Getting away from the influence of ‘nature’ has tended to be what human civilization is all about. Following Druidry, identifying as having a nature-based spirituality, I am inclined to question every incidence of human ‘culture’ rejecting ‘nature’. Sometimes there are good reasons – most natural things seek warmth and shelter, for example. Making a home is perfectly natural. But what about sweat? We do it, but adverts teach us that to be in any way moist is a social failure. We must be dry and smell of chemicals to pass muster in our personal and professional lives.
Of course this sells a lot of deodorant and probably makes the London Underground more bearable, but is that enough to make it a truly good idea?
Sweat serves a number of functions. It helps us to cool down, and it gets toxins out of our bodies. We may also sweat nervously when under pressure, which can reveal our discomfort. So there’s perhaps a fear of looking uncomfortable and therefore less professionally cool and on top of things, to associate with sweat.
As a species, we’ve been wearing clothes for a long time. The basic idea of clothing is warmth, dryness and comfort, but being civilised, we’ve turned clothes into markers of affiliation, social status, profession and whatnot. Thus on a hot day, there are people stepping into tiny metal boxes wearing shirts, ties and jackets. Because that’s civilised. We’re supposed to sweat to keep cool, but we can’t be seen to do that in our suits, and so we suppress the natural reaction. It’s worth noting that skin which is allowed access to the air, able to breathe, cool down, dry off and generally get a breeze round it, does not stink especially. It’s when we use clothing to lock our smells against our skins that we really get the problem.
Sweating goes with activity. The person who sweats regularly doesn’t have a big backlog of toxins in their skin, and so the sweat is more of the fresh, healthy animal variety. It’s worth noting that sweaty animals tend not to smell anything like as gross as sweaty humans even though they tend to shower less and seldom use deodorant. Doing it regularly, plus not wearing a suit probably helps. Being well hydrated so that you can easily wash it all through, also helps. The person who sweats rarely and does so under stress, isn’t going to smell too good. Lots of ick to come out of the skin, and nowhere for it to go.
Any chemical applied to the body for the purposes of stopping sweat, is basically helping you store up your toxins. When eventually you do sweat, it will all smell that bit worse as a consequence, and in the meantime you get to carry about all the toxins your body would otherwise have preferred to dump. This does not strike me as being a perfect solution.
Alongside all the crap we put out, sweat also contains smells related to our hormones. We send smell messages to each other – or we would if we didn’t mostly smell of sprays. Those messages tell us things at a less than fully conscious level about how sexually compatible we are with each other, how well the people around us are and so forth. The unmasked body odour has a lot to say about a person. If we don’t smell so good, the temptation is to hide that under an artificial smell, fooling ourselves and everyone else around us. Socially speaking there’s a fair amount to commend this. In other ways though, it may be costing us. I find myself wondering if the stinky tendencies of teenagers may be a neat evolutionary device to stop them breeding too soon. Taking away their deodorant may be the most effective form of contraception available!