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.”