The mid-nineteenth century was a period of time where individuals started to become more aware of their health and overall well-being. During this time the public had no real prior knowledge of self-care and overall health, which eventually lead to many health fads. The overall concept of cleanliness had become a necessity in regards to addressing an individual’s health. Women were seen as the ones that were needed to take care of the families health and needed to be healthy so that they could live long enough to raise their families. Beecher believed that, “the person who decides what shall be the food and drink of the family[…] decides what shall be the health of the family.” (Beecher 94) The overarching concept of cleanliness started to include: exercise, food, bathing and taking care of their bodies.The access to doctors at this time was limited for most, even though medical knowledge was very limited. Individuals relied on these various aspects of this cleanliness fad in order to know if their body was in a healthy state.
Beecher believed that spending time outdoors in the fresh air prevented diseases and afforded your organs the ability to function properly. “Playing in the open air is very beneficial to children.” (Beecher 118) Since they could not see into their body and how their organs were functioning, getting fresh air was a way to show that your organs could filter the air properly, if not then diseases would begin to arise. Getting fresh air would be appealing to individuals during the mid-nineteenth century, since it allowed them to see their bodies functioning properly internally as well as externally. Through their skin getting tanner, taking even breaths or the perspiration, they can know that by examining the result of what’s happening externally that everything that is internal is functioning properly.
By joining a large group of people into a smaller and colder environment, Beecher believes that this will aid the human body in expelling the dirt within our pores. Between the cooler temperature of the room and the “excitement” of being around others, individuals’ heart rates increase and lead to them sweating. When the room begins to cool, their heart rate eventually slows down and their organs are able to carry out their necessary functions once again.
Personal hygiene and the upkeep of ones physical appearance had not become an everyday essential until the mid-nineteenth century. Beecher explains that bathing every day opens up the pores in the skin so that the dirt and bacteria can leave the body. There are many contaminants out in the world and by bathing once a day, your body does not get backed up with a layer of dirt over the skin. In addition to bathing once a day, it is necessary to change undergarments and clothing that touches the skin everyday. Clothes that touch the skin can trap heat and dirt, therefore by changing them everyday, individuals are able to continue with their personal hygiene regiment. Another aspect of personal hygiene that Beecher discusses is being able to brush your teeth twice a day. “Saliva contains tar-tar,” and if you do not brush often then that tartar builds up, which eventually would have to be removed by a dentist. (Beecher 122)
Food and exercise play a large role in health and Beecher states that the amount you eat should be equivalent to the amount of exercise you get per day. A majority of people eat excessive amounts when they are bored or have access to it, however with minimal exercise it can be detrimental to your health. “Three fourths of the women, in the wealthier circles, sit down to each meal without the feeling of hunger.” (Beecher 98) Although this is the case, women tend to eat just for the social aspect with their family and the fact that the food is present. Reducing the amount of meat that one ingests, or removing it all together, can prove to be a healthier and sufficient way to nourish children. Animals carry sickness and diseases, therefore if you were to only have meat once a day or none at all, you can lower the risk of being infected with various ailments.
These health fads that Beecher discusses in her book seem as if they would be common sense, however during the mid-nineteenth century the concept of health and taking care of oneself was brand new. Unlike modern citizens, these individuals lacked the ability to know if their body was healthy, therefore these fads caused reactions in the body that allowed for them to know everything was working properly. For children, these fads aided in the maturing of their bodies and minds, while starting health routines that could help them live longer. Individuals during this time were eager to learn and advance and through the cleanliness fad they are able to take a different approach to health. The cleanliness fad became more appealing apposed to others because it was all inclusive, which means people from various economic classes, ages, and weights can do these simple things in order to better their lives physically and mentally.
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