Hydration nation: why is water such a virtue?

We love to stay hydrated and generally look wet, why?

Hero image in post
Hero image in post

We love to stay hydrated and generally look wet, why?

By Rhys Thomas05 May 2023
7 mins read time
7 mins read time

21 years ago, the pop-rock band Busted went in a time machine. Then they came back and told us how the world might look in roughly a thousand years. They said they’ve “been to the year 3000, not much has changed but they live underwater”. It’ll take 977 years to find out if James, Matt, and Charlie were correct about the future or not. But metaphorically, you could say that we’re living underwater already.

The metaphor being that we are obsessed with water. The idea of water is around us every day, all day. We are drowning in thoughts of and references to water. We are swimming with the belief that we need to be staying hydrated always, we are living with the ideology that wetness, inside and out, always, carries a health and radiance which is good for us.

In celebrity-land, the idea of staying hydrated has been around for a while. Back in 2014, The Cut compiled 33 quotes from celebrities about water. They included Gwyneth Paltrow’s selfie of her drinking from a glass bottle of water, which she tweeted with the caption: “Full of healing power #ILoveWater”, Jaden Smith’s tweet “I've Bin Drinking Distilled Water For So Long That When I Drink Normal Water It Feels Like I'm Swallowing Huge Chunks Of Aluminum”, and both Gabrielle Union and Tyra Banks specifically mentioning the goal of drinking ‘32oz of water before lunch’. The oz measurement being mentioned is a US fluid ounce, 32oz is just under a litre, or just over 1.5 pints.

As per all things wellness, this high-profile thirst for hydration has gradually trickled down into the mainstream. We can see real people fixate on their H2O consumption online too. Entire accounts dedicated to reminding people to stay hydrated have existed, among the best was @drinkwaterslut – which sadly hasn’t been in operation since September 2022 – but previously tweeted daily. Its reminders have included “new year stay hydrated bitch” and “You sure do cry a lot. Drink water now to refill your tears.” It was a lockdown staple for many of us who had access to a tap. We’d sit there, turning the notifications on, looking for something to do, the ping of a hydration notification would give us some temporary excitement. On Tuesday April 25 2023, the Co–Star astrology app reminded the writer of this article to “drink water”.

In the real world, we’re seeing people make more of an effort to at least carry water around, if not drink it. From volume water-chuggers like the gym bros with the actual gallon-sized refill bottles, to the people sipping them cutesy refill bottles that give you words of motivation the further down the bottle your liquid sits. We’re also seeing a focus on what’s in the water, with the rise of people splashing on charcoal activated water and alkaline water (or at least more of it in shops). Former World’s Strongest Man, Eddie Hall, spoke to GQ about setting up an alkaline filtration system for water in his house, which is extra, but shows people are taking this all very seriously.

We also have the idea of immersion in water as a wellness tool: ice baths, wild swims, cold showers. Every celebrity who has reached a peak of their career, burned out, and decided to vibe instead, is surfing. While that’s living in water (temporarily), being underwater is also increasingly tangible when we look at the way in which fashion and beauty elements of our lives have also been drenched in water. It has permeated fashion through buzzwords like drip, sure, but also with brands like Thierry Mugler and DI PETSA rising to prominence (and catwalks) in the last couple years – you know, those wet-look dresses Kim Kardashian, Megan Fox, FKA Twigs and Bella Hadid all wore.

There is also, most recently, the Balmain x Evian capsule collection (a variety of garments and accessories making use of the Evian water packaging, including a £1150 hoodie of the Evian logo with a baby blue to baby pink gradient, and the Balmain logo) which was announced last week, along with the Evian x Balmain collaboration (bottled water), their latest in an annual partnership with fashion brands to make collectible glass water bottles. Evian also made some ‘Evian baby’ t-shirts which were a micro-moment last year.

Hell, while it might be some of the best spring water around, squared off plastic bottles of Evian are being carried around by people for the aesthetic. An accessory for the summer fit: it just sets off the maxi dress and sneakers. In beauty, we all want our hair to look soaked and our face to be ‘dewy’. We’re scraping a puddle of got2b Glued gel into the sides of our head and fine-tooth combing the hair behind our ears, comb-streaks all icy and visible. We’re spritzing hydrating mists on our T-zones like everything is about to dry up.

All of this is to say, water is everywhere!! So why the water trend? Well it’s healthy, right? We are, give or take 60% water – around the same as feta cheese. We’re more watery than pizza, but less than potatoes, according to the National Institute of Health’s Water Content Range for Selected Foods. With this much water inside us, it feels fair to assume that we need to keep feeding ourselves water to top up our general wellbeing. And yes, hydration is a large part of our general health: “The body needs water to lubricate joints, regulate a normal temperature, and protect your spinal cord. Not drinking enough water can also lead to dehydration, which can lead to symptoms such as headaches and fatigue” says Penny Weston, a fitness, wellness and nutrition expert.

Plus, in a world where we’re being sold expensive solutions and ideals for beauty and health, a simple glass of the stuff that comes out of the tap with the potential to heal inside - while also helping us to look plump and feel youthful - is, of course, an attractive idea. A quick dip in the ocean is free. A bottle of the fancy stuff, like an alkaline water, being not much more than a soft drink, can also be seen to be a good way to do some self-care with a quick switch of liquids.

But they say everything in moderation, and this even applies to water. Overhydration is very much a thing. In the extreme it can lead to death. Of course, this is incredibly rare, but between the extremes there are a few things to look out for in terms of overhydration – especially if you’re partial to smashing some electrolytes on top of a solid water-drinking routine, or doing MDMA (which makes people excessively thirsty, always sip water if you’re high, do not guzzle the stuff). Some antipsychotic drugs can also lead to overhydration. Symptoms of overhydration include nausea, vomiting, headaches, confusion, disorientation, drowsiness and muscle cramps.

“The amount of water we need can be impacted by age, physical activity, the weather and diet but generally it’s between 1.5 to 2L of water a day” Weston says. She doesn’t recommend having over half of it before lunchtime, despite the 32oz rule some celebrities have followed.

And sure, like all things we’re supposed to do, there are people not drinking water, and doing so in a fairly chic way. There are tweets from people “staying hydrated” with a massive iced coffee (still interesting, because the idea of hydration equals good is very much there). Keeping it real always, in 2014 Lindsay Lohan was there to tell everyone that “water is so boring”. And maybe, in many ways, Lindsay was right, for others might have been brainwashed into the idea that without gallons of the inorganic, transparent, tasteless, odourless, and nearly colourless chemical compound we call water, we won’t be okay. But we probably will. Life is all about balance. We should stay hydrated, but mindfully x.