Is Hollywood OK? I feel like we ask that question a lot around these here parts, mostly because the denizens of Tinseltown keep giving us reasons to worry. We’ve seen lockdown fever singalongs, couples therapy admissions that probably should have been left behind closed doors, and way too many people deciding to start a podcast. We’re easing back into some sort of normalcy, albeit a deeply misguided one thanks to good old-fashioned denial, which means that the glitzy A-Listers are giving interviews and delving into some serious TMI territory.
The current glut of Discourse seemed to start when Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher appeared on Dax Shepard’s inexplicably popular podcast Armchair Expert. The conversation turned to the topic of keeping one’s children clean, the couple admitted that they didn’t bathe their kids every day. OK, nothing too weird. Doctors are cool with parents not bathing their babies daily. But then Kutcher said that he would ‘wash my armpits and my crotch daily, and nothing else ever.’ Huh. That was a choice. At least his basement gets a wipe-down? Seriously, the bar is low these days.
Shepard’s wife Kristen Bell then admitted on The View that ‘I’m a big fan of waiting for the stink.’ Uh… huh. But the tipping point came when Serious Actor Jake Gyllenhaal told Vanity Fair, ‘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.’
Oh Jake. Oh, honey. This confession was made all the weirder by it coming through an interview to promote a fragrance Gyllenhaal is now the face of. Is the designer scent used as a cover-up for B.O. du Jake? Is this a way to keep the paparazzi at bay, through nasal attacks? Why the hell is everyone suddenly talking about this?! So many questions.
It’s a revelation that left much of us slack-jawed with confusion. Why would you ever admit such a thing? I told my mum about this, and she was positively indignant about it. It even encouraged a f**kton of other celebrities to rush to social media unprompted to let the people know that, yes, they showered regularly and kept themselves squeaky clean, thank you very much. The Rock, for instance, likes to shower multiple times a day due to his strenuous workout routine.
The rejection of traditional methods of personal hygiene is not a new trend. The Guardian wrote a piece in 2019 on people who hadn’t bathed or showered in years as a means to allow the body’s natural microbes to ‘live on [them] in symbiotic harmony.’ Various beauty and lifestyle websites have articles on quitting soap for a month or seeing how long one can go without washing their hair. And let us not forget the great Twitter debate over whether letting the shower water run down one’s legs counts as washing them. At a time when so-called natural beauty is especially popular, and probiotic skincare is a burgeoning industry, it’s not hard to see the allure of a routine so wildly different from the tyranny of 30-minute, ten-step cycles and the like.
The body is an incredible thing and there’s some truth to Gyllenhaal’s insistence that the body cleans itself but not really in a manner that demands we stop washing altogether. Sure, your skin produces natural oils that the wrong kind of soap can strip away, but leaving things as is will probably end in clogged pores, flaky skin, oily skin, and, of course, GERMS. Then again, the issue at hand here is less rooted in the universality of hygiene and more in the exposure of privilege that such confessions have created.
To get personal for a moment, as a working-class kid with unruly hair, acne, and psoriasis, the insult I heard the most often from my classmates, aside from ‘ugly,’ was ‘dirty.’ I was constantly accused of being unclean, of not washing, and of being riddled with some sort of disease as a result. It didn’t matter that plenty of other teenagers I knew had spots or if I could explain how an autoimmune disorder like psoriasis actually works - spoiler alert but it has nothing to do with how much you wash - because such things were an easy target for mockery. I knew a lot of kids from similar backgrounds to mine who faced such cruelty. It’s an experience I’ve seen echo throughout social media this past week as people discussed how supposed cleanliness was judged across lines of gender, race, and class. I doubt such matters are on the minds of the mega-rich as they reveal their lack of hygiene routine, but the stench of privilege is tough for some of us to ignore.
So much of the work of celebrity is intended to seem effortless. You can’t admit that maintaining that stunning physique and seemingly pore-free façade is time-consuming and expensive because even the most lavish of celebrities are striving to maintain a sliver of relatability. The over-muscled masculinity of modern superhero bodies, for example, is positioned as entirely within the reach of the average Joe thanks to Men’s Health cover stories and Instagram clips of workouts. Women are encouraged to brag about their love of pizza and beer to show they’re totally normal even as they’re required to stay at a sample size for the next four decades. Celebrity skincare lines are a new trend, with the likes of Jennifer Lopez showing off their supposed secrets and selling them to eager fans. The plausible deniability of the exchange is extremely profitable: of course Lopez uses her own products and that’s why she looks as good as she does in her 50s! Hell, look at how Paul Rudd’s good skin is seen as some sort of miracle rather than the reality of him being a man with money in an industry where looking good is your top priority.
Confessing to the ultimate low-maintenance bathing routine is an extension of that plight, but it’s one that stretches fans’ collective willingness to buy into the fantasy. Admitting you’re not big on staying clean at a time when we’re all deadly paranoid about a f**king pandemic has left some of us feeling rather flabbergasted, it must be said. It’s not a story that ends there either. These celebrities have dermatologists and well-paid experts who can fix any problem for the right cost. Jake Gyllenhaal admitting he doesn’t shower often raises a few eyebrows but it won’t see him be lambasted in the way it would for regular people. It’s a quirk for the rich hot white guy, not a sign of your societal failing as it is when you’re anything other than that.
Seriously, people, at the very least, wash your f**king hands.
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