Who Gets to Be Dirty

It's not just calves and ankles going unwashed

I read an article somewhere on the Internet about how Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis don’t really bathe much and also allow their children to revel in free range filth. A couple days later, Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard said they “wait for the stink,” before bathing their own children and then Jake Gyllenhall said he wasn’t one for showering. I was horrified. All this, DURING A PANDEMIC!!!

My issue with the unshowered does not apply to any of you who are dealing with disabilities that make bathing difficult, or have medical issues like eczema where showering daily exacerbates the condition, or are dealing with depression, etc etc. What you do with your body is your business. What anyone does with their body is their business until they make it everyone’s business by talking about it in an interview. I think you know that but this is the internet where people are loathe to give anyone the benefit of the doubt so sometimes, we must state the obvious.

This lax, indifferent attitude toward bathing and cleanliness blows my mind. For one, my mom is incredibly fastidious about cleanliness so I was raised in a hyper-hygienic environment. I wish I could deprogram myself but it doesn’t seem likely in the life I have left. But also, I’m fat, and there are a lot of stereotypes about fat people as dirty, smelly, etc. I have to make extra effort to present myself as clean and tidy to receive a modicum of consideration from just about anyone. Life is unfair, it’s fine, whatever, but still, it gives me pause when someone says he doesn’t shower after working out, just splashes water on his face to remove the salts, whatever that means. I can’t imagine feeling like that is an available option.

People of color also have to think carefully about hygiene and self-presentation, as do people from many other marginalized groups. If a black parent made the statements celebrities have made lately about bathing and their children, they would soon receive a visit from Child Protective Services. This is not hyperbole; it happens, regularly and disproportionately.

Immigrants have often been framed as dirty. As we speak, certain conservatives are propagating the toxic rumor that the Delta variant is being brought into the country by people crossing the U.S. Southern border. During the segregation era (has it really ended?), white communities would drain an entire pool if a black person so much as dipped their toe in the water.

When we talk about cleanliness, it’s not just the low-hanging fruit about wash cloths and calves. It’s not just about our present day bodies. There is an entire cultural history that cannot be overlooked or forgotten.

It is the unique purview of wealthy white people to be unclean by choice, to take pride in that, and to speak openly and unapologetically about reveling in their natural odors and oils as if it is both an identity and a moral good. There is also the incredible privilege of knowing you can be dirty and won’t be judged or treated as inferior; you might, in fact, be celebrated, or receive an incredible amount of publicity.

Now people are trying to explain their bathing choices, and again, your body, do what you like. But lotion exists, for dry skin. Lotion is ubiquitous. You can still protect the environment and take a quick shower each day.

I digress. I remember in high school and college, how some white girls would make it something of a competition to see how long they could go without bathing. They would compare the oiliness of their hair and other such nonsense and no one (white) thought anything of it. I was reminded of that this week as I contemplated the lives of the famous and unshowered. What attitudes toward cleanliness were you raised with? What are your attitudes now?