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The Dirt on Clean by Katherine Ashenburg

[it is] a forceful reminder that the neglect of its weakest members makes society as a whole vulnerable. - p. 171

Hygiene is a social construct, and one that has been in its current form for very little time.

Around 1950, about one in ten French homes had a shower/bathtub.

Hand washing has been around for a long time, and remains the most persistent, non-controversial practice.

During a pandemic: “Wash your hands often and properly, cover your face when sneezing or coughing, and keep a distance of at least one meter from sick people.” Funny how this advice is what is now the norm during COVID!

For a long time, people only washed what was exposed: hands, face, and maybe feet.

Even when washing, soap was rarely used, often only being used for laundering clothes.

Christians sometimes used their unwashed status as a point of pride, that they were not obsessing over their personal, earthly needs.

The advent of soap jump-started the advertising industry. Since most soap was identical, companies had to rely on marketing to differentiate themselves. Marketing of hygiene products created, and then preyed on the fears of consumers, especially women. For example, Listerine “educated” customers on halitosis, or bad breath, and how “most people who have it don’t know it.” They then preyed on this fear through advertisements that depicted women not getting second dates, kids being made fun of behind their backs, and other similar situations. One famous tag line from this campaign was: “often a brides’ maid, never a bride.”

Excessive hygiene is starting to reveal its downsides. Increases in the occurrence rate of allergies and related conditions such as asthma have been correlated to countries where hygiene levels are higher. For example, such conditions are very rare in Africa, but families who immigrated from Africa saw their children develop these conditions at the American level of occurrence.