I’m not an excessively clean person.
I actually “quit” traditional soap and shampoo about a year ago and instead supplement baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and coconut oil for all of my bathing needs. I’m not a neat freak or a germaphobe and have always thought of myself as pretty pro-bacteria. I’m the person who will eat food off the floor without a second thought.
When Hopes&Fears challenged me to stop all grooming for an entire week, I wondered, how far could I take it? What effect would it have on my life?
One last grooming for the record books
My daily routine, on a normal day, is to wake up, brush my teeth, take a shower (products: baking soda, apple cider vinegar), apply tinted moisturizer with SPF to my face, apply deodorant, spray perfume, brush and blowdry my hair, and get dressed.
Things that I will not be doing for the next week include:
Brushing my hair
Brushing my teeth
Applying any products
to my body
Changing my clothes
Here is what I look like, today, on Monday, after completing that routine:
I’m also wearing lipstick and mascara. I don’t usually wear makeup at home on a Monday, but if it’s my last chance to be pretty for a week, dammit, I’m taking it! Note the blue and white dress. I’ll be wearing this same dress all week, and that includes the Fourth of July, and I insist on being dressed patriotically, even if I’m stinking up the barbecue.
Here are the products that I usually use daily. They are being packed away in a box until next week so I don’t accidentally beautify or de-stink myself between now and then!
Tonight I went out to dinner with my boyfriend and got a buffalo chicken salad. Guess what? Gracefull goddess that I am, I got buffalo chicken stains on the bottom of my dress. The same one I’m about to wear for six more days. Oh well, the red buffalo sauce will be festive for my whole red, white and blue theme!
My friends are concerned
Last night I didn’t sleep very well. I had watched a bunch of Battlestar Galactica before bed, and spent the night tossing and turning with images of sludging through the jungles of Cobol in the rain interspersed with how messy my hair would look when I woke up in the morning. Images of tangled birds’ nests danced in my head. The actual result in the morning was not as bad as I expected. Though I had to resist the phantom urge to grab my brush, the damage has not been severe thus far.
I went on my normal morning walk down to the pier, which I usually do before my shower anyway, so that was nothing new, then I grabbed my computer and went to friend’s house to work. Hair a bit messy, I’d sweat a bit but nothing major. I told two friends about the experiment and they were seriously concerned. “You should have braided your hair before doing this” one of them suggested to me. I figured it was too late to do that, as it would be grooming.
I maybe break the rules by jumping into a pool at my friend’s house, but I assume since I’m not going to wash the chlorine or anything off I’m still okay. I feel like getting as dirty as I’m going to get is kind of like communing with nature in a way, so swimming is okay, even if it’s in a backyard in Williamsburg.
Everyone I talk to seems worried that I’m going to be really, really gross. I’m kind of hoping my body will just adjust and I will become some kind of magical natural lady. We’ll see!
Settling into the gross
It rained last night while I was out at the bars. I worried about the rain messing up my hair even further, but instead it just curled it up a bit. This is me on the morning of Day 3.
I actually feel fine! I’d love to brush my hair, but my hair doesn’t feel greasy or gross, it kind of feels soft and nice. My skin doesn’t feel dirty or grimy. It’s really not bad so far, and yesterday I walked about 8 miles in the humidity.
I start to realize I kind of love this, it’s like communing with nature, being one with my body and just letting it do its thing without interfering. If I loved my body, it would love me back, right? That’s what I was banking on.
I woke up like this
So far I’ve learned that the worst of the grit and the grime is apparent at night. Every night I go to sleep covered in sweat and dirt, my hair a mess, waiting for the inevitable horrible mess that I will find but each morning I’m pleasantly surprised at how refreshed I feel and how not the worst ever my hair looks!
I don’t think I was smelling bad either, but I could just be acclimated to it. I keep asking my boyfriend, who says I smell great, but he has a horrible cold and can’t smell anything anyway.
The calm before the storm
So last night I broke down and brushed my teeth. I started feeling like I could feel them decaying inside my mouth and it was terrifying. Four days without brushing turned out to be my limit. And I used my boyfriend’s toothbrush because mine was still packed away in my “grooming box.” Don’t tell him! That’s gross!
