What sticks out to me most about these showering habits, is that they are largely cultural. Most people in the U.S. do and (hopefully!) will continue to wash once a day. Others, like those who hail from hot, humid tropical climates, will often shower twice a day. In the morning, after a night of sleeping, probably with an electric fan stationed directly beside your bed, you hop in the shower to wash off the sweat that may have come during the night so you are fresh for the day ahead. When you come back in the evening, just before bed, you wash the day’s worth of sweat and grime off, and then do it all over again the next day. “It’s definitely a cultural difference,” says Cofie-Obeng. “My family is from Ghana, and we take baths twice a day — we grew up with that.”
Also, as a Black American, specifically, from childhood, the message you get from society at large is that people who look like you are lazy, dirty, and don’t dress well. The mantra “you have to be 10 times as good to get half as much” reigns supreme in every Black household, and there is tremendous pressure to put your best foot forward when you go out in the world so you are not negatively judged. Demonstrating good hygiene is just a piece of that.
Washing daily also just feels good. For me, there is nothing like coming out of the shower and ritualistically slathering my body in all manner of body butters and oils — especially when they’re beautifully scented. That clean feeling is so deliciously satisfying and, at least for me, has been an important part of maintaining my personal sanity. The past year and change has been difficult for all of us. I lost my own mother in the pandemic, and have been feeling bouts of depression.
To top that off, I have health-related anxiety, so you can imagine I would be pretty on edge living in a world where there is a deadly airborne pathogen, one that has predominantly killed people of color — people who look like me. Taking showers with scented soaps, moisturizing my body with the same cocoa butter my mother used to use on me when I was a child, slipping into fresh new clothes, and then spraying myself with perfume has been one of the few pleasures I’ve been able to indulge in. I’m not going anywhere or interacting with many people most days, but keeping up with this part of my normal routine has been quite comforting indeed.
Besides the self-care aspect, for the past year, the fear of getting COVID particles on me has made me take even more showers than usual. At my most cautious, I would shower right after going downstairs to my building lobby. Now, I’m able to take out the garbage without running to the shower, but if I spend more than a few minutes outside, you best believe I’m washing myself once I get back to my apartment.
No amount of hemming and hawing about my skin’s microbiome (which is fine, thank you very much) is going to make me consider showering less regularly. And as much as I love the earth and care about things like climate change and wastefulness, taking a daily shower is a sacrifice I’m willing to make. Besides, if we’re worried about wasting water, maybe take that up with large corporations rather than regular people who just, in the middle of a once-in-a-generation event, want to feel clean.
So, no New York Times, et. al, I will keep showering daily, no matter who decides they’re okay with a little bit of funk. And that’s on fresh armpits.
For those who enjoy bath culture:
Now, watch Nigella Miller’s psoriasis-conscious wash day routine: