Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I stink. Fucking get over it.

(Note: If you arrived here from Spearhead, welcome. Please be polite to others, and if all you get out of my story here and the stories of physical assault in the comment thread is "heh heh heh stupid feminazis," then I encourage you to check your moral compass and try to find something resembling empathy. If you can't or won't treat others humanely, then I encourage you, kindly, to shove off back to whatever rock you crawled out from under because you sure as shit are not welcome here. -The Management)

I have a HUGE chip on my shoulder about societal expectations for body odor.

I don’t wear antiperspirant or most artificial perfumed deodorants. I stopped wearing them five years ago when I stopped shaving my pits. Originally, my decision came from the recent loss of a dear family member who had died from her second round with breast cancer at the age of 32. She was 27 when she received her initial diagnosis. By the time she died, her doctors had performed two mastectomies and removed the lymph nodes from her left arm. I decided that I was reducing as many of my risks for cancer as I had control over considering the world we live in, including no longer purposely shoving chemicals into my lymph nodes to stop them from doing what they are designed to do.

When I made that decision, I lost a few friends because they found my choice “judgmental” of them, and I lost a lover of two years because he found my scent “disgusting.” A year, two years before this, those losses would have devastated me. But that year, my cousin being gone gave me a clarity that until then, I had not known was possible. In my clarity, I had one, exceedingly calm reaction.

Fuck them. If this is a deal breaker, consider the deal fucking smashed to itty bitty fucking pieces.

It was then that I began to truly see how USians and others to whom we have exported the damaging parts of our culture are expected to remove ourselves so completely from the basic biological processes of the human body. Especially if its a process that is highly gendered, like how we freak the fuck out over menstrual blood, or how men smelling like sweat is mostly okay, but MAUDE FUCKING FORBID that a woman smell like anything other than “Orchid Pussy Breeze,” or how “real” men are hairy and “real” women are bald from the eyebrows down (but they have to be that way BY “CHOICE” and conscious action, cause if they have a medical condition that causes them to lose their hair, well, thats just icky.) The processes exist for a reason, they have a purpose in the grand scheme of species function. But we are expected to do everything we can to escape those processes in very specific ways. We are expected to smell like chemicals instead of like our own bodies. We are expected to silence those cues from our bodies because they are coded as “offensive” to others even when we don’t find them offensive at all.

Lip service is given to the idea that we can “opt out” of these things, but the prevailing message when we do so is that we are lazy, unhygienic (this one really gets me. I’m unhygienic for not stripping all the fucking hair from my genitalia except what is the purpose of that hair? TO KEEP FUCKING DIRT OUT OF MY GODDAMN MUCOUS MEMBRANES! SO WHICH IS MORE HYGIENIC FUCKERS!?), dirty, and don’t deserve to be treated like people. I, and others that I know, have actually experienced direct action from employers because we refused to wear deodorant or shave either legs or armpits. I have been told “thats just how the world works” (which is a phrase that I loathe with every fiber of my being) with zero ZERO ZERO acknowledgment or awareness that this is just one fucked up corner of the world and that this shit doesn’t occur in a vacuum.

And how does this mindset translate into even worse judgments on those people who are left to the fringes or completely outside this concept of “humanity” due to not having time or access to luxuries like clean running water for drinking and bathing, or deodorants, or razors? People who have to focus on basic fucking survival, which shaving and perfuming are not? What about people who are fucking allergic to perfumes and artificial scents? Are they supposed to just grin and bear it because the idea that humans are just another animal offends your delicate fucking sensibilities?

I may “stink,” but at least I smell like myself, and not some mega corporation’s marketing team’s idea of what I should smell like.

(cross posted to my tumblr and a few other places, so if you see this twice, I apologize in advance.)

12 comments:

  1. Thank you! I too don't wear deodorant and don't smell too fancy, but that doesn't mean I'm gross. I smell like a person.

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  2. (oops, accidentally commented on my husband's ID. ANYway!)

    This is an excellent post.

    And how does this mindset translate into even worse judgments on those people who are left to the fringes or completely outside this concept of “humanity” due to not having time or access to luxuries like clean running water for drinking and bathing, or deodorants, or razors?

    Um, thank you. So much.

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  3. "We are expected to smell like chemicals instead of like our own bodies. We are expected to silence those cues from our bodies because they are coded as “offensive” to others even when we don’t find them offensive at all."

    this is a really good point. the idea that we're not supposed to have a smell is so pervasive that when i've mentioned to doctors, in the course of listing symptoms, that i smell wrong, they were baffled and asked if maybe i'd used a different laundry detergent. being able to tell the difference between "my smell" and "my smell with an infection" is much more important than distinguishing between tide and store brand, for heaven's sake!

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  4. I love this post.

    I've also always thought that when we are covering up our body smell with chemicals, we must be missing an AWFUL lot of pheromonal information that we might need to be getting from each other to help us interact better as human animals.

