The other day, NBC's Today's Talk with Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford decided to mock a crunchy blogger, Jacquelyn Byers of LittleOwlCrunchyMomma, for speaking out about forgoing shampoo for her hair — and, ultimately, choosing nothing but water rinsing once or twice a week. (If you want to watch the cackling of the TV hosts, the relevant portion of the video starts at 6:40.)
Now, I actually have a little insight to offer into Jacquelyn's decision to do away with soap and haircare products — unlike Hoda and Kathie Lee — because I did my own experiments with baking soda and vinegar and then two months with water only, no soap, shampoo, conditioner, anything (except on my hands, which I continued to wash with soap).
I can therefore refute most of Hoda and Kathie Lee's objections to the idea and offer a more balanced view of the practice.
First and foremost, washing without soap or shampoo does not mean you're dirty or that you smell! My hair never smelled when I didn't use shampoo, though with my particular texture, it did look limper. Not greasy-limp, but just lacking in volume. Since I didn't stick it out beyond two months, it's impossible for me to say whether the oils would have evened out better and given me some texture back; I decided to give it up and go back to my natural haircare products (currently the Jessicurl line). I never had problems with dandruff, vermin infestations, skin infections, or anything else that might give rise to suggestions that my hair and scalp weren't clean — they were clean, even with water alone. I just didn't prefer how my hair looked.
Secondly, there is a transition period from going full-on hair product to nothing at all, or even to gentler hair products. Some might refer to it as a sort of detox, as the oils from your scalp regulate. Conventional haircare products are very harsh, and regular shampoos strip all the oils from your scalp. That just tells your skin, "Oh, my gosh, our oils are gone! Quick, pump more out! Stat!" It takes awhile, when you remove such products, for your skin to get the message to calm down and put out a more reasonable amount of oil. Many conditioners contain silicones that coat the hair and don't allow moisture in, so the harsh shampoos are necessary to remove the silicone coating so a little moisture can be returned with the next application of conditioner. It's a vicious cycle, see? Even if you don't want to go no-'poo, I do highly recommend being gentler on your hair. Choose products without harsh sulfates and drying silicones. Give baking soda and vinegar, or even plain water, a try. Just be prepared for a transition period when things seem worse for awhile.
Thirdly, people can tell when they smell. Hoda and Kathie Lee were insinuating that Jacquelyn's been walking around like a stink bomb for years, unaware of people's eyes watering when she's in the vicinity. People who smell generally know it, and are very sensitive to it. Yes, you might not be able to smell everything smelly about yourself, but you have a general sense of whether you're being hygienic enough. You catch whiffs of your own clothing or armpits when you're having an off body-odor sort of day, and you can sniff your own head hair if it's long enough (as hers is). I hear this argument from people about body hair, too — that if you don't shave, you must stink. Strangely, it's only ever lobbed at women — very few men shave their body hair, and yet we don't assume they all stink all the time. I believe Jacquelyn when she says she doesn't smell and that her hair and body are clean. When I did water-only washing, my hair didn't smell, either, but I did find I had body odor more frequently than when I used soap, which is why I was glad to go back to washing with products. As in, when I use a cleanser of some sort, I can shower once every four days or so (yes! and I'm not gross and dirty!), but when I use water only, I find I need to shower every couple days to smell nice. And I was aware of this while doing the experiment. I can imagine that (a) maybe I needed to let the experiment continue on longer than two months or (b) maybe some people's body chemistry is different from other's. In short, some people don't need to bathe as often or as vigorously, and some people do. Think about puberty, and what sort of difference that made in your body odor.
For instance, my kids very, very infrequently bathe or get their hair washed, and they're both non-smelly and have non-greasy hair. No fleas! Speaking of fleas, think about cats: They do water-only washing (spit!) and are you always thinking, "Yuck, what lank, greasy fur"? Well, I'm not, at least. Most cats' coats are perfectly shiny as long as the cat is healthy and eating a good diet, and the same is true for us. Not that humans = cats, but it serves as an object lesson from nature: Very few animals take baths, and only the domesticated sort get regular shampoos, but they don't all smell nasty or look gross.
