The Hygiene Culture Wars That Started on Social Media
Beyond the jokes, this viral conversation is making for some insightful cultural observations
In May, a tweet by a White woman started a debate about washing your legs in the shower. “i don’t like use soap on my whole body when i shower? and i don’t think i’m gross? I pretty much just wash my face and my armpits with soap,” she wrote. “And I shower like once or twice a week lol. I think it’s fine.”
A myriad of people of color responded to the thread, horrified at the idea of A) not washing your legs in the shower and B) only showering once or twice a week. The offending tweet was ratioed to death, with 500 retweets and 1,500 replies that varied from disgusted to shocked to relating lack of hygiene to White people specifically. The website Very Smart Brothas later published a video called “The Case for Washcloths: Why White People Need to Wash Their Damn Legs,” while Latinx people responded by tweeting “Lavate las piernas!!” (“Wash your legs!!”). In response, the original poster characterized cleanliness as “weird classist bullshit”.
It’s impossible to count how many indirect responses were posted as the incredulity and disgust soon turned into a meme. Journalist Yashar Ali tweeted “Everytime I wash my legs I say a prayer for all the white folks who don’t.” After yet another White woman confessed to never washing her feet, Black feminist writer and activist Feminista Jones changed her display name to “FJ the Hygenic, Washer of Legs & Feet.”
From physical obstacles, like an inaccessible bathroom to mental illnesses that complicate the ability to do simple tasks like showering, hygiene can be tricky for many people.
I see variations of these jokes every few days pop-up on my timeline. But despite the mockery, the topic keeps popping up again and again. Last week, Stella McCartney said we should stop washing our clothes because of global warming. This week, White people were arguing that a pool is a bath, and no further cleansing is necessary after swimming. While we are being told not to wash by privileged White people, other intersections that affect this…