Filipino’s Obsession with Hygiene

Filipino’s Obsession with Hygiene | Every time I travel, I always get into the trouble of overpacking toiletries.

No matter how I try to limit my personal hygiene products, I end up convincing myself that I needed this sunblock, this eau de toilette, or this hair serum, and trying to squeeze all my liquids and gels in a tiny Ziploc bag.

It’s not just because I’m female. Yes, women already need a lot of toiletries — but being Filipino, the stash of products increases twofold.

My roommates in America always wonder not-so-subtly how the household’s water bill has increased substantially since I moved in their quarters.

But I’m sure fellow Filipinos understand? We are known to love bathing. And as frequently as possible, once or twice a day, and some as much as thrice daily during the summers! We live in a hot tropical climate. We have more shampoo and soap products and bath products commercials than any other culture that I know of. We love being clean and smelling good; and can easily smell body odor from a mile away.

We even have exact words to describe how we ‘wash’ our body parts. In Cebuano, we have the general term ‘hugas’. And then we have a term for washing the face (hilam-os), both hands (hunaw), one hand (hinaw), feet (himasa), calves (himatiis), inside the mouth (limugmog) and around the mouth (dam-ot)—all referring to the same bodily function of washing!

This bathing habit can be attributed to our humid climate and abundant sources of water. Historical records show that even our ancestors from centuries ago have long been sticklers for good personal hygiene. When the Spanish colonizers came to the Philippines in 1521, the foreigners were aghast at ‘how often we bathed’. The Europeans believed bathing provides an open opportunity to take off clothes, and in turn can lead to immorality, promiscuous sex, disease, and sin.

Because of this creed, our European colonizers rarely bathed during the Middle Ages up until the late 1800s. Hygiene is only restricted to washing hands and parts of the face. Still, washing the face was done as infrequently as possible for they believed it could lead to blindness.

The European royalty were worse off than common peasants. Today I found out on the ‘Today I Found Out’ website that a Russian ambassador who visited France described that King Louis XIV “stunk like a wild animal.” The Sun King is said to find the act of bathing “disturbing,” and has only bathed twice in his lifetime. Another royalty, Queen Isabela of Spain, boasted that she had bathed only twice in her life: first, when she was born; and second, when she got married.

Russia wasn’t as finicky when it came to bathing and their royalty did it far regularly – relatively speaking, once a month. Because of this, Europeans thought Russians were perverts.

Historical records show that our ancestors thought the European colonizers stank. And we weren’t the only ones who thought so, too:

The Spanish explorers under Hernan Cortes first arrived in Mexico in 1519 under the Aztec Empire. It felt for Aztecs as if they had encountered an alien race: the Spanish appeared like fellow humans, but looked different:  they had white skin, hair like the sun, tons of facial hair… and they also stank horribly. According to Harari’s ‘Sapiens’, Aztec natives had to assign incense burners to follow the visitors around wherever they went to hide the stench. The Spaniards thought this was a mark of divine honor, but now we know from their records that the natives just really found the foreigners’ smell unbearable.

At the least, colonizers tried to change the islanders’ local customs and beliefs — but they never took away their love for good personal hygiene.

My weekly column ‘Postcard Travels’ featuring travel stories is published at Sunstar Weekend every Sundays or you can check out more on the blog or buy my book!

I’ve also started a new blog about adulting, business and investments. Trust me, it’s not as boring as you think. Check it out at Economerienda.com

More Published Stories

  • Ah, To Be Young and Stupid
    How to talk to strangers? For most of your life, you’re told by responsible adults to not to talk to strangers
  • How to Talk to Strangers
    How to talk to strangers? For most of your life, you’re told by responsible adults to not to talk to strangers
  • The Maya Angelou Method
    Poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, had a peculiar writing process. I decided to try it myself. Postardpretty Travels and Stories
  • Are Westerners more Independent than Asians?
    Are Westerners more Independent than Asians? Maybe there’s an underlying cause for it. Postcard Pretty Travels and Stories
  • Blank Canvas and Sprezzatura
    ‘Sprezzatura’ is a beautiful Italian term which means ‘looking effortless’; ‘nonchalance’ to make whatever one does appear without any thought about it.

