Body Odor

From Lindsay at BABble, I learned about this story from the NY Times, entitled “Cast Aside Underarm Protection, if You Dare.”

And it got me thinking, because body odor ties in with body image issues. 

It’s bad enough to be fat, but to be fat and to smell?  That would be a fat person’s worst nightmare!

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that it truly is an American “thing.”

For many, winter is a time to relax grooming regiments. Bodies swathed in turtlenecks and boots need not be waxed, pedicured and S.P.F.’d to the gills. But among stench-phobic Americans, rare is the renegade who will go without an antiperspirant or deodorant for even a day.

That’s me!!!  *waves arm frantically*  Even when I’m sitting around the house in my jammies on a weekend, I still put deoderant on.  I just couldn’t stand it if I smelled.

But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed, it’s that Brits don’t necessarily have that view.  Oh, sure, some of them do – I’m not trying to say that every single Brit smells.  But I can’t count the number of times I’ve had someone walk past me in the street and it’s made me gag.  Men and women, young and old, thin and fat – it doesn’t matter what kind of person the person is, a percentage of all of them forego the deoderant.

And while this may be true on a chemical level:

…trying to erase our God-given odor might sabotage Cupid.

“There is experimental evidence in humans to suggest that we may have some mating preference for those who have a different immune system then we do,” Dr. Preti said. “The scent caused by underarm bacteria is part of what signals a different immune system.”

Mel Rosenberg, a microbiology professor at Tel Aviv University who has studied human odors for 25 years, argues that it is cultural conditioning that has made body odor a deterrent.

“A thousand years ago, people did not bathe like we do now,” he said. “They must’ve smelled to the high heavens, but obviously they still got it on. From a biological standpoint, deodorants are overused because they can make people seem more attractive than their basic biology.”

I think on a personal level for a lot of people, that’s simply not true.  I don’t care who it is, if a person doesn’t use deoderant, they smell.  And we’ve conditioned ourselves to think that that smell is gross and disgusting.  It’s not a new phenomena, it’s been slowly happening since the time of The Great Depression.  Whether it’s what our bodies are chemically, animalistically meant to respond to or not, is irrelevant.  The fact is that for generations, we have conditioned ourselves to find someone who smells as unattractive.  (Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but for my purposes, I have to generalize.)  I can’t even stand to smell my own husband when he hasn’t put on deoderant for more than a day.  I try to get near him and I want to throw up from the smell.

And it’s horrible for the person if they are using deoderant and all that and they still smell.  I remember when I was a teenager, I lived for a while in Mercy Home for Girls, and the staff would take the residents on vacation every summer.  That year, we’d gone to St. Louis, and were staying in a camphouse-type-thing, the kind of place that has all sorts of activities like biking, hiking, cave-diving, etc., all set up for you.  We’d gone biking in the woods, and one of the staff members pulled me aside and mentioned that some of the other girls had said something about the way I smelled.  I was horrified.  Not only did I shower every day, but I did use deoderant.  And perfume.  So to know that I was washing my body every day and purposefully using products that by their very nature were supposed to keep me from stinking, I still was, absolutely mortified me.  Naturally, I got defensive, and told the staff member that, and by the time I was done talking I was in tears.  She suggested that I speak to the other girls about it, and be honest – that it might stop them talking behind my back.  She also suggested that I try a different brand, because obviously whatever I was using wasn’t strong enough.

Later on, we took a break and one of the girls said something along the lines of “what the hell is that smell?” and I piped up with “it might be me.”  I went on to explain my problem – and a lot of those girls knew that I showered every day, because we were all sleeping in one big dorm on that vacation, and they’d seen me go into the bathroom to take a shower.  So they knew I wasn’t just lying to make myself feel better, and they could see that obviously there must be some sort of physical problem; i.e. hormonal fluctuations or whatever that made me smell worse than I usually would.  I ended up taking the staff member’s suggestion and trying something new, as well as showering a second time every day, and my problem was resolved, but I will never forget how humiliating it was to realize that what those girls was turning their noses up at was actually me.

I’m using my personal experience to exemplify what I’m talking about.  Most people would rather die than realize that they smelled that bad.  So they use – or overuse, as the article states – products that will make them smell like they’re fresh and clean.

But like I said in the beginning, that’s true for everybody, but especially true for the fat person.  We get picked on enough about the way we look or our *ahem* health, and we know that we’re looked upon as the scourge of society.  We know it shouldn’t be that way, but that’s the way it is.  So for someone to come up to me (for example) and say “you’re fat, you’re ugly, you’re going to die, and by god, you smell!” is a terrifying thought.

For most people, anyway.