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  • Writer's pictureAndy Ross

The Forbidden Soaps

Friends, Romans, Countrymen. There was one thing, in particular, that was a fixture of my childhood I remember being everywhere. I think it was a trend as I’m 99% positive that I’ve not seen these items in a bathroom since the nineteen hundred and nineties. I’ve not even seen them out for sale anywhere since then either. My dear readers, what I want to talk to you about today was something that was in our late ‘80s/ early ‘90s childhoods “forbidden fruit.”

My grandmother had them, my mom even had them in one bathroom. They were in a small basket, the kind that looks like a shrunken-down version of one you’d serve rolls in on Thanksgiving. I seem to recall there was a doily in there too, just to amplify the “fanciness” of it all. Some were shaped like roses, and some were shaped like seashells. They were made of soap. Fine, fancy, decorative soaps, and God help you if you dared to use them.

I can still recall the time I, as a happy little child, carefree, full of fruit by the foot, went into the bathroom and was washing my hands like everyone had always told me to. After the pre-rinse, it was time for the lathering stage of the experience and I took my little child hand and reached for one of the lovely, pleasant-smelling, blue seashells in a basket. “Ah, how nice? This is a fine soap to use to keep my epidermis clean of dirt and potential disease-causing germs” I thought to myself.

The speed and precision at which my grandmother moved was impressive and shocking. Within seconds of my hand moving towards the siren song of the shell soap, Grandma was standing at the door. My hand was hovering mere millimeters above the soap, I hadn’t even made contact with the soap when she was there and saying “No! What are you doing? Those soaps are not for you! They’re decorative! Don’t use those!”

I was so confused. I knew this bathroom had decorative towels that were forbidden, but now soaps were on the list too? What was the point of this bathroom? Was it also purely decorative? If so, why was I in there using it? Within seconds of being admonished for even thinking about using the fancy soaps, I felt the splash on my hands of the familiar amber-colored liquid dial soap that was all over her home. “Use this, sweetie,” she said.

As I rinsed my hands with the “correct soap,” my grandmother took a dry washcloth and dabbed at the soaps to make sure I hadn’t ruined their shape with my wet hands. Now, maybe I’m misremembering it, but I’m 90% certain I thought I heard her quietly mutter “precious” to herself as well. It still confounds me as an adult. What was the point of those decorative soaps? If they were not to be used, why did they have to be made of soap? Couldn’t wax or plastic work just as well?

Was it because they needed to be scented? I know you could have added sent to wax. Were the soaps supposed to be an heirloom item? Were these soaps something my grandmother would pass down to her daughter, then pass down to me? Were these going to be soaps that my family could be acknowledged and recognized by much in the way of a tartan plaid?

“Sir, the gentleman is Lord Ross from the house of Rose Flower Soaps.” This news would be followed by a stunned gasp as some dude in a tux and tails stands to straighten this coat while saying “Show him in, Jenkins!” But this isn’t a thing anymore, right? I don’t recall the last time I saw a bowl of fancy soaps in any bathroom, let alone one that was strictly off-limits. What was the point of it all? Who started the idea? I need answers.

Maybe we should bring it back again, I imagine if we get the youths on the TikTok to adopt this as a trend we could see a revival of fancy, never to be spoken of soaps. We should have this happen. America, it’s time for a forbidden soap revival. But this time I want it to be curated to things of my elder millennial generation. “No little Bobby, the fancy basket full of Mario soaps is not to be used. We just admire them. Use this pump of the foaming liquid dial.” This is the future I want. See you next week.


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