Tuberculosis And Its Impact On Medicine, Research, And Fashion Trends


Tuberculosis is a deadly disease that attacks the lungs and damages other organs. In the 1800s, when doctors were just trying to understand the disease, it has become an epidemic in the United States and in Europe. At that time, antibiotic was not yet discovered causing those who were afflicted to die a slow death and, in the process, become deathly pale and thin.

Despite being a deadly disease, the Victorian era romanticized it and created its effect a standard of feminine beauty. The aestheticization of tuberculosis was discussed in a book titled "Consumptive Chic: A History of Fashion, Beauty, and Disease. Author Caroline Day, who is also a professor at Furman University at South Carolina, said that the tuberculoses hugely influenced how 19th century Britain viewed fashion and beauty.

Day said that at that time, the elite deemed a woman suffering from tuberculosis beautiful because it enhances the already attractive features, such as red lips, pale skin, rosy cheeks, and dilated eyes. Such characteristics were, of course due to weight loss and fever that afflicted a tuberculosis patient.

Eventually, tuberculosis was defeated with the advances of modern science. However, the physical symptoms of the disease as the standard of beauty and fashion did not go away. Consumptive chic became even more popular when pointed corsets showcased very small, thin waist. They also began using makeup to lighten their skin, redden their lips, and put some tinge on their cheeks.

When Robert Koch discovered that it was bacteria that caused the disease and not miasma, health and medical experts confirmed that tuberculosis was indeed contagious. Tight corsets also came under fire because they were thought to block the lungs and promote improper circulation of blood. Thus, health corsets made of elastic fibers were invented to ease the pressure caused by old-fashioned corsets to the lungs.

Even the men, who sported beards and mustaches before, were targeted saying that the abundance of facial hair is a good breeding place for disease-causing bacteria. Therefore, shaving became compulsory and became fashionable since a clean-shaven man signifies good hygiene.

The consumptive look might not have survived but tuberculosis still greatly influenced fashion and beauty trends. There came a time when doctors started prescribing sunbathing as a good way to prevent tuberculosis. That belief was what gave way to the modern concept of sunbathing and tanning.

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