Bathing Beauty (And No, We’re Not Talking About Esther Williams)

   The whole notion of rebirth and cleansing is so obviously ingrained in our everyday upkeep that we pay it no mind; we dismiss bathing as something so very basic and necessary and refuse to delve deeper into bathing practices different than our own. It’s actually quite fascinating to think about bathing as an act of restoring and rebirthing life. Robert Altman’s 3 Women is a wonderful example of this: a film based on a dream Altman had that he turned into a script has become one of the most beautiful and surreal American films about women to come out of the 1970’s. At the beginning of the film, Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall’s characters work at a health spa in the desert; there are recurring images of hot tubs and swimming pools filled with mineral water from hot springs. There is a type of rebirth that takes place in the film when Sissy Spacek’s character jumps from a balcony into a swimming pool below.

   If you’re interested in avant-garde film, there is also Paloma Picasso’s only film role where she plays a version of the Hungarian countess Erzsébet Báthory in Contes Immoraux (Immoral Tales); this is relevant because the countess (who was notoriously known as a serial killer) bathed in the blood of virgins (probably a myth) to supposedly keep her youthful beauty intact. So, as you can imagine, there are scenes of beautiful Paloma in a bath filled with blood. It is quite striking on film. What makes the behavior of the countess (the “infamous lady”) seem even more grisly and bizarre is the fact that royals from hundreds of years ago didn’t even bathe in water (well, you must factor in the times, no plumbing, etc.) It is said that Queen Isabella I of Castile only bathed three times in her life: her body was cleaned when she was born, on her wedding night, and on the night of her death.

   There are so many bathing rituals that are fascinating: think of FDR floating in a hot spring to ease the pain from his polio or a Roman communal bath where everyone came together as a social event (a bacchanal, perhaps). Whether you’re bathing to become clean or just to relax, you always feel better afterward. The act of being reborn while bathing may be a stretch so, for now, just grab the Mr. Bubble and breathe.

By Angie and Katherine Sloan