Philippine Blog Posts

33 thoughts on “Filipino’s Obsession with Hygiene”

  1. Wow! We can barely survive a day without bathing! The only exception is when we need to spend several days in a mountain; water is hard to come by. Even then, we grab every opportunity we can to wash up, from showering under a waterfall or swimming in a river.

    We can just imagine how horrible they must have smelled if they just doused themselves in perfume!

  2. Different culture, different times, different beliefs, different practices and customs. I know it’s hard to fathom how one person could not bathe at least once a day, but it is what it is.

  3. Oh yes I have heard this! It’s hard to believe that even the royalty hardly took showers. It is amazing how a different time and culture could produce such a difference in opinion. They were so advanced when it came to the arts and architecture, but seemed very superstitious when it came to something as simple as bathing. Although hearing this, I have so much respect for them and their culture. It is just surprising to see cultural differences.

  4. Oh yes I have heard this! It’s hard to believe that even the royalty hardly took showers. It is amazing how a different time and culture could produce such a difference in opinion. They were so advanced when it came to the arts and architecture, but seemed very superstitious when it came to something as simple as bathing. Although hearing this, I have so much respect for them and their culture. It is just surprising to see cultural differences.

  5. Wow, that’s a really interesting post. I have never heard this before. As a European I would only bathe once a day, but probably because it’s so cold here most of the time!!

  6. Hahaha, thats so funny, how do you thought of looking this up? I would never think about this. Anyways, it’s a good thing that our hygiene is so much better now. I don’t want to think about my fiancé not showering and sharing the same house hahaha. Good to know that the people from the Philippine are so clean. http://bit/ly/sofarsosabine

    1. Haha! I actually was amused when I read about a former queen of Britain proudly saying she has never had a bathe in her life. I like weird tidbits of history and did further reading. Apparently it wasn’t so unusual back in the day!

  7. Hahaha, thats so funny, how do you thought of looking this up? I would never think about this. Anyways, it’s a good thing that our hygiene is so much better now. I don’t want to think about my fiancé not showering and sharing the same house hahaha. Good to know that the people from the Philippine are so clean. http://bit/ly/sofarsosabine

    1. Haha! I actually was amused when I read about a former queen of Britain proudly saying she has never had a bathe in her life. I like weird tidbits of history and did further reading. Apparently it wasn’t so unusual back in the day!

  8. It’s really amusing to know the different beliefs in different places having different cultures. Sometimes you’ll find others belief so odd. The Philippines has its own set of beliefs – a mixture of what we inherited from our ancestors and from the different colonizers that conquered us. But one thing I am glad, we Filipinos do have a good personal hygiene – regular bathing included – despite of the several school of thoughts we grew up with. Probably because of the very hot weather that we have.

  9. Very informative article about bathing. I believe up to now, still a few caucasians take daily bath, partly it’s because of winter. Thanks to our climate, we responded rather naturally to personal hygiene.

  10. Very informative article about bathing. I believe up to now, still a few caucasians take daily bath, partly it’s because of winter. Thanks to our climate, we responded rather naturally to personal hygiene.

  11. In college i had classes about Japan and i remember teacher was talking about how high level of hygiene was back then, while Europeans almost never bathed. Now i realize it’s probably a thing in a whole Asia. 🙂
    As a European, i must say we’re not like that anymore haha (when it’s really hot i sometimes take a shower up to 5 times a day – which is not good also)

  12. In college i had classes about Japan and i remember teacher was talking about how high level of hygiene was back then, while Europeans almost never bathed. Now i realize it’s probably a thing in a whole Asia. 🙂
    As a European, i must say we’re not like that anymore haha (when it’s really hot i sometimes take a shower up to 5 times a day – which is not good also)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *