Wednesday, December 05, 2007

you'd think we'd never seen a comb

The thought of a daily shower would have filled the 17th century Frenchman with fear.  To splash away with abandon, to open your pores and leave your body vulnerable to all that disease, would be practically asking to get sick. In fact, our bathing habits would have disgusted him, much like his habits disgust us: never washing his body with water or soap, for instance. Or changing his linen shirt to get clean.

We all know the saying, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness," but there was a time when quite the opposite was true. Could you talk about that?

Christianity turns out to be the only great world religion -- great in the sense of widespread and influential -- that had no teaching or interest in hygiene. In the early years of the church, the holier you were, the less you wanted to be clean. Cleanliness was kind of a luxury, like food, drink and sex, because cleanliness was comfortable and attractive. The holier you were -- and this really applied to monks and hermits and saints -- the less you would wash. And the more you smelled, the closer to God people thought you were.

Is there any health benefit to bathing every day, or is it more of a social convention?

It's totally a social convention, according to the doctors I spoke with. They said it's very important to wash below our wrists [i.e., hands], and the worst thing that could happen to you, if you suddenly became a 17th century person and never washed beyond your wrists, would be some skin conditions or fungal things. It's no doubt comfortable to be clean. But there is no health benefit to washing above the wrists [i.e., the body] other than possibly preventing some fungal things.

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image {stella im hultberg} title { casiotone for the painfully alone}

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