If 2017 has taught us anything, it’s that as individuals, and as a nation, we need to start having the tough conversations. We need to acknowledge our biases, seek out different viewpoints, question our basic assumptions. We need to dive into the dark, dank corners of America and see what’s there, hidden in the back behind all of our old board games and winter jackets. And broadly, I’d say we’ve been doing… well, not exactly a good job, but perhaps a better job. But there is one issue that has been woefully ignored, one that affects each of us, no matter our age, gender, race, or creed; one that is difficult, emotional, intense. I’m talking, of course, about showering — which way we face in the shower, to be specific.
Maybe you don’t know what I’m talking about. Maybe you think there’s nothing to discuss, and your mind has already wandered to what you’re going to eat for lunch, or that time Justin in Accounting reached for a binder and you caught a glimpse of his abs. Listen, I was like you once — innocent, naive. Then one day, a few weeks ago, I wandered into my living room, and everything changed.
My roommates were watching the season finale of The People v. O.J. Simpson. We watched the “not guilty” verdict. We watched Sarah Paulson cry and we talked about how much we love Sarah Paulson, and we watched Cuba Gooding Jr. return home, triumphant, and we watched him step into the shower, butt to camera, face to the water. Then, I uttered the words that changed my life forever.
“I hate it when they do that in TV shows,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Nobody showers like that.”
My roommates stared blankly at me.
“What are you talking about?”
“Nobody showers facing the head like that. You always shower facing AWAY from the water.” Silence. “Right? Right?!”
Nervous shifting. Uncomfortable glances. And finally, the reveal: My roommates, my friends, women I care deeply about and thought I knew pretty well… they both face the shower head.
What ensued was a half hour of chaos, confusion, and emotional turmoil. There was shouting, cursing, brief reconciliation, and then more shouting. We texted friends and family for clarity and support, but all we found was more confusion, more anger, a country divided. That morning, we woke up believing we knew something of each other, of personal hygiene, and by 7 p.m. it was clear we had been living a lie.
The next day in the shower, I took a deep breath and turned toward the water, toward the truth. Now, I’ve never actually been flushed down a toilet before, but I imagine it would feel something like facing the shower head, your body being pummeled and pulled in different directions, powerful tides of water crashing into you as you gasp desperately for air. I spun around, choking, more confused than ever as to why someone would willingly subject themselves to a self-inflicted swirlie.
In the following weeks, I asked pretty much every person I encountered which way they faced, desperate for clarity. Except for one agent of chaos who faces sideways, about half of respondents faced the water and half faced away. After a number of heated debates about the issue (“But how do you wash your front?” “I just lean back and it sort of cascades everywhere,” “Cascading isn’t cleaning!” “Are you saying I’m not clean?!”). I realized my personal relationships were too valuable to be subjected to such a passionate dispute. So, I turned to a place of cool-heads and scholarly wisdom: the internet.
As it turns out, not a ton of data is available on how people shower. According to a Glamour poll from 2010, 64 percent face away, 21 percent face the water, and 15 percent change the whole time. Of course, the most thoughtful, detailed, erudite responses came from Reddit.
I'll be honest, I've heard a number of arguments from the opposing side, and I'm still not convinced facing the shower head isn't some form of self-punishment. But I also I've been biased by 25 years of back-showering. Obviously, shower orientation research is still in its infancy, and much more work needs to be done before we fully understand the issue. Until then, the least we can do is put our egos aside and start a conversation.