Take my face, too. No, really, take it! Just joking. I have acne, so I've been washing my face only with water for years. It doesn't make my acne worse (if anything, it helps), and no one ever tells me my face is dirty or smells. It's assisted with grease control, because my skin doesn't get artificially dried out by a cleanser it doesn't need. I've found out that diet greatly affects my acne, too — only, not in the way I'd expect. It's not a black and white matter where I eat perfectly and my skin is perfect; the "better" I seem to eat, the worse it gets. Go figure! But it does go to show that much of what happens on our outsides (smell, grease, skin conditions) has a lot to do with what we're putting into our insides. So if you're having problems with hygiene, consider the place of diet, too.
Fourthly, as a modern culture we've lost the sense of what clean smells like. It is not "spring rain" or "mountain fresh" or whatever that can of air-freshener spray is calling it. I used to think I needed to smell like something else in order to be clean. I believed there needed to be suds and lots of them, and then a residual fragrance to remind me, all day long, You're clean; your clothes are clean; your house is clean. I used to think proper house cleaners burned your eyes with chemical out-gassing. I used to think that clothes should come out of the dryer completely limp and coated with "April freshness" or whatever. I had scents in everything: my shampoo, my conditioner, my hair gel, my hairspray, my laundry detergent, my dryer sheets, my hand lotion, my deodorant (oh, the irony of smelly deodorant!), my perfume (on top of it all! I know!). Looking back now, it's kind of hilarious. Now my clothes, washed in Country Save and dried with wool dryer balls, smell like … nothing. If they smell like anything, I know they're not clean, and back they go through the wash! If my hair doesn't smell, we're good. If it does smell, it's probably because I went swimming. (It smells like chlorine right now because Alrik and I are in a parent-tot swim class.) When I visit people, I'm overwhelmed by the synthetic fragrances on their clothes and in their houses, and I'm not someone who's historically been even aware of that sort of thing, much less bothered by it. A few years ago, I spent several long months trying to decide on my "signature fragrance" — and now I can't bring myself to wear those perfumes I carefully selected, because they're just … so … smelly. When I wear them, all I can concentrate on is how much I smell. Not to mention the chemicals, of course, but even organic and natural perfumes — I just don't feel the need so much to smell anymore. I'm not anti-fragrance (the natural kind), but I just don't crave it anymore, and I get irritated when there's too much of an assault on my nose, interfering with my appreciation of food, for instance. Clean for me now means low or no smell. There might be occasional whiffs of humanness, particularly in folds and such, and that's all right. But I'm no literal dirty hippie.
My conclusions on the show is that it's very silly and just that usual kind of empty morning chatter to fill space, and Hoda & Kathie Lee don't really think through or research what they're saying. It's mean-spirited to mock a small-time blogger for being crunchy and choosing to do things differently, but of course, that's what people do. Many of the comments on the show's page were just as cruel and ignorant and reminded me of the attacks we alternative sorts have all experienced on topics such as eating habits, natural health, cosleeping, breastfeeding, and the like. When you're an outsider, you sort of get used to being treated like one — though it still stings. And you still wish people could look beyond their superficial knee-jerk reactions and actually consider the truth of what someone's claiming.
|Jacquelyn Byers (LittleOwlCrunchyMama),|
three years after having stopped washing her hair
I support Jacquelyn and her water-only cleanliness. And I'm reprinting below a guest post (with permission) of a letter Leslie Erin of Crunchy Betty wrote to Kathie Lee and Hoda in response to their show:
Dear Kathie Lee and Hoda (but mostly Kathie Lee),
Just … shh.
For a minute. Let me talk. Let someone else talk. Please.
Yesterday, with the exceptional display of journalistic prowess only the two of you can pull off, you publicly shamed a woman. You know, just a little good-natured name calling of a commoner, in between Kathie Lee’s cringe-worthy lyric-forgetting and the best hair evah (EVAH) popular girls circle jerk. No harm, no foul, right?
I get it, girlfriends. I really do get it. You live in a world where you’re plied with products and serums and perfumes and creams made of extracts of baby albino tiger tears mixed with space-aged polymers coated in 200 karat gold. You don’t really know what’s going on *out here* unless your producers shove a bottle of wine and a paper covered in words in front of your face and say, "Don’t think. Just talk."
