If there’s one thing to be grateful for during the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s our preoccupation with hygiene. Wearing a face mask on public transport is now as second nature as putting on shoes. A bottle of anti-bacterial gel is as much a handbag essential as a set of house keys. But while we’ve largely become a nation of clean freaks, one self-sanitation topic guaranteed to divide the room, is baths.
A symbol of wealth, (it takes space to have one and high water bills to fill one) the tub has long been associated with the likes of Cleopatra, who infamously required a casual 700 lactating donkeys to supply the milk for her daily ablutions and now with Gwyneth Paltrow, who prefers hers ‘Gooped up’ with magnesium salts. For centuries, bathhouses functioned as places to socialise with friends (similar to today’s pubs, albeit a bit wetter). Now, they’re a lucrative pastime for ‘bathfluencers’ who share ASMR-like videos of fizzing bath bombs and petal-strewn bubbles illuminated by candlelight.
For a lot of people, though, especially those living in overpriced cities like London, owning a bathtub is on par with having a parking space. In other words, it's a 'nice to have' if you can wangle it, but not a 'need to have' pre-requisite. And in a time-starved, resource-depleted world, it’s no wonder that most people extol the efficiency of showers.
However, when lockdown restrictions came into force in March, it ushered in a renewed love for the soak. Photos of holidays to Portofino have been swapped for bath-time selfies – perfectly-manicured toes poking out from the bubbles, resting on rose gold faucets. WhatsApp conversations about Tinder dates have been exchanged for tips on how to safely balance a laptop on a toilet seat to watch Netflix. With less opportunities to leave the house and less urgency in general, a tub of frothy water has become the new ‘It’ place to hang out.
But despite more and more of us choosing the long dip over the short shower, the topic of bathtime is still controversial, depending on how you bathe.
Enter: Bath Shame.
For the past five months, I’ve enjoyed a weekly 30-minute marination with a generous glug of Neal’s Yard bath oil until I feel sufficiently prune-y. When I recounted my new lockdown routine to a friend, she looked at me in pure disgust.
‘Wait, you don’t shower after a bath?’ she probed. I felt my face flush with embarrassment. ‘That’s gross – you’re basically bathing in your own filth,’ she stated, matter-of-factly.
A quick poll among the ELLE team the next day uncovered equally polarised opinions. One admitted to showering after using bath salts or hair conditioner, while another religiously rinses before and after a dunk in the tub and one wont submerge her feet with the rest of her body, preferring them not to be touched by the same water. Others, like me, consider baths a sufficient enough method of washing, with no need for a superfluous hose. Like the debate over whether you actively wash your legs (rather than just letting water run over them) or which way you face in the shower, where you stand on bathing regimens seems to dictate whether or not you’re a psychopath.
I'd like to posit, however, that as baths mean so much more to me than simply getting clean, it's time to stop getting so worked up about the way I soak.
Baths are where I’m most productive. Every time I step into the tub, I vow not to get out until I’ve read at least 10 per cent of my Amazon Kindle. It’s where I catch up on emails and reply to blue ticked messages from friends and family. I’ve lost count of tears that have pierced through mountains of bubbles during episodes of Queer Eye, or the times I’ve sung along to the Hamilton soundtrack. A shower is where I hastily lather, shave and rinse my body, but it’s in the bath where I proudly take stock of its shape, bumps and lines.
During a time when everyday decisions such as going to the gym, taking flights or meeting up with friends are under continuous scrutiny, the last thing we need is people judging how we unwind at the end of the day. The fact that I’m regularly washing my body during the depression of a global pandemic is a victory in itself.
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