Listen: I get it. Bathing can be inconvenient: You gotta get yourself all wet, which isn’t fun, and if you’re long and spindly with lots of tangly hair like me, every part of the cleansing process can feel endless.
But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love a good, hot, refreshing shower. I never regret luxuriating in fine-smelling body wash, or toweling newly shaved legs, or playing with freshly washed curls. It’s a real treat for me, not to mention a privilege for many people around the world without access to clean water or showering facilities.
Which is why I find a recent spate of comments from such white celebrities as Ashton Kutcher, Kristen Bell, and Jake Gyllenhaal about their disinterest in regular bathing so grating. What a fun time we’ve had, learning about their habits! “I wash my armpits and my crotch daily, and nothing else ever,” boasted Kutcher on Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert last month. “I’m a big fan of waiting for the stink,” Kristen Bell said on The View this week, in an interview with her husband, Shepard, who added that he could hardly remember the last time they bathed their kids. And now, Gyllenhaal has added to the conversation with this comment, made in reply to a Vanity Fair interviewer’s question about his showering ritual: “More and more I find bathing to be less necessary, at times.”
Apparently, it’s now cool in forty-something Hollywood to walk the line of personal hygiene. I have never been so close to any of these folks as to have smelled them, but now I know that I truly do not wish to. Because even if Bell is “waiting for the stink,” I am a fan of … not doing that. Should you reach noticeable-stink levels of grime, I’m gonna vote that you’ve gone too far, my guy.
Twitter has reacted to these comments with a fury reminiscent of the “do you wash your legs” kerfuffle of 2019. Why are people so angry about a personal decision? Maybe it’s because these particular folks choosing not to wash just feels like a waste. These are the wealthiest people in the world, with time to spare and access to the best products of all kinds—even those $100-plus creams and cleansers that Sephora and Dermstore are constantly trying to sell me. A $3 face mask at CVS is not something a celebrity would ever buy as a fun nighttime activity, because they can go to any spa they want for the full wash-down service whenever they choose. (I’m sure most of them also have those uber-expensive rain showers that I would commit treason to be able to buy.)
Science says that many of these celebrity advocates for infrequent bathing are onto something. There’s research that suggests that we definitely do not need to clean ourselves with harsh soaps and other products as often as many of us choose to do. Washing your hair every day generally isn’t necessary; there’s a movement to break free of using aggressive antiperspirants and deodorants. Bodies are self-cleaning systems, after all.
So maybe these celebs feel like they’re freeing us from the pressure to bathe daily? Kutcher’s wife Mila Kunis noted in that same podcast interview that she didn’t have hot water growing up, so she became accustomed to not showering too often. That’s the reality for so many people in this world, and you might argue that her talking about this publicly, and normalizing this kind of approach to washing, could be a good way to reduce anxiety among people who can’t stay as clean as they’d like.
But that life is not the reality for Mila Kunis anymore, and talking about it feels like a stretch toward seeming relatable, when we all know that Kunis is rolling in that Super Bowl commercial dough. Social consequences for a stinky celebrity are simply not the same as social consequences for a stinky normal person, especially if that normal person isn’t white or wealthy. It feels disingenuous for these fancy beautiful people to pretend like they’re leading the way toward a new world, when mostly, they’re just showing off how free they are to do what they like.
Here’s what is relatable, unfortunate as this truth may be: Smelling someone else’s body odor is the opposite of pleasant. “Bad breath” is called bad breath for a reason. (And even if halitosis can’t kill you, it can definitely kill your social life.) Celebrities are out there wearing borrowed designer clothes, working out for hours a day, sweating their way through Los Angeles Starbucks runs. There is absolutely no way any of them smell decent enough to warrant skipping a shower for days on end. Our sensitive little noses just can’t deal—sorry!
Celebrities are busy, sure. I get that. But when it comes down to it, all I ask of them is what I ask of anyone: If you don’t have time for a shower, then fine. But at least clean your kids’ dirty poop butts.
Update, Aug. 9, 2021: This post has been updated since publication.