Hygiene, self-respect and public appearance

Part of the New Guinea Commerce Winners Don’t Cheat Series.

By Sean Jacobs

I’ve always thought it’s strange that ‘hygiene’ rates a mention in many older self-help books.

‘I sometimes feel that almost the most valuable lesson I got at the Hampton Institute,’ reflected the former slave and American educator Booker T Washington, ‘was in the use and value of the bath.’ Thus basic hygiene, clean teeth, a good haircut, and general presentation, became core themes of Washington’s education to ex-slaves at his infamous Tuskegee Institute.

‘Hygiene’ itself certainly seems like an odd topic today. But public health, of course, is nothing like it was in the late 1800s. Polio, Tuberculosis and other diseases cut through entire populations in the then-developed world.

While diseases have abated, however, the appearance aspect of ‘hygiene’ remains incredibly important. ‘In order to get a job in today’s tight economy,’ says one writer in the Tuskegee Observer, ‘a healthy smile and a professional appearance can mean the difference between being hired and being passed over for another candidate.’

Read the rest of this entry »