Everything else was still going surprisingly well. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and to start smelling really bad and looking like a vagrant from the 1800s, but it really wasn’t that bad. My armpits weren’t even smelly, and I’d been walking at least 8 miles a day in the hot sun and humidity. My hair was definitely greasier, but not as matted and thick and dreadlocky as I was expecting. I actually felt like my skin was better than usual. I would have loved to change my clothes, but that was more of a boredom thing. Dirty life really isn’t that bad!
Independence from cleanliness?
In honor of Fourth of July I made my dirty self a little more festive. I had actually been digging my dirty, dirty hair and my skin felt great. I hoped that my body would be covered in all those awesome bacteria that clean your skin for you so you never have to shower again, like a symbiotic sucker fish.
Turns out that was maybe not the case, and instead of happy fun time bacteria, I had some staph camping out and waiting for a chance to dig into my pores. A little razor burn on my upper leg had gotten a bit red and swollen. I felt a little out of it the morning of the Fourth, but since I would happily die for a kosher hotdog, I was determined to enjoy my day, filth and all.
As the day went on, my little red bump was getting bigger and angrier, and a red rash was exploding around it. I am one of the least hypochondriacal people on the planet, and my approach to healing from anything is usually to chug as much water as possible and sleep, so I was hoping I could just wait it out.
It kept getting worse, and by the time I watched the fireworks, the pain in my leg was so bad that I was considering going to the ER, but remembered that would entail being surrounded by drunk people who blew their hands off with illegal fireworks all night, so I decided to go to bed early and go to Urgent Care in the morning.
It all catches up with me
In the morning of Day 7 I took this selfie before hobbling over to Urgent Care.
After, I showered for the first time in a week and then headed in to Urgent Care (didn’t want to show up infected and dirty and really get a lecture from the doctor). After a very short Sunday morning wait, I was diagnosed with a staph infection. By this point, the redness on my leg had expanded halfway down to my knee.
I was released with antibiotics and percocet, and after a foggy day of being barely able to eat, the rash got worse and, on my doctor’s advice, I ended up in the ER.
The ER doctors buzzed on and on about terrifying things like overnight admittance and IV antibiotics, until they decided their best option was to call the Infectious Diseases doctor, a unique thrill to hear. “Infection” doesn’t sound so bad, “infectious disease” sounds downright terrifying. After a few scary hours, they released me with nothing more than a stronger antibiotic.
I went home, and really, really enjoyed my next hot shower.
It’s not like being dirty can straight-up give you a staph infection, but it certainly can help. When I googled “how to prevent a staph infection” today most of the pieces of advice included the word “wash” a lot, which I was certainly not doing.
Until I did this experiment, I had access to a hot shower every day. I didn’t shower for a week and I got a staph infection, sure, but it was a challange I willingly underwent, and I have health insurance and was able to go to the hospital in a timely manner. In the US alone, there are about 578,424 people who are homeless, and live most of their lives without the ability to clean themselves in a meaningful way. These people are at a much higher risk for infection, that in their case would be much more likely to turn fatal.
I’m a lucky idiot who can sabotage herself for a week and then recuperate on antibiotics while watching Cutthroat Kitchen (call me, Alton!). With that in mind, the bacteria-loving optimism with which I started this experiment seems shortsighted and flippant. The ability to take a shower is something not to be taken for granted.
The lesson I learned, as is the case with so many things, is moderation. Most of us in our everyday lives are probably a bit excessive about our cleanliness. I’m way into using less and spending less and letting my body just be, but when you go too far to the other end, you might end up missing most of your Fourth of July party because of crazy staph pain, or you know, something else maybe not great. I don’t regret not grooming. I learned that I love to be a wild, natural woman, but just not to the point of bodily harm. Stay dirty, but stay safe.
Water privilege check
✓ 750 million people around the world lack access to safe water. That is approximately one in nine people.
✓ More than 840,000 people die every year from a water related disease.
✓ Last week, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in California told its inmates it's shut off open-air showers in its prison yards as it tries to cut back on water by 25 percent. The showers will still work in the cellblocks and prisoners can also "take sponge baths by the sinks in their cells,” but it's enough of an indignity that lawyers for inmates have added the shut-off to a class action lawsuit.