The great debate
Jack vening and deirdre fidge attempt to settle the age-old debate: which is better, a shower or a bath?
BATHS FOR THE WIN BY JACK VENING
I once had a housemate who loved baths so much I had to take him aside to ask if everything was OK. It was always the big moment of his day, the thing everything led to. “I’m running a bath,” he would warn gravely, in case we needed to get any business in before he started. Then he would sit on the floor of our pathetic little shower, drain half-plugged with a hand towel, running the water lightly over his back and listening to audiobooks for roughly two hours of Standard Earth Time, sometimes more than once a day.
This was someone who chose baths, even when no bath was present. It was his nirvana. He just got it. (He was also very depressed, but ignore that for a moment.)
Baths are one of the most human things of all. Hell, even the damn beasts of the field and the birds of the sky have this one figured out. Have you ever seen those videos of animals vibing in baths? Tell them they’re wrong. Tell the capybara in the steaming tub, or the wise monkey in the hot springs with snow all around. To take a bath is to be a frog in warm water (not the kind where the frog boils to death, obviously). It’s to move closer to a more whole and natural state; to travel back to a primordial era when we were still made of slime and didn’t have to pay for high-speed wi-fi that can’t even reach the next room for some reason, even with an extender.
The shower, on the other hand? God. Where do I start?
What a dismal experience. It’s short, it’s messy enough that you need to build a shitty separate little glass box to contain it, or block it off feebly with a plastic curtain – and even then, the bathroom floor will still be so wet you’ll think you’re sinking into the deepest ocean. It almost always makes you colder than when you started, too, unless you’re going hog wild on the hot water or have one of those showerheads that actively depletes the world’s lakes and estuaries.
When it comes down to it, most of us don’t actually like showers. We think we do, but we’ve simply forgotten what it is to bathe. Most of what the world hates about baths comes from our need to feel absolutely fucking guilty about possibly enjoying anything. I mean, I get it! It’s panic-inducing trying to work it out: enjoy a bath for mental and physical wellness, but don’t forget you’re floating in a fetid stew of bacteria, you disgusting leech! Revel in the ultimate luxury, but also be aware you’re wasting resources and peddling to unscrupulous and environmentally disastrous beauty industry practices! And god help you if you don’t like being forced to look at your own naked body!
Now, I don’t want to say it’s all a product of modern Western alienation, but – (‘MODERN WESTERN ALIENATION’ ALARM BEGINS BLARING). Let me finish! The transformation of washing oneself from a sacred, renewing, communal routine to something that needs to be knocked out quick-smart so you can get back to staring at your funny little light box for eight hours a day, making money for somebody else, is tragic. It’s the loss of something ancient. It sucks! Many cultures around the world still do it wonderfully, and yet the closest thing we have to a rejuvenating bathing experience is the freezing beach shower you use to wash sand off your feet, as a line of sun-damaged Irish expats and fitspo influencers eye you contemptuously, knowing just as well as you do that your feet will be sandy again before you reach the car. That’s our legacy. That’s what society wants us to enjoy.
SHOWERS, OF COURSE BY DEIRDRE FIDGE
A friend recently said something about me that was so offensive I shrieked: she assumed I was a “bath person”. Once the shrieking had subsided, she explained that, as a child, all of her mum’s depressed friends had baths. Yes, I’m depressed. Yes, I hate baths. We exist!
This method of cleansing is neither effective nor relaxing. Much like when I do the dishes in a sink full of soapy water, I always need to rinse afterwards. Floating specks of dirt, soap and hair do not inspire confidence or produce the satisfying feeling of clean that a shower does. Showers wash the dirt off, whereas baths trap it in the water. I do not want to feel like a SCOBY, fermenting while you make your kombucha.
But to take the advice of a chef I once worked with, let’s just forget about hygiene for a moment, guys. Many freaks out there suggest bubble baths as self-care. (Including a former psychologist of mine who I reported to the FBI. They told me to stop emailing.) Self-care?! More like self-punishment. Floating in a lukewarm bowl, forced to look at my blobbing body as though it were a long-forgotten poached egg, and alone with my thoughts, which mainly consist of ‘I hate this’. Even worse are people who suggest READING IN THE BATH. You expect me to hover my shivering arms over a pool of water and risk wetting the reading material? The only acceptable book for bathtime is one with plastic pages. You know, the type for babies.
Baths are acceptable for two reasons and two reasons only: washing infants and storing the giant squid you bought from an illegal market that has profoundly exceeded size expectations and is snapping at you with its horrible beak. A former housemate used to love long baths, occupying the bathroom for around two hours at a time. I called it his Tubby Time because – and this bears repeating – baths are for babies.
Not only that, they are an ORDEAL. They require PLANNING. They require SCHEDULING. We’re in a drought here, folks, and I have neither the time nor inclination to fill up a huge tank then spend the entire time adjusting the temperature. Too hot, oh no, now too cold. Water goes out; water goes in; cortisol rises; stress endures. I spend more time faffing around with pipes than an Italian plumber (Mario and/or Luigi).
Showers are quick, easy and efficient. I can wash my hair and body and shave my legs before a bath has even finished filling up. Another great thing about showers is that singing is much more fun when the water drowns out the key changes. It’s when many of us are at our musical best! I simply will not allow people to lie in a tub and croon.
I also have a theory that showers encourage positive reflection more than baths. Your body is moving the whole time; blood is rushing; dirt is washed away. It’s where I personally do all my best planning and thinking. Who knows how many positive changes people have made following a nice nude ponder under a shower. Anyone who says they prefer a soak should be treated with suspicion: there’s something disturbing about bobbing around in a big sink like a filthy fork. Plus, any vocal pro-bather could be overcompensating for housing illegal cephalopods. Proceed with caution.
A cold shower invigorates and a warm shower nourishes. You don’t have to float about in your own filth to gain the same ‘relaxing’ advantages of a bath, without the stress. It occurs to me now that my friend’s observation might have a different cause and effect than she realised: it’s not that depressed people like baths, it’s that baths cause depression! This breakthrough could revolutionise mental health treatment. Too far? Whatever, chill out. Go run yourself some Tubby Time.