Today I am going to write about personal hygiene.
I am writing this, in fact, right out of the shower, after a somewhat sweaty yoga class. I feel clean and fresh and overall pretty great. Clean is pretty much my favorite way to be. Of course I am a gardener, so at the right time of year I like nothing better than getting covered in dirt from head to toe. But part of the delight is the shower afterwards, the chance to start grimy and end sparkling (except for that bit of dirt that gets ground into my fingers in April and never really scrubs off until October).
I am a daily bather, as were my parents before me, and I raised my children to be daily bathers, as well. Alas, the younger generation no longer believes in bathing. My older daughter was in college for about 20 minutes when she apparently learned from her peers that it is not actually necessary to bathe every day. Less than a year later my younger daughter learned the same "fact" at music camp (music camp! So much for the notion of the arts as a high-minded pursuit!)
So how much should I be worried about the younger generation's more relaxed standards of personal hygiene? For answers, I turned to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, figuring that I could rely on them to give me cause for alarm.
And they did not disappoint! Here are just a few items from the CDC's helpful list of hygiene-related diseases: athlete's foot, scabies, pinworm, head lice, and lymphatic filariasis (this last a mosquito-borne parasitic disease caused by microscopic, thread-like worms).
Just the ammunition I need to convince the younger generation of the virtues of daily bathing! YOUNG PEOPLE: IF YOU DO NOT SHOWER EVERY DAY, YOU WILL FIND YOUR BODY INVADED BY MICROSCOPIC, THREAD-LIKE WORMS.
But upon reflection, this is just not convincing. If the dreaded lymphatic filariasis is mosquito-borne, in what way, exactly, is it hygiene-related? Does bathing repel mosquitoes? Personal experience would suggest otherwise. Perhaps it is the failure of the mosquitoes themselves to bathe adequately?
And head lice! I happen to know that head lice is NOT hygiene-related. Head lice (once again, I speak from bitter personal experience) is simply a side effect of having preschoolers while simultaneously being too stupid to cut your hair short.
On a side note, the CDC's page on hygiene includes a lengthy piece on the dangers of Fish Pedicures. This is an apparently real spa treatment wherein you stick your feet in a tub filled with a particular species of small fish (the garra rufa), which fish then obligingly proceed to nibble away at your psoriasis. The problem, according to the CDC, is that Fish Pedicures can lead to nontuberculous mycobacterial infections (and you can bet your bottom dollar that these are second in severity only to tuberculous mycobacterial infections). In any case, the CDC and I agree on this advice: YOUNG PEOPLE, DO NOT GET FISH PEDICURES.
The CDC does not, alas, opine upon the proper frequency for bathing, at least not on its website. So I turned instead, to the next obvious source of wisdom and authority: Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed, in an article with over six million views (approximately 5,999,990 more than my typical blog post), claims that Americans bathe far too often, and that excessive bathing is actually bad for us. Buzzfeed managed to find a dermatologist to back this up: to wit, a Dr. Joshua Zeichner, who explains that our perception of body odor is "really more of a cultural phenomenon." Maybe so. But while body odor may be a wholly cultural construct, the culture in question just happens to be the one in which we presently reside.
So I will continue to bathe, thank you very much.
Perhaps it is inevitable that each generation will be more slovenly than the ones that came before. I am well aware that my housekeeping standards fall far short of those of my mother, who is, for example, chagrined at the stains on my cutlery, stains about which I just can't be bothered. I draw the line, however, at stains on my clothing; but my kids seem to be far more at home with the odd oil stain or paint splatter. And then, of course, there is the bathing issue.
These things go in cycles, surely. The ancient Romans, as we all know, bathed frequently (and publicly), sometimes multiple times per day. But everyone was really dirty by the time the Middle Ages rolled around -- we have documentary evidence:
The way things are going, my grandchildren will be as grimy as John Cleese playing a Medieval peasant. And then perhaps the tides will turn and my great-great-great grandchildren will have spotless cutlery and spend whole days in the tub.
Let us hope only that the tub in question is not filled with psoriasis-eating fish.