For most people living in a developed nation, the question “when do you shower?” elicits responses ranging from “in the morning” to “at night.” For me, it presents an opportunity to reflect on the past week. “When did I last shower?” I’ve often wondered with a combination of concern and amusement. Was it 3 days ago? 4? Sometimes the days all run together…don’t they?
It’s taken me a couple of decades to come to terms with the fact that I’m an irregular bather. Growing up, my parents taught me to bathe daily, and they always set a clean example. I never envisioned myself to be the type to procrastinate on something as basic as applying soap and water to my body. Plus, I despise the putrid smells that seep from the pores of your average jam band groupie. (Seriously, hippies: Patchouli is no substitute.) Yet each morning I avoid turning on the faucets in my shower. I skulk into the bathroom and my bathtub taunts me. Will today be the day? How’s my hair? Is it Wednesday, when I have yoga class? A little soap angel on my right shoulder negotiates with a dirt devil on my left. By the time I’ve decided not to shower, several minutes have passed. I wipe the mascara from under my eyes, pretend to brush my hair and inevitably leave the bathroom with a sign flashing across my forehead: FAIL.
For a while bathing irregularly was a secret I could hide, like the fact that I enjoy reading People magazine. But as time went by, my secret became harder and harder to conceal. Between roommates and boyfriends, the question, “When is the last time you showered?!” has been uttered more times than I can count. Certainly more times than I’ve actually showered. It can be embarrassing to be the girl who looks good on the outside, lest anyone know the last time she hit the showers was “sometime last week.”
Most people who know this about me can’t understand it due to the sheer bliss they feel both during and after the cleaning process. I know what they’re describing, as I, too have experienced the sudsy wonders of a morning shower or an evening bath. I’ve bathed by candlelight; I’ve played music and consumed alcoholic beverages. I’ve even taken extended showers just for fun. But for me, the urge to bathe is an intermittent one. Part laziness, part apathy – but also part pragmatism. It’s like my brain thinks it’s unnecessary to shower every day, so I just don’t.
As far as hair is concerned, some might call mine a blessing. According to women’s magazines and most shampoos, my hair is classified as “normal.” Not too oily and not too dry. Not too thin and not too thick. It is the Baby Bear porridge of hair. While I agree it’s great having “normal” hair, it’s also a bit disconcerting. My tresses can go literally 2 weeks before you’d guess they were dirty (trust me on this). Of course, that doesn’t mean they smell good for 2 weeks, but that’s a pretty minor trade-off if you ask me. I like to think I’ve embraced this gift of hair balance to its fullest extent. Most girls feel disgusting walking around with 4-day-old unwashed locks. Not me. I revel in it. I think to myself, “What day is today? Tuesday? Sweet, I’ve got at least a few more days before I have to take the plunge and wash this mop.”
I’ll admit that many of my poor bathing habits likely stem from my hair history. In high school, my hair was so long it came down to my belt buckle (Note: I do not recommend this.) Once I got to college – and before I entered my “Felicity pixie-cut phase” – it became a major chore to wash it. I’d pin it up before I showered to avoid dealing with it, and each week I passively tested myself to see how long I could go before I looked like Janis from The Muppets. After I chopped it off it seemed even more unnecessary to wash. I could get hosed down with beer (hypothetically, of course) and still decide not to wash it the next day if it looked OK. Hell, I might not shower at all.
The irony is that I’ve got a washroom stocked with myriad bath products. Like any girl who grew up with easy access to a mall, I’m a huge fan of bath gels, fancy shampoos and conditioners, and lotions. The only difference between me and everyone else is that I end up keeping mine for years. As a teenager I convinced myself I was being frugal, never recognizing that I’d actually use them if I just showered more frequently. It excited me to know that I’d had the same dusty bottle of Bath & Body Works Juniper Breeze bath gel for over a year. “Money in the bank! Cha-ching!” I would think to myself, giving my back a congratulatory pat. It wasn’t until years – and several apartments – later that I realized how ridiculous this was. Even now, I hoard my partially used gels and potions as though they’re something to treasure, rather than something to replace at a drugstore for $7.99. Just knowing they’re in the bath rack, waiting to be used again, gives me the illusion that I’ve won half the shower battle.
So how infrequently do I bathe? Let me start by saying that I’m currently on Day 6 of not washing my body or my hair. That’s unfortunate for my live-in boyfriend, who thinks I’m crazy, but as I said to him this morning, it’s all in the name of research (or whatever excuse I come up with each week). That being said, I typically shower at least every 3 days. OK, no. Every 4 days. My hair probably gets washed once every 5-7 days….if I’m lucky. Like I said, I’ve gone two weeks before and I wouldn’t pass up a dare to do it again.
There are a ton of great excuses for not showering. I have work to do. My cat needs petting. It’s environmentally sound. In fact, every time I read about some celebrity like Jennifer Aniston yapping about how she showers in under 4 minutes to help save our natural resources I think, “Screw you, Aniston. I barely shower at all!” I hover between thinking I’m the laziest, dirtiest girl I know to joking about being “more European.” I engage in conversations with girlfriends before beach trips about needing to shave my legs without fully admitting that they haven’t been shaved in a month (hey, I have light hair). Not showering regularly has become one of my ‘quirky little flaws’ that makes me me. I’ve crafted several self-deprecating jokes about it to try to assuage friends that despite being dirty, I’m still able to be funny. And being funny is what counts, right? Well, that and not smelling bad.
Avoiding a funky smell when you hate to bathe is actually easier than you might think. Deodorant is key. As is wearing clothing that’s relatively clean. Changing your underwear is good. You might say I’m the human body equivalent of that pair of jeans you never wash but nobody knows the difference. Except when I shower people actually say, “You look nice!” Looks are the biggest downside of this little habit of mine. When I do shower, I feel better, look better and smell better. I know all of this, so I try to make a concerted effort. If anything, I do it to please my man. Being clean is sexy; ponytails are not. It’s difficult to find a balance when every shred of my being is beckoning me to wait until tomorrow (or the next day). But sometimes being clean is important.
If I have a business or doctor-related appointment, I shower. If I’m attending a wedding, or an event where I might be raising my arms, I step up my game. When I went to see Martha Stewart’s show film a live taping I thought about showering, but I had to get there at 8am so it didn’t happen. Still, deep down I know that cleanliness is next to godliness. Bathing allows you to have a clear mind, to wipe the slate clean and start anew. I have much respect for those who make this happen once or even twice a day. It’s remarkable, really. I’ve just come to understand that I’m not one of those people. And that’s OK – at least with me.