In the U.S., on average, men tend to shower daily while women are more inclined to three to five times weekly.
Health experts say it isn’t necessary. In fact, says bathing expert Katherine Ashenburg, author of “The Dirt on Clean,” and for kids, “All the Dirt,” says unless you’re a farmer or athlete involved in contact sports, you don’t need to clean over your wrists too often. Hands, yes, frequently, after eating or using the restroom, but the rest…a washrag with soap on armpits and private parts is sufficient.
We began this obsession our American cleanliness in the Civil War. “They established in the Civil War something called the Sanitary Commission, which at first was laughed at but the founders followed Miss Nightingale’s belief that more deaths in wars were caused by infection and disease than gunshot wounds,” Ashenburg explains. In the 1880’s an immigrant wave from Southern Europe prompted a fixation with teaching the new arrivals the benefits of frequent bathing, just as indoor plumbing was beginning to make it easier. Madison Avenue got advertising accounts from soap manufacturers as the country entered the 20th century, and Americans were convinced the only way to get husbands, friends and jobs was to bath daily. The rest, as they say, is history.
Historically, though, we’re not the cleanest people. Ashenburg credits the Japanese with that distinction, and puts the French and Spanish as laying claim to being the dirtiest countries. It’s a source of pride in France. “The French have a somatic culture of enjoying strong smells, in meats, cheeses, bodies and wines. And they’re very proud of that.”
For the record, medical science says showering daily may not be your best option, causing dryness of the skin and cracking that could allow bacteria to penetrate the body.