Thursday, November 20, 2008

You might not want to get too close to me

The discussion about eating meat (or not) got me thinking about other choices we make in our daily lives.

I've written about body odor, or lack thereof, before, in the entries Not Smelling American and the linked post, Smelling American. These posts were mainly about some crazy family history and perfume. Right now, I want to discuss something else about this subject.

Though I was traumatized (not kidding, read that post above) by my parents' rejection of the American standards of cleanliness, I have started to come around to their point of view, after many years. Even though most public spaces now have their "no perfume" rules, they also have an unstated "no smelling like a human being" rule. We may not be able to wear perfume, but we are obligated to be scented or unscented with products. The selection of scented shampoos, conditioners, hair styling products, deodorants and antiperspirants, body lotions, soap and specialized cleansers, toners, shaving creams and gels, and who knows what else, is staggering.

I used to feel like I couldn't leave the house without a shower. I showered every single morning without fail. In that shower, I would use a shampoo, a conditioner, a facial scrub, a bar of scented soap and a body scrub. When I got out, I would apply an anti-perspirant. I just had a shower, and I did use every one of these products, but here's the thing: I haven't had a shower for a week. You heard me correctly.

You may be horrified, I'm sure. I was a little embarassed writing the words.

Not taking a shower daily flaunts many societal norms. I hadn't realized just how many there were until I sat down and gave it some thought. I can't shave my legs or my armpits. I suppose I could do that in the sink, but then I'd be using quite a bit of water, so I might as well take a shower.

Actually, I haven't shaved my armpits since I was a teenager. I've done it at most three times. I think it feels horrible. I think it looks horrible, too. Most of my fellow Americans would disagree, especially men, but I don't care. When I was in a band, my fellow band members wanted me to shave my pit hair, or at least clip it. They thought it was disgusting. Pretty funny, considering they were supposedly punks and the name of my first band was, well, um, Disgusting.

I remember when a video came out for some German band, who did a song with the word "Luftballoons" in it, people complained about having to see the singer's pit hair. What an insult to our sensibilities!

What do you think armpit hair is for, anyway? It's there to keep our sweat from running down the sides of our bodies, amongst other things, but we don't need that (at least us women), 'cause we've got so much antiperspirant on.

I don't know how things are in France these days, but when I was young, I knew some French people and they thought that Americans were insane about their hygiene. We are. In fact, studies have started to show that our outrageously clean bodies and homes have created a society full of people with allergies. It's not other peoples' perfumes that are making you sick - it's that we're not exposed to enough germs!

Now, there's some days that I don't smell like nothing or like a zillion cleansing products. Those days I'm at home, sitting at my computer. Why should I waste water, and the electricity to make it hot, by showering?

What about most American's habits of washing their clothes after wearing them once? Unless you are a plumber or work in some other job where you are immersed in manure or other truly smelly stuff, you can't possibly need to wash your clothes after one wearing. Even your socks. Okay, maybe your socks stink, but at least make a judgment about it. Do they or not? If so, wash them. Or, you could leave them hanging outside over night and discover that they smell perfectly fine the next day. You think I'm kidding? I'm not.

Another thing I've started doing (as opposed to not doing) is sleeping in my clothes. I don't do this every night. If I know that what I'm wearing is going to be laundered the next day, I figure I might as well sleep in it. I keep my house cold, and sleeping in my clothes is a pretty good idea. Sure, I could put on some specialized sleeping garb, but that would create extra things to clean.

Sound extreme or crazy? Perhaps. But, as we are worrying about energy costs in America, we ought to be thinking about more than hybrid cars and windmills. I've heard not one person say a thing about the wastefulness of heating so much water for the daily shower most of us partake in.

We are humans and we smell. I don't appreciate it when someone smells bad, and I've been in more than one work situation where I've had to have a discussion with someone about their hygiene. So, I'm not "for" stinking to high heaven. But, as in everything, moderation is the key. Right now, I may be engaging in a bit of extreme behavior, for it's damned cold in my house and I'm home alone most of the time.

I assure you, if we get together, I will not offend you (at least not by my smell).

Photo courtesy of stirwise.


TMC said...

Brava! I totally agree.

Anonymous said...

Ha, many of my current group of friends are professional urban gardener hippie anarchist types who think BO is sexy. Most of 'em manage a shower every few days, and for most of 'em that's more than enough, but there's this one 18-year-old who, even though he's fun and adorable, smells like a barnyard. Seriously! You can be sitting on the far side of a crowded cafe and know exactly when he enters the building by the smell of him. It's amazing! And, of course, no one says anything, because he's doing it as some kind of political statement, not because he doesn't "know any better."

I don't wash my clothes every day, at least not for most of the year. Especially not pants ... that's what underwear are for. And I sleep eau natural ... have for years. Sleeping in clothes is so suffocating (sorry to put that mental image in your head).


Anonymous said...

Kudos to you Julie for not being afraid to bring it up! What is up with people washing pretty much clean clothes most of the time? I know plenty of folks who only use a bathtowel once and then have to toss in it the wash. I never got that.
BTW, when I was growing up, during the winter we only took baths once a week because there was no running hot water much of the time. I don't remember any of us being smelly:)


Gidaren-kun said...

I found your blog through finding you on Twitter (this is jonsinger), and you are a fantastic writer. I rarely read large blog entries because I get bored and I get sucked into yours til the end, even when they are about BO and hygiene.

Also, I agree. Showering every day is such a waste. Perhaps I should think of cutting my hair shorter..

Julie H. Rose said...


Thank you for your comments.

I should give you an award of some sort: you are the FIRST man to leave a comment here!

BitterGrace said...

When my oldest brother was small he had chronic skin rashes, and my mother couldn't find any ointment or remedy that worked. She finally took him to the doctor, who told her she was bathing him too much. Hard to imagine a doctor telling any mother that now. She cut back on the scrubbing, and that was the end of the rashes.

I confess I am among the daily bath addicts, but that's more a matter of sensual pleasure than a concern with hygiene. I've always had the feeling that it was a vice, and now that I've read your post, I'm certain of it.

Julie H. Rose said...

To all of you

I am not trying to get anyone to change their habits! I was just thinking about mine. No guilt, please!

I would LOVE to take a bubble bath every day, but I don't have enough water in my well to fill my bathtub. If I did, I would be happiy luxuriating in the VICE of bathing, with candles and perhaps even some baroque music in the background. Oh, that sounds nice.

The hair thing, though - hmmm. When I had a shaved head, I didn't use all those hair products!

Ain't life complicated?

I love reading all your comments. Keep 'em coming. You are all so smart!

Three Cent Stamp said...

Whether anyone changes their habits or not, you've given us all something to think about. And I admire your courage for bringing it up in the first place. These are the things that make good writers great writers. I already do some of these things, because, like you, I think we need to think beyond the hybrid.

Great post. Thanks.