Why Is Everyone Obsessed With Showering Right Now?
On social media, hygiene is queen.
It’s time to draw back the plastic curtain and talk about it: We have entered a period of shower mania. On social media, hygiene is queen. Creators on ShowerTok, a subset of TikTok, give lessons ranging from how to clean behind your ears to how to give yourself a thematic “strawberry shower.” Close-up shots reveal a bare thigh making sensual contact with a wet rag. There is even an industry name for a close-up shot of dripping body scrub in an influencer’s video: “the goop drop.”
In the shadow of the pandemic, consumers are gravitating toward content that instructs the user on the most basic questions of personal care: What is the right way to be clean? How do I avoid smelling bad? What combination of scrubs, soaps, creams, and oils will make me feel pure, desirable, and whole? How can I convince my boyfriend to wash his ass?
Of course, shower habits have long been a dependable topic of public discourse: How often, how long, and how thorough should you be going? In 2021, a spate of celebrities set off a dusty domino effect of announcing how often they showered. (“I wash my armpits and my crotch daily, and nothing else ever,” Ashton Kutcher announced.)
Over on TikTok, with its culture of hyperspecific observational humor and currency of relatability, it sometimes feels like the giddy late-night hours of a sleepover, with confessions, story times, and “get ready with me” videos, the front-facing video format contributing to a pretense of intense intimacy. This has led to a naming of previously unspoken practices, like the everything shower, a ritual-like military exercise in which one executes on every possible body care task in one exhausting but triumphant shower. Strange discoveries arise. Daviana casually mentioned in a video that you should turn on the fan before showering. “A lot of people didn’t know that that was the reason the vent was in — was to prevent mold!” she says, laughing.
Showers contain dirty secrets. Somebody, somewhere in the world, just stepped into their shower and immediately began peeing.
At the height of the pandemic, life was stripped of many of its central rituals. In the absence of offices, gatherings, and chatty school drop-offs, so many people were deprived of the joyful opportunity to observe, judge, and learn from each other at close range. The emergence of ShowerTok combats this; shower content removes another layer of privacy, bringing an invisible viewer into the bathroom with the creator.
It is also an example of the way that every inch of the domestic space has been colonized by social media. Cooking and makeup tutorials are as appealing as ever, and now there are “that girl” routines, and nearly pornographic pantry restock videos. Janitors and homemakers are rising stars on CleanTok, while a whole subgenre of videos is devoted to the making and sorting of flavored ice. The conversation about how you should be living has gone so far beyond the humble early days of aerial brunch photography and farmers markets. The bathroom is the natural final frontier.
Showering has a pleasing versatility that feeds endless low-stakes debates: There’s wake-up showering and wind-down showering, shower-sex showering, spa relaxation showering, depression showering, and the all-time classic, showering to clean your body. Recently a friend called me on the phone and told me, with real glee in her voice, about a new hack where you get into the shower with a spray bottle filled with vinegar and you clean your shower while you shower. She sounded elated, like she had just found a stray kitten by the side of the road. Like spray from a rain shower, these topics are constant and comforting. “I have to beg my boyfriend to take showers,” an anonymous Redditor confessed this month, inspiring over a thousand responses that ranged from gender critique to compassion. Showers contain dirty secrets. Somebody, somewhere in the world, just stepped into their shower and immediately began peeing.
All roads on the web lead to monetization: Debate about showerhead efficacy, once the provenance of Home Depot-loving dads, now figures in beauty conversations. (Google searches for “shower head” increased steadily for the last 10 years, peaking in January 2022.) Trying to understand the omnipresence of the same tub of body scrub in seemingly every bathroom-related video, I came across this chilling search question, helpfully suggested by Google: “Can Tree Hut scrub be used on VAG?” The brand is more than 20 years old but has attained Beanie Baby heyday-like fandom on TikTok.
Bathing — or not bathing — has long been a kind of status symbol, and that tradition has flowed into the depths of ShowerTok. TikTok has provided a venue for creators who demonstrate absurd, maximalist consumption, often stockpiling on video huge quantities of relatively inexpensive items, like water bottles and individual yogurt jars. In some TikTok-famous showers, minimalism still reigns — think immaculate chrome finishes, a potted plant, a squat, expensive-looking candle. In other celebrated showers, a club-like atmosphere pervades, LED strip lights gleaming, walls crammed with a comic number of plastic containers.
What combination of scrubs, soaps, creams, and oils will make me feel pure, desirable, and whole? How can I convince my boyfriend to wash his ass?
In a TikTok viewed by more people than the entire population of Pennsylvania, a creator shows herself using six different body products and a loofah and implies that she sleeps in sateen shorts and a bedazzled push-up bra. “I’m not womaning right am I,” reads the most-liked comment below the video. Regardless of the creator’s intent, this is an ideal takeaway from a good social media post: Buy more stuff or risk losing a central part of who you are. Also: You smell bad! “Hygiene has always been a convenient stick with which to beat other peoples,” writes Katherine Ashenburg in her book The Dirt on Clean. “To modern Westerners, our definition of cleanliness seems inevitable, universal, and timeless. It is none of these things, being a complicated cultural creation and a constant work in progress.”
Under the damp umbrella of ShowerTok there is an extreme range of content — plenty of conspicuous consumption, yes, but some of these videos are a public service. When TikTok user Ashanti puts out videos that offer tips on how to address body odor, she hears from people who say that they are struggling and have been embarrassed to ask for help. She is happy to offer solutions but doesn’t lose sleep over people who don’t care to develop more of a routine.
“It’s all personal preference,” she tells Bustle. “I like the super clean feeling.” You may want to double cleanse; scent-match your exfoliator, body wash, and lotion; and use a fragrance oil. Or you may simply stand under the water, slapping body wash on your various parts, ruminating on the endless complexity of our cultural expectations for hygiene, purity, desire, and expectation. Ashanti suggests that you just do what works for you.
“Clean is clean,” she says.