian asceticism, which disdained physical adornment. Thanks to the development of "an ethos of sanitary need" in the Victorian era, which linked cleanliness to purity, personal hygiene has now reached the stage of "general consensus," with newly emerging middle classes around the world eager to buy hygienic and cosmetic products to meet Western standards of appearance. Smith's chronicle is sprinkled with interesting details and draws on a broad cultural canvas, but the tone is academic; general readers will prefer to await a more popular history. 25 illus. (July) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
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Oxford University Press, Incorporated
May 23, 2007
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