Baths Vs Showers: Which Side Are You On?
Mr Al Pacino in Scarface, 1983. Photograph by Universal Pictures/Alamy
Are you more of a bath man or a shower man? Perhaps the inanity of the past few months has taken its toll on the MR PORTER editorial team, but when someone brought up this apparently divisive question out of nowhere, debates got heated. Sides were picked, alliances forged and things got surprisingly fierce. To settle things, then, we’re doing the only thing we know how: have our editors write meandering opinion pieces on the matter. Have we achieved anything with the below? Probably not. But at the very least you’ll have something to read in the bath. Unless you’re a shower man, of course…
Mr Ashley Clarke, Deputy Editor
The case for baths
I know that I have picked the disadvantaged side. Baths are easy to ridicule, superfluous exercises in pseudo-hygiene that nobody really needs to do unless they’re, like, a newborn or something. Soaking in your own filth? An offensive waste of water? Granted, baths may seem slightly more gross and less environmentally friendly than showers. You will inevitably be bathing in particles of your own dirt, even if you shower first. But one must also address the matter that baths are not simply there for the express purpose of making you clean.
Baths are known to improve circulation and boost your immune system, plus they’re a great remedy for sore muscles because they can soothe pain and inflammation. And, of course, they reduce stress. Soaking your weary husk in the tub when you need to de-stress is a wonderful thing, and even though it’s not something I do every day, a life with only showers is a sad life indeed. Have you ever noticed that people who go on mad screeds about how much they hate baths could probably do with one themselves? Why so uptight, friend? It sounds like you need some neroli bath oil, a face mask and some candles in your life.
Also, baths are more productive than showers, despite what the brush-their-teeth-while-showering masses might tell you. Let me rephrase that slightly: baths are more productive for the soul. You can read in the bath, escaping into the world of your book with nothing disturbing you but the occasional ripple of warm water. You can also stick some music on, close your eyes and enter a state of calm that isn’t possible in a shower. After standing up all day, not sinking into a bath occasionally is nothing short of bitter self-loathing.
“Why so uptight, friend? It sounds like you need some neroli bath oil, a face mask and some candles in your life”
Indeed, some of humanity’s greatest epiphanies happened in the bath. It was while bathing that Archimedes, the ancient Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor and astronomer (also one of the first “slashies”), realised that the rising water when he entered the bath must be equal to the part of his body he had submerged, and was so excited that he ran through the streets of Syracuse shrieking “Eureka!” No one ever had a eureka moment in the shower.
If you’re not convinced by the meditative power of bathing, try a Japanese onsen. I have whiled away blissful hours in hot springs in Japan, fragrant shavings of hinoki wood wrapped into bows floating on the surface, and I can tell you it’s no bad way to spend an evening. And truly, is your toxic masculinity so ingrained that the idea of a man spending a few moments for himself in the bath feels somehow absurd? I’m reminded of that episode of Friends where Chandler is coerced into having a bath by Monica buying him a floating navy ship (“it’s a ‘boy bath!’”) and then proceeds to actually enjoy it. Lol! Hey, it was funny in 2002.
Also consider the social boons of bathing: bath houses in Japan, and indeed Ancient Rome, have historically been places for people to gather together to relax and gossip – a bit like the pub, but with less beer and more nudity. Full disclosure here: I’ve taken a bath at a public onsen in Kanagawa with my girlfriend’s father, our white towels resting on the tops of our heads as the steam from the baths swirled into the inky sky. A stoic, quiet man who had spoken few words to me previously, it was in the bath where he chatted more openly and told me “welcome to the family” as I tried not to pass out from the heat. Afterwards, we all gathered around a table and sat on the tatami, eating ice cream sundaes, and I felt very much at home. Those kinds of interactions just don’t happen in the shower. Which I suppose is for the best.
Mr Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986. Photograph by Paramount Pictures/CBS via Getty Images
Mr Tom Ford, Editor
The case for showers
Let’s set aside for a moment the fundamental flaw of the bath as an invention (more on that later) and view this relic of a bygone era through the prism of the year 2020. In enlightened times such as these, when we must be hyper-conscious of our actions and choices, the bath is woefully out of touch. If baths had a Twitter account, they would be blocked and cancelled. If they were visible in town centres adorned with blue plaques instead of taking up valuable space in your cramped city-living bathroom, they would be pulled down, one by one, by a mob of placard wielding protestors. And quite right, too.
Baths are demonstrably bad for the environment. You remember the environment? It was talk of the town before this attention-seeking pandemic came along and stole all the apocalyptic limelight. Anyway, to help me explain, here comes the science bit. The average bath requires water to the princely sum of 32 gallons (yes, pre-1965 imperial measurement there – for the benefit of “yer da”, a devoted, prune-fingered bath-lover) to fill its cavernous depths. The average shower needs only 20. So, go ahead, take a bath. If you’re willing to allocate two full hours of your precious day to basic personal hygiene (washing isn’t a hobby, guys!). Take a bath – or maybe I should say “draw” a bath? – and help further the demise of this already terminally-ill planet.
“The bath stans might say they wash that slippery film of bath residue from their skin with a post-bath shower. Well, congratulations. Welcome to the superior cleansing method”
But let me clamber down from my moral pedestal. I don’t want you to think that I consider myself above baths or the people that enjoy them. I mean, I am literally above them, standing up in my nice, environmentally friendly shower. But let’s move on to the essential flaw mentioned previously. Assuming that the purpose of a bath is to cleanse its occupant/s (quick word on the “s” there: sharing a bath with a significant other is never, ever as romantic as you imagine. If I wanted lengthy discussions about water temperature and cleaning products, I’d apply to be the assistant manager of a suburban leisure centre) – it fails as a concept. In the interests of variety, I am going to swerve the science and facts on this point, and rely on trusty empirical faculties instead. Baths do not contain clean water. We can split this argument into two groups of people. Those who like to wash. And those who like to wash, and then, like some self-sabotaging infant hippopotamus, hang out in the water they have just washed into.
Now, at this point, the bath stans might say they wash that slippery film of bath residue from their skin with a post-bath shower. Well, congratulations. Welcome to the superior cleansing method. You have arrived here by a lengthy process of elimination. Now, before exiting and drying yourself off with a towel, please consult exhibit A, above, and, to offset the damage, make a small donation to a charity of your choice.
“Ah”, they interject, lighting a candle that cost more than their monthly mortgage payments. “A bath is a place of relaxation and refuge – hygiene is not the primary function of these wonderful vessels.” OK, fine. We all regress and feel needy from time to time. We pine for a nice hug, perhaps, or a warm cup of tea. Fair enough. But there is something vaguely problematic about wanting to return to a warm, cocooned, womb-like, foetal state on a regular basis. Who damaged you? Have you tried therapy instead?