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.
Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. There are so many myths about the other that everything gets lost in the shuffle. I’ve always felt that assuming and generalizing will only result in embarrassment. That doesn’t mean we aren’t all guilty of it at some point. As for me, a caucasian, I shower every morning and as needed during the day. I guess some would say I shower too much. Have a great day!
I think it’s far more than color thing, don’t you, Matthew?! Every time I go to Europe I am taken aback by how infrequently Europeans bathe, and they don’t look all that different from me…
I agree. I’ve never been to Europe so I don’t know. But my family comes from Finland and every Finnish person I know bathes a lot. There are so many myths. I think it’s important to experience them and decide for ourselves what is fact or fiction.
Thanks for sharing, Matthew! I guess most people shower at least once a day. I think most of us find showering a pleasant experience – just something very comforting of water dripping down on to tiles. At least for me anyway.
It’s always best to be honest and discuss generalisations out in the open. Then we will have nothing to be embarrassed about. Have a good week ahead!
I think for me it’s like a usual thing to do. Like when I was in Tasmania during winter, I still took a shower once a day. And I still needed to be inside bathroom everyday. If I didn’t do that, I felt uneasy even though I didn’t have sweat because of very cold weather.
I feel the same way too. If I don’t shower on a day that I didn’t sweat at all, I feel unclean. For me, at the end of the day, my face feels the dirtiest.
Mine too! I mean the face. If I can’t find somewhere to shower or take a bath. At least I need to clean my face.
If I am back in Malaysia or Singapore, I always feel the need to wipe my face with tissue and water because it feels so sticky and sweaty from the humidity. And I do. I hope the weather in Bangkok isn’t like this 😀
Because we are in the same region (South East Asia): Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, my city also have the same weather as your description. If I go outside to meet hot-humid weather, I also want to splash water all over my face so I could feel clean. Fortunately, I’m working in Air-conditioned building so I don’t meet such weather much.
Actually, East Asians smell less due to lack of secretion of a chemical, I forget its name. It is impossible not to shower everyday if living in topical country.
Just an assumption, maybe we East Asians do not fancy the use of deodorants, thus having that mentality to shower often instead?
Now that you mention it, I don’t think I see as many deodorant ads as I did in Singapore compared to here in Melbourne. So maybe this adds to the showering often mentality in East Asia. On another note, Asia is more culturally conservative, so maybe this is why we do not see too many deodorant (and showering) ads here (body exposure issues).
Interesting, Mabel… Personally, I agree with the argument that climate has a lot more to do with how much someone bathes than the color of a person’s skin. In the States, most people shower once a day — morning or evening, it’s their personal preference. When visiting the European nations, though, one is likely to encounter folks who only bathe once or twice a week. You can identify them by their smell! (And they are white, just like me!) And when I lived in Hong Kong and Taiwan? I usually showered twice a day! There, I sweat all day long! (I did find it weird that deodorants were harder to find there, though… I believe there is something to what shunlake said, that Asians smell less naturally…)
I would not like to identify anyone by smell, even if they smell nice (my nose is very sensitive to a lot of things)! I personally shower once a day. Mid-afternoon would be my ideal time for showering if I don’t have anything on.
Yes, what Shunlake said is interesting. I find that there are so many more types deodorants here in Australia than in Singapore and Malaysia. However, my parents are very insistent on buying them in East Asia because they are much cheaper!
Also depends on the area in which you live, if there isn’t much water, then you won’t shower as frequently. In the old days, Tibetans used to shower only 3 times in their lives.
That is so true. There are places in the world where people still have to go to the river to collect their daily water supplies with a bucket from the river. In some parts of the world like Malaysia, there are few showers (places to shower), especially in communal housing areas, another factor why some people don’t shower too often. Thanks for stopping by and supporting 🙂