Bath Hygiene

There’s been a lot on Twitter TikTok and elsewhere regarding bathing. It started when some of us white permie / hippie types started talking publicly about our relaxed approach to bathing. A number of “earthy-minded” actors and other celebrities went viral doing this, and it has caused quite a backlash.

Me, I am all in favor and think that a natural approach is great. If you have access to a swimmable body of water, I personally think that can totally count as a bath. For years when I lived in Austin my main bath was swimming in Barton Springs. (I used to take a shower after but then realized it didn’t feel necessary.) And in general, I actually don’t use soap on all areas of my skin all of the time. And I’m a big fan of selectively scrubbing just the areas such as my feet, every day or more often than every day, depending on what gets dirty and what the weather is like and so on.

Now a lot of people would disagree and say that if you’re not scrubbing your whole body with soap every day, and not taking a full bath or shower every day (or even more often), you’re not clean. That’s all fine and good; everybody needs to decide for themselves.

What we don’t need to do is allow ourselves to be ruled by advertisers and social norms regarding shame about cleanliness.

So in that regard I think it’s great when people share that they don’t necessarily bathe or shower every day. And I love hearing that some parents just let their kids swim and let that count as a bath. (Note though, if we are going into a public swimming pool as opposed to a natural, open body of water such as the ocean or stream or lake, we absolutely have to shower and scrub before we get into the confined space of that public pool, I’m sorry. Respect and consideration for others are a must.)

A relaxed approach to bathing can have many benefits. It helps us get in tune with our own bodies and decide what kind of bathing schedule and practices are good for our own skin, as opposed to us being ruled by advertisers or shame-based social norms. It can significantly reduce household expenses on possibly unnecessary skin products. It reduces the amount of chemicals going into our water. And can significantly conserve water.

We (I’m talking to fellow white people) do need to recognize that some of the things we’re promoting in the name of reducing our footprint, saving time, reducing household expenses on things like soap, keeping chemicals out of the waterways — and allowing our kids to rewild / reconnect with nature — are things that we can get away with because of white privilege. If a parent who is Black, indigenous, or other person of color were saying things like this publicly — that they allow their kids to just run around bathing in streams all summer and not have to take showers etc. — those parents would be likely to have Child Protective Services called on them. Accordingly, we need to go the extra mile. For example if we see the authorities cracking down on a family for the kind of thing that we ourselves are getting away with, then we need to speak up.

I suspect that colonizer culture / Anglocentric culture is the original source of the shame-based social norms about what it takes to be clean. In traditional cultures all over the world and throughout history, I’m sure most of the kids and maybe the adults mainly stayed clean just in the course of everyday life by going into the river and so on.

So if we’re going to promote these naturalistic practices we just have to be aware and do it in a way that liberates and empowers people to find their own right choice.

That said, we do need to get clean. And there are many practices from other cultures that we can learn from and enjoy.

Personally, I find that scrubbing with a washcloth or loofah is a really great and eco-friendly way to get clean. Especially as I prefer to use little or no running water, only a small container of water scooped from the rainbarrel. And only moderate amounts of soap as I have dry skin, etc.

And quite frankly, I don’t bathe every day (though in summer I do have a cooling dip in the ocean or a rain-tub daily), and in winter I really don’t bathe every day. Nowhere near. But I do always make sure I feel clean, and at different times a year that means different frequencies.

I will say that when I went to live in Japan in the 1990s I fell in love with their method of bathing. There were public baths, but before you could go soak in that nice super hot water, you needed to scrub scrub scrub with a washcloth, get super clean and only then sit in the communal tub.

I never thought about it much growing up, because the English way of taking baths was what I grew up with, but once I did it the Japanese way I could never go back to just getting in a bathtub of water without first scrubbing clean.

Stay clean and healthy everyone, however you choose to do it. And don’t let the advertisers or indoctrinated shame tell you what clean is.

PS. Celebrities have a lot of leverage to be an anti-consumerist influence. And so do each of us in our own way. Keep going with your efforts, and thanks to each of you for helping people reduce their footprint in ways that add value to their lives.

Further exploration:

• “Why Aren’t These Famous Guys Bathing?” Barry Samaha; in Esquire magazine.