This Is Us

Bar Soap: A Love Story

To all the suds I’ve loved before

Courtney Maum
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readMar 11, 2021

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Bar soap.
Photo: Achim Sass/Getty Images

It is a season of sodium salts and stinging, cracking hands. When the pandemic broke out, I was in Mexico City, where the streets smell of pork frying and lemon Fabuloso. Restaurants and cafés started filling empty bottles of liquid hand soap with that neon yellow elixir: half water, half household cleaner, dementedly cheerful. The idea was to wash your hands with detergent because there was something scary coming. The idea was to wash your hands with something “strong.”

I am a bar soap girl. I have always loved bar soap. I was a teenager in the Herbal Essences era, when creamy, unctuous body wash was all the rage: The closer you smelled and glistened like an actual concoction, the higher your stock rose in the high school marketplace.

My childhood home had a linen closet where my mother stored extra toiletries like Crest toothpaste and soap. I’d find two-packs of Ivory soap there, which I’d use from time to time when the St. Ives apricot scrub the cool girls loved had clogged up the bathtub. But even as I cheated on my St. Ives with Ivory, I didn’t buy its posturing. Named after a Bible verse and marketed as “pure” because it floated, Ivory soap seemed a slippery thing, a shifty broken promise. Like baby powder, it was meant to clean you, but it wasn’t…

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Courtney Maum
Human Parts

Book coach. Author COSTALEGRE, TOUCH, I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN HERE WITHOUT YOU + BEFORE AND AFTER THE BOOK DEAL. Horsegirl. Namer. Newsletter-> courtneymaum.com