taking a stand

The Stinky Celebrities Are Right

A bunch of stinkers. Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos: Getty Images

This summer, we as an adoring, dutiful public watched in horror as our glamorous perception of celebrities was shattered thanks to waves of rich and famous people coming out as proudly … dirty. The people we’re supposed to hold up as the pinnacle of beauty, taste, and presumably hygiene set the internet ablaze with seemingly endless interviews in which they reveal that they are forgoing the traditional bathing schedule for something a little more, how do you say, au naturel. It turns out all that glitters is in fact not gold, and maybe on top of that is kind of stinky. Well, I’m coming to you today, dear reader, to potentially ruin my own life by saying that actually, this is not that big of a deal. I’m here to stand up for our celebrity brethren and defend their right to be a little bit crusty.

First, I think it’s important to note that I am riddled with personal biases. For example, I have in my past claimed to be a “lil stinker,” which I define as someone who showers when needed based on smell and comfort but not necessarily a daily schedule, and who doesn’t really wear deodorant unless I’m going to something where it would be actively impolite to sweat (think: warm-weather funeral). Does this lead to me being “gross”? My internal polling of those close to me has led me to believe that I am of neutral scent and therefore completely inoffensive (there’s obviously room for error in the event that everyone is lying to me, but I cannot go down that rabbit hole). I guess my deal is mostly like: Some days I don’t shower … and that’s okay.

So understanding my casual, no-strings-attached relationship with showering, you will probably predict that when I heard about these unwashed celebrities, my first thought was, Okay, sure. Like, yeah, that’s silly, but not inherently groundbreaking. But I believe our culture’s obsession with frequent showering is fear-based (not to mention historically racialized), which is why these stories hit a little bit harder than I was expecting. A shower can be a journey to a cleaner and better-smelling you, but showering every single day (or twice a day!) no matter your activity level or sweat amount? That is a fear-based response, which I believe is mostly drilled into us by going to middle school. The most obvious target in school has always been The Stinky Kid. Even an ounce of musk and you could be ruined for high school, which would then stunt your growth for literally the rest of your life, and then you could die with nothing to your name but a light stench. And so when these celebrities reveal that they don’t shower, it ruins our entire understanding of what their role is. If our society were a high school, celebrities would be the popular girls who throw the best parties when their parents are out of town and never even get caught and have a hot tub, by the way. We essentially just found out that Stacy, Jen R., and Jen M. are stinky, so obviously we as unpopulars now need to gossip about it among ourselves.

But I don’t believe this is the celebrity hit piece we think it is. Celebrity media can mean grounding, humbling pieces about how “stars are just like us” (i.e., Ben Affleck being relatable); “lifestyles of the rich and famous”–style fawning at how exceedingly fabulous and capable celebrities are that confirms why they are deserving of attention (i.e., J.Lo doesn’t age); or the third, more nefarious “celebrity revenge” piece that takes them down a peg or two and reveals them for the wealthy scum they are. These smell stories seem to fall under this third category, which has evolved over the decades. In the past, a typical story may have been a Perez Hilton–style image of someone picking their nose while walking down the street or an unflattering shot of someone mid-bite of a sandwich (hideous and career ending, of course). But with this new iteration of celebrity-revenge story, we’ve upped our game. No longer are celebrities caught looking momentarily unattractive; now, they are caught looking ideologically repulsive and downright out of touch (the scandalized write-up of what the ultra-wealthy are buying from Goop is one example). Yes, us Normals have found a way to reckon with the ever-increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots. This isn’t “stars are just like us”; this is “stars are actually less good than us.”

But I think these stinky-celebrity stories (or whatever you want to call them) actually fit into the “lifestyles of the rich and famous” category. Because what is more luxurious than letting go of middle-school trauma? Who else is afforded the luxury of smelling how they choose because everyone around them simply has to respect it? Maybe what Dax Shepard said is true and showering too much is “getting rid of all the natural oil on your skin.” In that case, isn’t not showering the most exclusive skin-care routine yet — one that requires you to not be crowded among others in an office or worried about how your smell could affect your life? Even if what Dax said isn’t true, not showering is still a flex of power, wealth, and influence simply because those dealing in normal society can’t pull it off without risking some fragile, meager social standing. To not shower is to be luxurious, and us Normals remain desperately unable to afford it.

A weirder element of this trend’s success needs to be addressed, and that’s the great unshowered conspiracy. This theory basically argues that celebs are trying to get ahead of water rationing by making it trendy to shower less now. And don’t get me wrong, this is fun. Finally, a conspiracy theory for people who love celebrity gossip. It’s playful! It’s light! It’s a little bit bitchy but still makes you feel smart! And the best part is, it’s just for us girls. Just as a QAnon person sees codes everywhere they look, we now can’t read the cover of Us Weekly without wondering under our breath how deep this thing goes. Because one celebrity not showering is a laugh, but four celebrities not showering is a psyop. But I think this theory predicates on how horrible it is to admit that you shower less than every single day. It asks, “Why would celebrities willingly admit this?” Once you let go of the fact that it is life-ruining to mention that you don’t shower every day, though, the conspiracy starts to unravel. The more obvious answer is that they’re just weird L.A. people who evolved from a belief in crystals to a belief in not showering.

So yes, I get why it’s funny that celebrities don’t shower. Thinking about Kristen Bell having little stink lines and cartoon flies around her is truly an lol for me. But at the same time, I think we (Americans, mostly; I can’t speak for Europe, I feel like they already agree with me) do shower too much. And it does dry out my skin! Again, I know I’m biased due to my Stinker Mindset, but maybe, when you look inward and give yourself a good whiff, you too will join the Stinker Mafia. I mostly agree with Terry Crews, who said, “If you ain’t been sweating, you don’t need to shower.” Showers should be for a reason. You should take them because you want them and you need them, not because you feel like you’re supposed to. So free yourself, be like your favorite celebs, and rise up, Stink Nation.

The Stinky Celebrities Are Right