I wrote this for a contest, yea Mikey's got me thinking about them too!
When I first heard about the Paleolithic trend of quitting soap it sounded a familiar bell in my psyche. I had previously wondered about the necessity of soap. At first I did this quietly and to myself as we often do when questioning the system that dishes out tidy but less than air tight explanations for why we need to buy this or that. I reviewed the images gathered by my mind. They came mostly from film. Hollywood would have us think that in every era and in all incarnations - Neanderthal, wood nymph, fair maiden or aristocrat - we stunk, that is unless we used soap. And modern sellers of stuff will have us believe that soap and products have saved us from a plethora of hideous off-putting funk that made us ripe for disease of a great variety. As I read about the soap free trend making it’s way across privileged landscapes of modern civilization, I thought, “it’s time to get to the bottom of this!” I have not used soap since January 4th.
I told a few friends about the experiment. Almost everyone surprised me with a story about a relative who never used soap, “my Sicilian grandma” or “grandpa from Russia who was known for being extremely tidy” or “great grandma who was allergic to soap and needed Billy Holiday to be played during her bath to clean her soul.” Some stories were rooted in allergies to soap while others reeked of a general mistrust in manmade soap over the bodies intelligence. Some were holdouts during a time in which everyone said, “bring it on” to man’s latest form of industriousness. Curiously, in all cases the family member bathed in a tub and not a shower and they used hot water. Figuring that I’d been gifted with 1st and 2nd hand true accounts, I went about to do the same.
At first a bath seemed pointless. There was not much to do. I waded around and wondered if the activity of being in water was even necessary but continued on. The answer that came after days of ‘washing’ with nothing but water and a washcloth, is simple and true. Bathing is about the power of water. Water, as it turns out, is a near magical thing able to neutralize bacteria and whisk away all sorts of nasties. It’s not just that I found studies to prove this, I could feel it. My skin felt great! It was clean, without any odor and I wore a softness that comes from oils but is not oily. And so with the new free time afforded to me by the absence of applying and rinsing products, I started to bird watch from my outdoor bathtub. I even brought binoculars to the bath.
As the days passed I noticed that my skin was different, not oily, but not dry. I used to ask my Mikey to scratch my back every night before bed, places I could not reach alone. I was so itchy that I felt as though in a panic. This ritual has been made obsolete, much like the soap I once applied generously and with purpose. As time passed my skin continued to shape shift into a softer version of itself, totally unitchy, luxurious and undeniably wonderful. I was sure that I’d begin to stink at some point but day after day I checked and checked and checked. I asked friends repeatedly, “no really, do I smell?”
The best test took place a few days ago. It had been 15 days since I’d last used soap and I went hiking for several hours in a canyon. When I got home I bathed in water (no soap) and then I put on the same hiking clothes I’d worn all day. This is something I’d never normally do but I wanted to test my newfound ability to avoid stinking horribly in spite of the fact that I had not used soap, products or deodorant in over two weeks. The next day I got up and put them on again! At the second day’s end I asked my Mikey to have a whiff. He said, “you smell great,” and I did.
It’s been over twenty days (last soapy bath jan 4) since I began this experiment. I don’t think I will return to soap. Why would I? From this view I genuinely believe that it has been stripping my skin of all its wisdom. My body does know how to stay clean. It just needed a little water and a little motion. I have been thinking a lot about nature and how balanced and complete it is. Why would we be the exception, dependent on a product for health? I have a new appreciation for water. I’m totally dazzled by it. I also have a new respect for my body and all that it knows. I wont soon grab cures made from chemicals I cannot pronounce. Nature did a fine job of making me without need of such things. I also pledge to learn more about simple products I can make from natural materials. I'm working on making my own shampoo.
I don’t know if Hollywood and history book has done an injustice by depicting the people of past as stinkers. They are probably neither smarter nor dumber, stinkier nor more fragrant. There has always been a snake oil salesman and those who want a magic remedy and there’s something kind of balanced about that. If we’re lucky we come around and distinguish truth from BS. When in doubt I will place my bet on what nature provided.
*Image: another one from my sketchbook.