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Posts Tagged ‘natural’

One of the global reform campaigns of our time is the effort to persuade women to breastfeed their babies. Michele Obama has made this plea in the United States. There is an active global campaign to dissuade mothers in developing countries from turning to bottled formula. One difficulty in making the case, especially in poorer nations, is that bottle feeding seems so modern and chic, so fashionable. It is a bit odd to think of such a “natural” process as feeding newborns as a matter of fashion, but it is – and so it was in American history, too.

Although mothers nursing their infants seems to meet a basic biological drive, the history of breastfeeding in the United States shows that what is “natural” is very much shaped by cultural influences; such influences can wax and wane and so embracing the “natural,” too, can cycle. Breastfeeding as the ideal way to mother has gone in and out of fashion.

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Naturally Clean

In the category of things we take as “natural” is how great it feels to be clean. I noticed a few online discussions about morning versus evening showering and one striking feature of the comments is how many people assert that taking anything less than a daily shower – or even two showers – leaves them feeling “funky” or “yucky.” Being unclean seems to spur a primal, natural reaction in us.

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Of course, it is not primal or natural. Children have to be taught to feel yucky about being dirty. That feeling is not even natural for adults. Americans who today have the urge to get clean had great-grandparents who felt that bathing once or twice a week was just about right. And those folks, in turn, had great-grandparents who suspected that bathing was a danger, a cause of illness, and thought that honest workingman’s dirt never hurt anyone.

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A Natural Romance

I recently noticed a newspaper ad for Amtrak: Designed in American Craftsmen style to evoke, say, 1910, a poster displays the silhouette of a woman, hair in a bun, sipping a hot beverage. Through a train window behind her we can see a landscape of high mountains and tall evergreens.  The title of the ad reads, in caps, “more human / more nature.”  (A video version is here.)

Trains, the ad tells us, are our vehicles for returning to a slower time, a more natural time, a more human time.

Irony alert! The train was, to humanists and other sensitive souls of the 19th century, the central symbol of modernity – the main destroyer of life at a natural, harmonious, human scale. The unintentional joke in the ad plays off the running tension between new technologies, old technologies, and our notions of the “natural.” Knowingly or not, the ad’s creators point out how the modern world defined the “natural” one.

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