While the general public has never truly known the ins and outs of Hollywood, no one could’ve seen the Hollywood anti-bathing epidemic coming. The past couple of weeks have been filled to the brim with claims by A-list actors that describe their personal hygiene routines and it’s … disturbing, to say the least. The nature of these claims has inspired a flood of reactions, some of which speak to the classist infrastructure on which American society is built.
It all began with a controversial, discourse-instigating, racially focused tweet by Yashar Ali, @yashar on Twitter. It read, “What is going on with white people confessing on Twitter that they don’t wash their legs, feet, etc. in the shower and just let the water flow do the work?” This opened up the space for many people to admit to their unique hygiene habits. Jake Gyllenhaal added his two cents, saying, “More and more I find bathing to be less necessary, at times. I do also think that there’s a whole world of not bathing that is also really helpful for skin maintenance, and we naturally clean ourselves.”
Encouraged by her fellow actor, Kristen Bell took the stage to explain her bathing routine as a parent: “It’s not so much of a joke that I wait for the stink. That tells you when they need to bathe.” Two weeks earlier, Bell’s husband, actor Dax Shepard, engaged in a conversation with Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, who also admitted to an inconsistent bathing routine for their children. “If you can see the dirt on them, clean them. Otherwise, there’s no point,” Kutcher reasoned.
These were only a few of many celebrities who admitted to less traditional bathing habits. The list also included Matthew McConaughey and Cameron Diaz, who are both outspokenly anti-deodorant. Diaz confessed that she hadn’t used deodorant in two decades, citing trimming her underarm hair as her secret to eliminating odor. McConaughey defends his lack of antiperspirant usage by arguing that his natural scent trumps all, particularly for the women in his life: “Including my mother, [the women] have all said, ‘Hey, your natural smell smells, one, like a man, and two, smells like you.”
Luckily, some celebrities, such as Dwayne Johnson, haven’t fallen off of that cliff yet. In fact, Johnson admitted that his practices go deeply against the habits of his fellow celebrities, saying, “Nope, I’m the opposite of a ‘not washing themselves’ celeb. Shower (cold) when I roll outta bed to get my day rollin’. Shower (warm) after my workout before work. Shower (hot) after I get home from work.”
On an individual level, these celebrities’ nontraditional hygiene practices reflect on their lifestyles. But on a broader scale, their claims speak to a classist double standard that bleeds through our current societal framework. Hygiene and cleanliness have been heavily pushed onto people of color, as well as people of lower socioeconomic status. There’s always been less of a hyperfixation on the cleanliness of white celebrities because it is something that is almost assumed of them.
It’s this hyperfixation that has built stereotypes and pushed insecurities onto people of color. Abby Govindan, an Indian American comedian, tweeted, “In middle school I, like many other ethnic kids, was terrorized by my classmates who kept making ‘Indian people are smelly and don’t shower’ jokes so please excuse me if I don’t find these white celebrities bragging about being grimy endearing or cute.”
To see something that low-income people of color get attacked for being admitted so freely and without shame speaks to the privilege of assumed cleanliness that comes with whiteness and wealth. For many non-white Americans such as Govindan, this Hollywood anti-bathing epidemic isn’t just a matter of disgust, it’s an affront to their experiences.
It’s in these recent confessions of infrequent celebrity showering that we see these experiences become race and class-specific. What began as a string of unrelated, so-gross-they’re-funny claims unveiled a framework of classism and hypocrisy, with Hollywood at the nexus.