    I initially stopped using deodorants/antiperspirants for the same reason you did -- one of my dearest friends died of breast cancer at 31, and I started reducing my risks wherever possible. (I abandoned my bras about the same time.)

    My partner is chemically-sensitive and we've done our best to get every bit of that crap out of our home. It baffles me that so many people still insist that it's fine for them to enter in a cloud of toxic chemical fragrance, but they get all OH NO! when someone comes in the room smelling like -- wait for it -- themselves.

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  5. Tell it, Dori! I don't always use deodorant (I still have some confidence issues surrounding my smell and frankly admire your ability to face up to assholes about your totally normal body odor), I'm not a heavy user of soaps and creams, and my boyfriend almost never wears deodorant. We get told all the time how we're "disgusting hippies". Oh, I'm sorry, I had no idea that merely existing was gross. Forgive me! /snark

    Seriously though, thank you. This is an awesome post. I really appreciate you being up front about how un-natural a lot of "just do it because" hygiene expectations are.

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  6. Thank you. In high school, I was actually pulled out of class by the counsellor and given hygiene products because some students complained to my teacher. That is a major blow to a teen's self-esteem, especially when that teen suffers through society's fat-shaming and recurrent depression. One of my bosses would send me to the bathroom to use paper towels, soap and water to clean and then gave me deodorant she bought for me. I hated the stuff because it was perfumed and I have allergies.

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  7. This is awesome. I never used deodorant growing up - I'm not sure why my mother never bought it for me, because she bought into all the beauty and smell standards for women and wore it herself. When I finally realized that I "should" be wearing it, I got some, but I always thought the smell was more disgusting than anything my body produced naturally. I still wear it, but I don't know why. I don't actually sweat a lot (a problem for me - I frequently get overheated), and wearing deodorant always stresses me out because of the cancer risk. Your post is giving me the kick in the pants I needed to toss that garbage.

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  8. I used to use corporate deodorant, then a combination of cornstarch and baking soda as deodorant... Now I've quit using it and I don't shave anything. But I also get that because nobody is used to people smelling like people, it can be really difficult to get used to smelling body odors, like it takes time to assimilate... Smell reactions are a really subconscious things and it's hard to control how you feel because of them, which can be very negatively... and people need to immerse themselves in body odors in order to get used to them. I'd wager that the people who have a problem with it offer such offensive justifications for wearing deodorant mostly because they have this visceral, subconscious disgust reaction that takes a while to mitigate. Like, these people are being judgmental no doubt, but I have a little more sympathy for them than for when people are judgmental about shaving.. because in order for not shaving to be offensive, your brain's gotta pull up this whole gendered construct to justify the objection.. but for body odor things.. all that has to happen is.. a person isn't used to a smell being around, they therefore find it gross.. like I know there are also double standards for men and women... but I guess I just don't like to treat people's objections to my body odor as being exactly the same as people's objections to my hairy legs.

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  9. FUCKING awesome post! (And I don't use the F-word lightly)

    "or how men smelling like sweat is mostly okay, but MAUDE FUCKING FORBID that a woman smell like anything other than “Orchid Pussy Breeze,”"

    HA HA HA! So right.

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  10. @Abby Regarding discussing smells with doctors, I am right there with you. I usually have to tell every new doctor before exams have even started that I depend on my own scent (along with other things) for cues about my health before we even start discussing anything.

    @PortlyDyke

    Reading about your partner's sensitivities was what really galvanized me to just drop even the "natural" wax based deodorants. I think one of the entries of yours about her issues had the link to the cosmetics database, and if nothing else that will give anyone the sweats (heh)

    @Kissmyassterisk D: Both of those stories are awful! The assumption on both their parts that you either just don't know how to not stink, or that you can't afford to is really ignorant and classist.

    @Rebecca
    There is definitely a lot less conscious thought than my post suggests with regards to smells, it just galls me that we are so inundated with the idea that our own natural smell is gross that we even get to point of having such a visceral reaction to human smells in the first place. The body odor objections are not quite the same as the shaving objection, I think, because the training regarding smells goes even deeper and is attached to more things. More corporate money goes into the things that change our smells (processed foods, chemical additives, red meat) and the things that cover that change. But your mileage may vary :D

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  11. Kisstmyassterisk-

    I remember when I was about 12 my mother told me that I smelled bad and she made me shave my armpits. She immediately put all of this wet deodorant all over it and it hurt so bad!!
    It itched and chafed all day long. I was so miserable and when I told her how much it hurt she didn't even care, that is just what we are supposed to do.

    I have had a major insecurity about my body hair and smell ever since. I have never shaved my legs in my life and I don't give it a second thought anymore but my armpits continue to be a site of shame for me.

    It is so sad that it started so early.

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  12. It is appalling to me that you were treated thusly. Fuck them indeed.

    There *are* people of both genders that do support actually accepting and being proud of the natural state of your body, though. I'm one guy that does. And I know a couple of women that are not totally put off by the idea. But unfortunately it does not seem to be the norm. :-(

    More power to you.

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