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It’s none of my business how often you shower. But I can’t help wondering …

·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Peter Cade/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Peter Cade/Getty Images

“Don’t admit to anything dirty, OK?” my partner cautioned when I told her what I was writing about. I’ll try not to. However, I do want to raise a mild stink about how weirdly invested we all seem to be in the shower habits of strangers. Each week brings a flurry of new articles about how the pandemic has turned us all into dirt-monsters – normally pegged to some supposedly shocking survey results. Last November, for example, the media were abuzz about an Ipsos Mori study that found a quarter of Britons were less likely to shower daily than at the start of the pandemic. In February, a YouGov survey found 17% of adults in Britain were showering less often than in the Before Times. This week, a company called VoucherCodes came out with a survey that found half of Britons don’t shower daily. Judging by the fact that voucher sites are now running studies on the matter, it seems there is an endless appetite for this kind of hygiene-related content.

Even before the pandemic, people got very worked up about the “rules” of good hygiene. In 2019, for example, there was a heated debate on Twitter about whether white people were less likely to wash their legs in the shower and whether a lack of leg-washing was incredibly gross. The argument spilled over to mainstream media: Jenna Bush Hager, George W Bush’s daughter, pondered the question on primetime TV. Taylor Swift got involved, telling Ellen DeGeneres that she thought shaving your legs was basically washing your legs.

You think not washing your legs is gross? An increasing number of people in the rich world seem to be turning not showering into a core part of their identity. Influencers like the Paleo Mom, for example, have boasted about only using water to wash, despite sweaty gym sessions. “I don’t smell,” she has said. We will have to take her word for it. Similarly, Stella McCartney has said she is “not a fan” of cleaning clothes. Which is the sort of thing you can only boast about if you’re rich.

OK, I don’t know what happened here. I started this piece trying to explain that we shouldn’t judge people for their washing habits. Now I’m judging people for their washing habits. I think I now understand why we’re so sucked into shower debates. When the world seems to be falling apart, personal hygiene drama is a welcome distraction. It’s good clean fun.

  • Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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