Sweating isn’t an issue, so let’s not make it into one

It’s one of the most natural things your body does, argues Laura Craik. So why are we taught that sweating is so shameful?.

Believed to have originated from Victorian etiquette guides, methinks this phrase might need an update. Here in stuffy, stifling, stultifying Summer 2017, it’s not just the horses that are sweating. It’s all of us.

Which is kind of socially awkward, even though it shouldn’t be, what with perspiration being a perfectly normal bodily function. If we didn’t perspire, we’d overheat. Alas, like many other bodily functions involving fluids, perspiration is, if not taboo, then certainly viewed with some embarrassment. Nobody wants to be the sweaty one. Nobody wants to be the person others slyly edge away from on a crowded train. Nobody wants the dark wet bloom under their arms to be exposed like a dirty secret. It’s ridiculous, of course. Your poor body, chastised for letting you down, when all it’s trying to do is keep you healthy.

Like flu, sweat has always been endured, its worst effects minimised by dint of steering clear of grey marl (the worst fabric for exposing sweat patches) and a decent deodorant. Not any more. Here in 2017, there seems to be a cure for every displeasing bodily function – and if there isn’t, you can bet some scientist / opportunist will be beavering away in the lab, doing his or her best to find one. Last week, I received an email about a treatment called miraDry+, which purports to “eliminate sweat glands from under the armpits in just one session”. Like, WTF? What Frankenstein-esque hell are they trying to put us through now? According to its website, miraDry+ is FDA approved, only requires one treatment to be effective, has no negative effects on the body and holds a 92 per cent patient satisfaction rating. “It’s a lifestyle choice, like laser hair removal,” trills the press release. I delved a little further. Apparently, electromagnetic currents are applied under the arms, heating and eliminating the sweat glands. “And since sweat glands don’t grow back, results are dramatic and lasting,” claims the breezy voiceover on the video. Which begs the question: where does all the displaced perspiration go? Do you start sweating out of your shoulders? Your elbows? Your breast

Like it or not, it seems that sweat management is the next big thing. And if having your sweat glands eliminated seems a bit too extreme, but you’re still bothered by excessive perspiration? There’s an app for that. Last week in Tokyo, a Japanese tech company previewed Kunkun Body, a device that allows people to self-test their bodies for three separate categories of smell in four locations: near the head, behind the ear, under the armpit and around the feet. The pocket-sized detector connects by Bluetooth to a smartphone app that informs you of the results in a discreet manner. No, I don’t know what constitutes a discreet manner. Maybe it vibrates. Maybe it whispers “you really, really pong” in dulcet tones like Emily The SatNav. In Japan, people are super-sensitive to smell – so sensitive that they even have a word for it. “Sumehara” means “smell harassment”. You may do a giant eye roll, but a recent study in Japan found that body smell was the number one etiquette concern in the workplace.

Britain may not be quite so paranoid about smell harassment as Japan, but we’re not exactly nonchalant either. We all know people who dread summer, finding no joy in the sun’s beneficent rays because they’re so terrified of sweating and smelling. Personally, I don’t give a toss how red and shiny I become, but the thought of whiffing makes me cringe. It’s why I’ve devoted more time than is seemly to finding a deodorant that actually works (and doesn’t contain aluminium). Nope, still looking.

What’s the answer? Probably not a procedure to get rid of your sweat glands. Hopefully not a device that quietly evaluates how much you stink. Maybe, instead, a gentle reminder that sweating is natural, body odour is beautiful, and our flaws – for those who perceive them as such – are what make us who we are. We are not Barbie dolls. We are human – in all our squelchy, musky glory.

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