Lathering up our bodies with slippery soap. Puffing up our hair with shampoo suds. Rinsing off with water. Bathing. Showering. This is something every one of us does when we want or need a decent scrub down.
But just how often? And the reasons behind the frequency?
We are all different individuals so naturally how often each of us choose to let water fall over our stark naked bodies depends on our preferences. I believe this. Interestingly enough, there is the cultural myth floating around that Asians shower more regularly than Caucasians. As ridiculous as this may sound, it may be true (but unlikely).
More specifically, there is the (mis)conception that Asians shower every other day whereas Caucasians do not, perhaps only three times a week. During my primary school days in Malaysia, my Caucasian male classmates had shaggy, oily hair and I thought this was because they did not shower every day, a sentiment constantly echoed by my parents and relatives.
Differences in Eastern and Western climate can be attributed to the perpetuation of such belief. Tropical, humid weather lash many South East Asian countries all year round so people here are likely to perspire more and so frequently shower to cool themselves off. Whereas in the West, dry air and desert winds sucking moisture out of people’s cheeks and corners around their mouths is common, so people generally perspire less.
On more than a few occasions, I have heard whispers among the Asian crowd suggesting Caucasians prefer keeping their clothes on than going buff for ten minutes and showering daily in winter, primarily because they do not sweat too much during this season unless they are doing vigorous exercise.
A more believable reason as to why Asians supposedly shower daily can be due to aspects of their lifestyle that make them reek. Roadside hawker eating and hawker eating under zinc rooftops are extremely popular in Asia, and one usually walks away from such a dining experience with sweat and cooking fumes stuck to their clothes and hair. Praying with joss sticks at enclosed, incense-filled temples is also very common here, another hot and sticky experience.
Also, there are Asians who lust after looking all “white and clean” because to them, being dirty and dark is a sin, all the more reason to hop into the shower every other day. On the flipside, perhaps some rough and tumble Caucasians simply have a different perception of cleanliness than Asians. Unless mud is visible on their clothes, they do not see the need to shower so often.
However, there is an inkling the converse may hold up. As per discussion in the comments section of RedEarthBlueSky’s blog where the derogatory term “as dry as a pommy towel” came up describing Westerners’ showering habits, Asians tend to have less apocrine glands, stink less and so shower less as well as mainly at the end of the day:
My family has always been adamant about not showering in the morning as they believe this “makes the body cold” and it “won’t retain heat”, making us more prone to catching colds. I do not know how true this is.
People shower to minimise body odour and avoid stinking. If the myth that Caucasians do not shower often is indeed true (unlikely), it could possibly explain another myth: why Caucasians apparently smell the way they do.
Once, one of my classmates said in a cultural mobility class, “I have a friend who used to live in a place where people ate very little dairy. She says Australians smell like dairy”. The Greek-Australian tutor energetically bellowed, “Yes! During the Vietnam war, Vietnamese armies hiding in bushes could smell Caucasian soldiers metres away, because they smelt of milk!” Maybe due to not showering frequently during the war? Little research has been done exploring the relationship between diet/showering and body odour, but genetics and skin would be expected to factor in somewhere in this topic.
Countless of Caucasians around the world are no doubt exercise enthusiasts and would naturally itch for a shower, once, maybe even twice daily. Many Asians these days are big drinkers of milk-based bubble tea, so perhaps one day they will end up smelling like dairy too?
As such, there is nothing conclusive about myths and myths explaining myths. At best we should take them with a pinch of salt. So surely, showering habits are not exclusive to race.