I am under no illusions that I never smelled bad. But it happened less and less regularly. And I started to become aware of patterns. Any breakout or unpleasant scent I could usually trace to something else: stress, sleep deprivation, generally not thriving. Out at my family’s tree farm in Wisconsin or on vacation hiking in Yellowstone, when I might go for days without indoor plumbing, I was almost guaranteed to smell and look decent. In the indolence of winter days barely moving except to get to the office, I felt squalid and smelled accordingly. Essentially, I became more attuned to what my body was “trying to tell me.” It seemed to be telling me not so much “wash me” as “go outside, move around, be social, et cetera.” (My body still sometimes trails off and says, “et cetera.”)

I was able to stop showering in large part because I was born with extra credit in the currency of acceptability in America: I’m a white male who looks generally healthy. I’m relatively young and can afford to buy clothes that aren’t tattered, and to wash them regularly. I’m employed and literate and fluent in the dominant local language. I move through the world sheltered from expectations to look a certain way in order to be perceived as competent and professional and welcome in a restaurant. Even when I am not showered or groomed, I’m likely to still be seen as clean.