Channing Sargent
September 25, 2016 4:37 pm
veeterzy/Unsplash

The 1990s waif. The scary-skinny It-Girl of the 2000s. An article in the Smithsonian Magazine describes how modern standards of beauty (i.e., rail-thin figures) were actually originally shaped by tuberculosis, a deadly disease, and honestly, we’re not at all surprised.

By the mid-1800s, tuberculosis — an infectious disease that attacks the lungs and damages other organs — had reached epidemic levels in Europe and the United States. Its victims “slowly wasted away, becoming pale and thin before finally dying of what was then known as consumption.”

That sounds terrible enough, but the Victorians romanticized the disease and the effects it had on the body, viewing thinness (caused by lack of appetite and weight loss), and pale skin (caused by malnutrition), as new standards of female attractiveness. Fashion and beauty practices began highlighting or emulating these effects.

“Middle- and upper-class women also attempted to emulate the consumptive appearance by using makeup to lighten their skin, redden their lips and color their cheeks pink.”

Centuries later, blush and lipstick are considered daily essentials, and a “no makeup selfie” an act of bravery. The more barely-there the supermodel, the more money she makes. The skinnier and more drug-addled the It Girl, the more press she gets.

We’re grateful times seem to be changing somewhat, with natural curves being more and more celebrated, and the fashion industry taking a stand against malnutrition.

Funny how some things come back around though. Men of the Victorian era weren’t left fancy-free in the fight against TB. Bushy beards, performative mustaches and silly sideburns had become a new trend (anyone been to Portland lately?), due to British soldiers who grew facial hair to keep warm and the expense and ineffectiveness of the razors of the time.

But by the 1900s, beards and mustaches were deemed a breeding ground for germs, and men were encouraged to go clean-shaven for hygiene. Fortunately or not for us (depending on your affinity for dudes with facial hair) the advent of antibiotics, and later, modern soap technology allowed us to kill germs where they live. Now men can cultivate all the facial hair they want. So go ahead, rock that Lumberjack Chic, buddy. You earned it.

Advertisement