THE (Times Higher Education) - - BOOK OF THE WEEK - Matthew Reisz

Carolyn Day, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of his­tory at Fur­man Uni­ver­sity, South Carolina, was born in Mon­treal but raised in Ba­ton Rouge, Louisiana. As the daugh­ter of aca­demics, she says, she “grew up on a col­lege cam­pus and at sci­en­tific con­fer­ences, which shaped my ap­proach to all learn­ing. I wasn’t in­tim­i­dated by what I didn’t know. I was cu­ri­ous not just about the work be­ing done but also about what was miss­ing, in what wasn’t be­ing ex­am­ined and why.”

After ma­jor­ing in mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy and his­tory at Louisiana State Uni­ver­sity, Day went on to an MPhil at the Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge on the his­tory and phi­los­o­phy of science and medicine and then a PhD in Bri­tish his­tory at Tu­lane Uni­ver­sity in New Or­leans. This va­ri­ety of per­spec­tives proved vi­tal when she “stum­bled across the con­nec­tions be­tween beauty and con­sump­tion and the idea that the dis­ease was an easy and beau­ti­ful way to die…I was fas­ci­nated. Cour­ses in mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy had pre­pared me to un­der­stand the way the dis­ease worked in the body, but not why it was ra­tio­nalised in such a man­ner.”

It was her train­ing in his­tory that “al­lowed [Day] to un­der­stand that health and dis­ease are more than just bi­o­log­i­cal phe­nom­ena but are also pro­duced by their so­cial, cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal con­texts”.

Although Con­sump­tive Chic does not ad­dress “con­tem­po­rary beauty trends”, Day ac­knowl­edges that “dis­cus­sions of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween body im­age and health re­main se­ri­ous con­cerns, and aes­thet­ics tend to be more pow­er­ful mo­ti­va­tors than health con­cerns. We still see the glam­or­i­sa­tion of be­hav­iours that have se­ri­ous med­i­cal con­se­quences, like the heroin chic of the 1990s and the even more ex­treme pro-ana move­ment. The med­i­cal pro­fes­sion has also weighed in on the harm­ful ef­fects of cer­tain fash­ions or beauty trends, such as the con­se­quences of wear­ing high heels, or ex­treme cos­metic surgery.”

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