Redefining “Personal Hygiene”

Basic acts of personal hygiene have been in the headlines lately. First, an Iranian hermit described as “the world’s dirtiest man,” who hadn’t bathed in 60 years because he believed soap and water would make him sick, died recently at age 94. Someone dying at age 94 wouldn’t be especially noteworthy–except that the media reports of his death emphasized that the man, pictured above, became sick only after nearby villagers persuaded him to finally go for a wash-up, and he unfortunately went downhill after that.

Now a supposed “hygiene expert” has endorsed the approach of the hermit, contending that you not only don’t need to take a shower every morning, you don’t need to shower, period. Professor Sally Bloomfield of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says daily bathing is “really not important” to hygiene and only became de rigueur to avoid offensive personal aromas. She says too much effort in applying soap and water could strip the human body of microorganisms that perform important functions and leave your skin dried and cracked, besides. According to the Professor, the only time you should shower off is before going into a swimming pool, because immersion could cause the microbes on our bodies to be transferred to a fellow swimmer–a concept that doesn’t exactly make me eager to go for a dip.

It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to be within nostril range of someone who hadn’t bathed in 60 years and looked as filthy as the Iranian hermit did in the above photo. It’s also hard to imagine what the working world would be like if people who worked in physical labor jobs, or who worked in close proximity to others, stopped performing their daily ablutions. It’s even harder to imagine that anyone whose mother drilled in the notion that cleanliness is next to godliness and that daily washing, including behind the ears, is essential if you want to assume a place in polite society, could ever retreat from hopping into a morning shower for a good, hot scrub.

In short, Dial soap used the phrase “aren’t you glad you use Dial? Don’t you wish everybody did?” for a reason. Our mothers were right: odor avoidance and regular dirt removal are important parts of real personal hygiene and the general social compact. Let’s all resist the temptation to go full hermit, shall we?