I Blame Hollywood for Ruining Bubble Baths

Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Photo: Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

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My expectations of bubble baths — more than any other part of my life — have been egregiously heightened by Hollywood. These expectations are so lofty that I avoided taking baths for years, out of a fear that they would fall short of what I wanted. And what do I want? I want to be Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, with Prince playing in her headphones and bubbles piled up to her ears. I want to be Tony Montana in Scarface in a bathtub the size of a squash court, filled to the brim with a low, thick layer of suds. I want it all, and I want it in the form of a billowing sea of tiny soap balloons.

Like any determined American, I acquired many products in pursuit of my Hollywood dream. I tested lathers and bath bombs and drops and drips. I tested one that included a wooden honey dripper to distribute the foam around the tap. I stared with a halfhearted intensity that I hadn’t employed since tenth-grade chemistry experiments: here a liquid becomes a gas, just as we expected. Noted. Hypothesis confirmed. Eureka.

Every product was tested against my Hollywood standards — so, mainly, density of foam. Hollywood created its lush bathscapes for reasons of propriety (the pursuit of a PG-13 rating) and I require the same level of coverage. I demand that nothing be seen below the thick wall of bubbles: Not a bent knee, not glimpse of porcelain, not a single thing.

The other two elements I appraise are bubble quality and bubble longevity. As in sparkling water, each brand has a bubble that is slightly different, but also the same in any practical way, and getting too hung up on this detail is pointless. It’s a pointlessness that, I would argue, is soothing for its complete lack of stakes. I prefer a smaller bubble, for what it’s worth.

Then bubble longevity. This is the cruelest element of a bath to consider. Ideally, nothing would encourage you to leave a tub before you were ready or your fingers pruned. The change in water (cooling) and bubbles (deflating) as the bath continues reminds you of time’s passage and therefore of death. In I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith has a good note on confronting these matters:

I believe it is customary to get one’s washing over first in baths and bask afterwards; personally, I bask first. I have discovered that the first few minutes are the best and not to be wasted — my brain always seethes with ideas and life suddenly looks much better than it did … So I bask first, wash second and then read as long as the hot water holds out. The last stage of a bath, when the water is cooling and there is nothing to look forward to, can be pretty disillusioning.

A handy tip for a good bubble bath, I have decided, is to use at least half the bottle. The bottle size doesn’t matter; it’s just important to use at least half, and submerge yourself properly, and, for a moment, forget the never-satisfied human condition, which will continually demand a bubble bath that never cools down and never fizzles out.

I Blame Hollywood for Ruining Bubble Baths