Are We Too Clean? - Breathing Space Blog
1875-1940 by Juliann Sivulka, review by Cahners Business Information, Inc.
“Only a century ago the privilege of washing with soap was a prerogative of the well-to-do, and a bath was something the average person avoided. But by the end of World War I a revolution in the standards of personal hygiene had taken place. Soap was not only more widely used but was suddenly viewed as a powerful symbol of purification, civilization, and progress. What caused this radical shift in attitudes?
In this fascinating cultural history, illustrated throughout with dozens of period illustrations and advertisements, Juliann Sivulka shows that the transformation of soap from luxury product to everyday staple and symbol of success was the result of both the newly emerging advertising industry and large-scale societal changes brought on by the modernization of daily life. The new emphasis on soap translated into more elaborate cleanliness rituals, creating in turn specialized places devoted to care of the body, more complex domestic interiors, and new customers for an emerging consumer society.
Cleanliness came to symbolize a morally superior and civilized individual. Keeping clean, according to advertisements, was not only a healthy habit, it also ensured romance, material abundance, and acceptance into the successful white middle class. Advertisements also reflected women's changing roles as agents of cleanliness, as well as creators of mass cultural images that reinforced narrow stereotypes, which feminists later protested.”