There is a steady “I Am Spartacus” movement, but for celebrities revealing how little they shower. How often one should bathe is clearly a personal decision, based on activity levels, skin conditions, access to potable water, and the individual’s understanding of cleanliness. For there to be global consensus on the same exact bathing regimen is to expect everyone on earth to have the same favorite six-digit number. Not likely!
Despite the low stakes of the topic—or perhaps because of them—describing one’s bathing habits is now a surefire way for celebrities to enter a news cycle. This week, one small and stinky morsel of an in-depth Vanity Fair interview with Jake Gyllenhaal neatly showed how it works.
Gyllenhaal told Vanity Fair he finds bathing to be “more and more less necessary,” pointing out that “there’s a whole world of not bathing that is also really helpful for skin maintenance, and we naturally clean ourselves.”
Prior to Gyllenhaal, actors and partners Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher earned heaps of media coverage by disclosing their hygiene habits on the Armchair Expert podcast, hosted by Dax Shephard and Monica Padman. In the July episode of the podcast, Kutcher said he would not bathe his kids unless they were visibly dirty, and both Kunis and Kutcher said they do not shower every day. And that’s fine, according to experts. Still, their comments resulted in media coverage including an E! News story, CNN coverage, and a paywalled USA Today post. (What was assumed to be pot smoke in That 70’s Show may have been visible clouds of body odor.)
James Hamblin, a doctor and journalist who has gone years without a shower, wrote about his decision to stop showering in The Atlantic in 2016. His reasoning was multi-pronged, including time and water savings, preserving the body’s microbiome, and the glut of pricey yet ineffective cleansing products.
In conversation with NPR last year, Hamblin acknowledged his identity as a white man in America allowed him to cut against the cultural norms that white men had established, without experiencing “more discriminatory consequences.”
Journalist Jemele Hill also identified the stark contrast between such figures announcing their minimalist bathing habits and how Black people were often “raised to be obsessively clean because we always have to ‘present well’ for white folks.”
Celebrities have not brought this level of funk privilege acknowledgement to the discourse, and rich white celebrities touting their low-maintenance watering schedules does not carry the stigmatic stench of a regular person with zero IMDB credits announcing the same thing. For some reason, people can’t read enough about celebrities and how much they bathe, and the celebrities are happy to contribute to the rubbernecking.
The fascination with celebrity hygiene has gotten to the point where even more traditional shower habits are considered newsworthy. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson entered the discourse by tweeting his (maybe excessive) three-shower-a-day routine and drummed up some media coverage. You can now read multiple stories about how Aquaman star Jason Momoa said, “I shower, trust me, I’m Aquaman, I’m in fucking water, trust me.”