16 January 2010

Personal Hygiene

There was a recent conversation here concerning Madame de Staël and her famous salon in Paris in the late 18th Century and early 19th Century where intellectuals from all over Europe gathered for interesting conversation of their own. Actually, that is neither here nor there except that it caused my mind to wander. I started to consider the everyday life of those folks and most particularly one small facet of that everyday life. It must have been very easy for them to put off washing their hair, let alone bathing, in the winter time.

One has to get into the age of photography to see the graphic evidence of this because the portraitists using oils routinely idealized their subjects. Here is a photograph of the famous French artist Eugène Delacroix from the early 19th Century.

I did not chose Delacroix for any particular reason. It was just the first photograph that I came across that portrayed what I was looking for. Such photographs are easy to find. Notice his hair.

Delacroix's hair is noticeably greasy. This is not a hair care products issue, although I am sure that played into the phenomenon. This is a bathing issue.

I am not getting on Delacroix's greasy hair in order to make fun of him. Quite the contrary. I sympathize with him. I would lay money that this photograph was taken in the winter. Just imagine the problem.

You are living in Paris in the winter with the temperature routinely at 40° F. (4.4° C.) or less. Your quarters are heated with a fireplace or a variation on the Ben Franklin stove, assuming you can afford fuel. You decide to take a bath. To do that, you must heat water over a fire in a kettle and then pour it into a copper tub. That does nothing to change the ambient air temperature, however. That is a daunting task and an easy one to put off. I will guaran-goddamn-tee you that you will not do it every day.

Now, you might say that if the bather were a person of means, he could simply order the young scullery maid to heat some water and perhaps even assist him in bathing, which could be a pleasant thing. To which I ask in reply, what does the scullery maid look like? Does she have all her teeth? How much does she weigh? Is her own hair in a big greasy pile, perhaps infested with vermin? So there you go.

And I am not such an insensitive lout that I do not appreciate that great numbers of people in this world today who live in climates where there is a winter face this same situation. Most people are poor.

All I am saying is that when it is cold outside and inside, bathing and getting your hair washed is a very easy project to put off. That's all. Greasy hair becomes less of a vital concern in daily life. I have a better subjective feel for all that now. I no longer even put it in the category of personal hygiene. Personal hygiene consists of brushing your teeth and washing your hands. Period.

Another photograph undoubtedly taken in the winter.


Bloggerboy FFM said...

There are still lots of people who think that washing one's hair more than once a week is unnecessary and not good for the hair. They are probably right. The more often you wash, the more quickly your hair gets greasy again. If brushed and combed regularly, each extra day without washing hardly brings noticeable change. Of course, Lincoln looks as if he were headed towards dreadlocks in that picture you posted.

Señor Steve said...

And then there is this interesting corporate conspiracy theory that I read about recently. Sorry that I cannot cite the source.

The gist of the article was that the more you shampoo your hair, the more it needs shampooing. The body manufactures more and more hair grease in a vain effort to replenish that which is stripped out of the hair with frequent shampooing.

There was some alleged corporate conspiracy involved in all this, but I have forgotten just how it works.