I know there’s an in-touch part of you somewhere, it just happens to focus on things like the latest stiletto-wedge-ballet-pump from Jimmy Choo or what Lady Gaga ate for breakfast yesterday morning (extracts of baby albino tiger tears, no doubt).
But out here, ladies, something else is going on. And it’s something your producers won’t hand you a script for (something that would never please the overlord advertisers).
So even though you’re not in touch with it, it does exist. And the beautiful women you made fun of yesterday is a part of it. You can call it "crunchy" (cue Kathie Lee eye roll) or natural or alternative or big bang boopsie. I don’t care. Call it whatever you want, but to look down on it any longer doesn’t fly.
You see, there are thousands of women who have learned one very important thing in the last few years:
We’ve been lied to. We’ve been bamboozled. We’ve been hoodwinked. We’ve been hypnotized by a billion synthetic fragrances slowly stripping us, from the day we’re born, of every shred of the true *natural* humanity we’re a part of.
And because hundreds of women as brave as Jacquelyn Byers of LittleOwlCrunchyMomma have spoken out about their no ‘poo lifestyle, we know something you don’t:
Not washing your hair with shampoo doesn’t make you stink. Oh, maybe the first few days are rough, and then any whiff of off-putting smell is gone. It’s gone, and you know why? Because human bodies are designed to work in concert with nature, not battle with it.
We’ve also learned that the stink you cop to having after not washing your hair, Kathie Lee, has more to do with the things that you put IN your body than the things that you put ON your body. A clean diet, more often than not, equals a cleaner smell. And that cleaner smell is quite easy to remove (and be free of), even if you only wash with water.
You can still bathe regularly, Kathie Lee, so you don’t have to worry about smelling like the people "back in the day before shampoo" who only bathed once every few weeks, at most. You can still enjoy other comforts of modern day life. Like, you know, razors and toothbrushes and those little family stick figures you put on your car’s back window. Except not the last part. Please, not those.
I don’t know why I expect more of you, but I do. I expect women in the media to be conscientious about the way they talk about new ideas and, even more so, the way they talk about people. About other women. And, for heaven’s sake, about other women and their relationship with their children.
The disrespect you showed Jacquelyn, simply because she does something you’re not brave enough to learn about, much less try, was nothing short of schoolyard bullying.
I have a friend, you know, who has two girls: ages 5 and 7. And when she caught her children making fun of another kid for having curly hair, do you know what she did? She curled their hair. For a week straight, the girls had curly hair, just so they understood what another person was feeling.
So I know that one of you – I’m guessing Hoda, because she seems to be the bravest of the gang – is going to swallow your pill and do the right thing now. If a 5-year-old and 7-year-old can do it, you can muster up the emotionally responsible fortitude to do it, too.
Don’t wash your hair.
For six weeks.
Do not wash your hair with shampoo. Heck, you could even go the no ‘poo with baking soda and apple cider vinegar route. But either way, no shampoo. For six weeks.
And then come back and talk to us about how awful it is. Then you can talk from an experienced point of view. Then, perhaps, you won’t sit up there on your ultra loud thrones and set the tone for other people to feel like it’s okay to be mean. And many of your viewers were mean. Nasty. Bleh.
Until then, it would be ever so kind if one of you would have a sit down with your producers and schedule a few interviews with women who don’t use shampoo. Get them in your studio. Right next to you. In your face.
So you can smell them. And eat crow.
(I hear it’s delicious this time of year.)
And goodness knows I’m not saying it will work for you. It may not! I mean, let’s be honest, it won’t, because it takes exquisitely detailed spritzing and teasing and coiffing to get you camera ready all the time. But what’s six weeks going to hurt, right? Time flies when you’re a celebrity.
Try it. It’s not like you’ll lose your job – unlike the way you do when you anger the masses by being heartless and snarky.
The worst that can happen is that you’ll stink. The best that can happen is that you’ll gain our respect – and a naturally beautiful head of hair in the process.
Head on over to give LittleOwlCrunchyMomma and Crunchy Betty some love!
Do you no-'poo or low-'poo or do some other crunchy beauty routine? What's your response to Hoda & Kathie Lee?