DARE TO ASK: Do older men tend to bathe less?
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why do many senior citizens view a daily shave (for men) as virtually
mandatory, while daily bathing of the whole body is pretty much a matter of
personal preference? I would feel dirty if I did not shower daily. I would much
rather have clean hair and a full beard, washed daily, than be meticulous about
my facial hair and have the rest of my body unwashed.
Augustine, 39, male, Columbia, S.C.
I think there are two answers to why male senior citizens shave every day.
First, it's become a habit after doing it almost every day while we worked.
Second, we think it makes us look neater. There is probably a third reason for
some (like me): My beard looks lousy. As for showering, as you get older and
less active, you do not sweat much and aren't in a very dirty environment, so
bathing may not be needed daily.
Raymond, 57, Portsmouth, Va.
Keeping yourself presentable, either through shaving daily or maintaining a
well-groomed beard, garners respect. A stubbly face represents a middle ground
between these societal standards of presentability. It may convey a sense the
man is lazy.
Robin, 25, female, Pittsburgh
I wore a shirt, suit and tie for more than 40 years and showered and shaved
every day. When I retired . . . I continued to shower every day but cut the
shaving to every other day plus Sunday. Recently I have found myself not
showering every day, especially in the winter, and going as much as four days
without a shower or shave. In cold weather I can do this with no discomfort,
odors or problems. No complaints from anyone -- including my wife, children,
friends, neighbors and dog.
Bill, 68, Lansdale, Pa.
Older men who grew up in the era of the "Saturday night bath" fell in line
with modern cleanliness standards upon entering the workforce, says Scott
Omelianuk, former style editor of GQ and former executive editor of Esquire
magazine. And they may slip back into their youthful habits when they retire.
"As recently as the '30s and '40s, most houses had one bathroom, just that
one utilitarian spot," said Omelianuk, co-author of Things a Man Should Know
About Style (Prion Books). "So you couldn't take a shower before school if you
had three brothers and a father and mother getting ready for the day, too."
Also, let's face it, you can fool folks for a while when you don't bathe, but
not if your face starts getting bristly.
"Shaving is a matter of pride, a quick and superficial way to still seem like
you're keeping up appearances," he said.
Besides, Americans' captivation with hygiene didn't take root until the '50s,
after many of today's older men had become adults, Omelianuk noted.
"It became an obsession, this idea of cleanliness and of body odor being a
terrible thing. Before then, if you were a guy, you showered when you had a
date. I suspect doctors today would say that hand- and face-washing are
important, but that full body-washing is not always necessary."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.