It’s a well-worn cliché that the personal hygiene of stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs), and maybe all home-based professionals, erodes. As the stereotype goes, with no 8 a.m. office appearance to make, we just hang out in wrinkly yoga pants all day, forget to brush our teeth, and shower two, maybe three, times a week.
And that’s true.
I never, ever used to forget to brush my teeth, and there was a time when I wore suit pants (unpressed, but still) more often than jammy bottoms. But I’m just going to say it: I have never been in the habit of showering more than two, maybe three, times a week. Even before becoming a SAHM, and even before moving to Europe. I almost never use deodorant either.
I’m not ashamed. Not stinky either. (Just checked.)
Now, there are people who can’t get away with more intermittent bathing. Every body is a different ecosystem, or rather, collection of different ecosystems. And some people have naturally more noxious microbe populations. (Although, there’s reason to believe that using deodorant is making your armpits naturally stinkier.)
Sweat, though itself odorless, is mostly to blame, as bacteria on our skin consume proteins in the sweat and break them down into fusty little acids. Indeed, if you sweat a whole lot, you should probably either shower accordingly or accept the social consequences.
If you know your body, and it is (or your loved ones are) telling you to de-funk daily, do it. I’m not here to convert anyone to smelly hippiedom. But I am saying that most people simply wouldn’t know. We’re so culturally conditioned to hop in the old rain closet every morning, that we just assume it’s necessary. But for most people, it’s not.
Some years ago, The New York Times made a much bigger stink about people who don’t shower daily than we do ourselves. Just listen to how we’re portrayed:
“Defying a culture of clean that has prevailed at least since the 1940s, a contingent of renegades deliberately forgoes daily bathing and other gold standards of personal hygiene, like frequent shampooing and deodorant use.”
A contingent of renegades? Is it a form of treason to skip a shower? Earlier in the article, Catherine Saint Louis, who is obviously next to Godliness herself, suggests that most Americans “would no sooner disclose that they had not showered in days than admit infidelity.”
Well, America, it seems I’ve betrayed you all.
But before you renounce my citizenship, hear me out. I don’t need daily showers. I’m not trying to be obstinate, or proud, I just genuinely don’t. For one thing, I have dry skin and hair, which any dermatologist will tell you gets exacerbated by daily showers. It takes several days for my hair to look greasy, but just one shower to give it the fly-aways.
Next, I don’t sweat much. Even when I work out vigorously. Again, I’m not trying to brag. Sure, perspiration ain’t pretty. And aside from Bikram yogis, most people aren’t aiming for it. But it’s not always convenient to be an under-sweater. I love to dance and bicycle, and I like most of the effects of running, if not the act itself. But I overheat easily, and before the sweat finally comes, I get muscle itchies and my face flushes bright red. But as a result, unless I’ve really exerted myself, a simple wash cloth under the arms would be enough to ward off malodor.
I realize now that I’m doing what almost everyone who writes about this does: I’m trying to distance myself from the message. “It’s ok for me, because I don’t sweat much.” When the truth is, few people actually need daily showers.
That NYT article did allow a voice of reason through the judgey subtext. Katherine Ashenburg, who wrote The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History, pointed out that cars and labor-saving machines keep us pretty fresh. For people who aren’t farmers, or construction workers, or professional athletes, “we have never needed to wash less, and we have never done it more.”
You’ve been lied to, people. Most likely, even you don’t have to shower more than two, maybe three, times a week. And just think of all the money you’ll save on water, heating, soap, moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner, and other hair products (as well as hair color, which lasts longer when you practice some restraint). You’ll save time, too, which means you are totally justified in hitting that snooze button once or twice more.
I know, showering does feel so good. But for me, it’s even better after a few day’s fast. And then I don’t have to feel guilty staying in there too long. That way, it’s a treat, a time to luxuriate, escape the world, and tune into the unfailing wisdom of shower thoughts.
As long as the kids are at school or something.
If not, you’re lucky if a toddler decides to jump in with you and then promptly start screaming about water in her eyes. Otherwise, be prepared at all times to dash soapily from your sanctum of sanitation in high alarm to ascertain the cause of blood-curdling howls coming from one of your children just to find out that her socks “feel funny” or you gave them the wrong color bowls.
So, to the unwashed masses of stay-at-homes, this post is especially for you. You may not have gotten those kids to eat a single vegetable today. Maybe you snapped at them again or swore out loud. Hell, maybe they swore out loud, and you didn’t have to wonder where they heard that. Whatever you’re feeling bad about today, just keep one thing in mind:
That shower you didn’t take? You didn’t need it anyway.