A clean lady's got it together. The words immaculate and unblemished are actual synonyms for being free of dirt. In movies, a shortcut for showing a woman is depressed or sucking at life is that she's not showering. (Remember Melissa McCarthy telling Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, "You gotta wash that hair"?)
For a while I bought into this. I woke up and went straight to the shower. While I was in there, I always washed and conditioned my hair and shaved my armpits and legs. I scrubbed my face at the first sign of any oiliness, which meant I de-slicked it at least four times a day. I laundered my jeans like every time I wore them, even in the unlikely event that I hadn't spilled anything on them. I never forgot deodorant.
When I started working from home, I didn't deviate from this clean-person routine. In an office, I felt like I was being evaluated on how polished I looked as much as I was being rated on what I was actually doing at my desk. It was one of those intangible things people could have opinions on, on the same level as what I ate for lunch or if I used a standing desk. So I faithfully kept myself as shiny and stain-free as I did when I had to commute to work, even though my pet fish isn't at all judgmental. And then I thought: Fuck it. As I started feeling free from certain nonnegotiable restrictions that had been a given in my office life (like not wearing the same outfit three days in a row and not taking midday naps) and incorporating them into my day (midday naps rule), I wanted to play with the more nebulous constraints too. Would it really make a difference if I were sitting in front of my computer with dirty hair? I soon realized that it didn't; no one cared, including me — and I loved spending more of my time doing exactly what I wanted, not what I had to or felt like I should do. In other words, not worrying so much about being presentable helped me move the bar for presentable and made me feel liberated from the time-suck of constant scrubbing. That made more moments for pondering, reading, talking to the coffee dude, writing, and making dumb faces at my fish.
I'm not so subversive that I was going to give up showering entirely, but letting go a little appealed to me. I knew there were new products that could help me do this. These products simulate what shampoos, soaps, and laundry detergents do without actually being any of those things (i.e., they don't use sodium lauryl sulfate, the harsh detergent that's in most products that foam). They're designed to help you shake off the mind-set that you have to be squeaky-clean — they say leaving some dirt, oil, or bacteria behind is good for you.
The gateway drug of this stuff is cleansing conditioner (often called "co-wash"), like Briogeo's Be Gentle Be Kind Co-Wash or Aveda's Be Curly Co-Wash, which you use instead of shampoo. It doesn't lather, which is weird (essential oils and aloe vera do the dirt-removing). And I have to use a whole handful to make me feel like it's doing anything, but I like the way my hair is tamer and smoother than it ever was post–real shampoo. It used to take at least until the evening for my hair to look as lanky, textured, and close to Cara Delevingne's as I wanted it to, but now it's that way right after it air dries.
It works best if you have dry or thick hair, like I do, but even so, after a week of trying it, the front of my hairline was pretty greasy. In a way that shows how easily I am convinced I have to go all or nothing with beauty products, I didn't know what to do about this. Hairstylist Jon Reyman at Spoke & Weal in Soho had the answer. "Just use shampoo on that part of your hair," he said. Duh.