Photo courtesy of Nayiri Hovsepian.
When I was a little girl, I would open up my closet to see a beautiful array of colors. I would wear my favorite red shirt and run around in it worry-free. I was carefree, sweat-free, colorful, and happy.
And then I hit puberty.
I started sweating more in middle school. Suddenly, I was keeping my arms down, trying to hide the sweat seeping through my shirt. I started learning at the age of 13 the ways I could hide my underarm sweat. My mom, who told me she used to sweat a lot, taught me that wearing darker clothes can hide that embarrassing underarm mark. My closet wasn’t so colorful anymore.
When I go shopping, sweat stains are always on my mind. Looking at a cute blouse, I always ask myself, “Can I wear this? Will my sweat show?” Sometimes, my friends pick up a T-shirt of a favorite band of mine and they tell me I should buy it. “I can’t, I won’t wear it, my sweat will show.”
It’s constantly there, always looming over me. I was worried when the FEM T-shirts for the staff were not black this year because my sweat would stain the great shirt.
It seems like I can’t escape this. No matter what, I’m thinking about how my sweat appears to others, how I need to constantly reapply deodorant to prevent embarrassing smells. I have learned how to wipe off deodorant marks from my purposefully black clothes, the white marks on a black shirt becoming just as embarrassing as the sweat marks on a blue shirt.
Why am I so embarrassed? Why do I feel the need to hide what my body does naturally to keep me cool?
Sweat, unlike body hair, is considered universally “gross.” Everyone, regardless of gender, deals with the stigma associated with excessive sweating. This is because sweat can be smelly, sticky, and uncomfortable despite being a natural and necessary bodily function. My personal struggle with sweat is one known to many people.
Most know and have experienced the stigma associated with sweat. It seems sweating is only acceptable when you exercise. People accept sweat more if you’re wearing gym clothes and running shoes, but it becomes something to hide on a hot day in casual clothing.
I personally still feel that stigma even if I have been obviously exercising. This stigma may stem from studies suggesting that women may sweat differently than men, which make me and many other women feel as though we are expected to sweat less than men or not at all.
The extra stigmatization of sweat placed on women has a lot to do with the constant pressure placed on women and their bodies to be available as objects of pleasure, especially for men. There are several forums asking men if they find sweaty women sexy and often the response is that sweat is only considered sexy if the woman is already “hot,” if she has been working out, or if she has been sexually active. The problem with this is that it objectifies women by making the problem of sweat male focused. It’s only ok for a woman to sweat if men find it sexy. Otherwise, women are expected not to sweat at all.
I feel the need to hide my sweat because of the stigma caused by this expectation.
My relationship with my sweat has been a rocky one. I appreciate the function of my sweat and I realize that my sweat is natural and normal. However, most days, I wish I could just stop sweating altogether. I wish that I could wear a yellow Violent Femmes T-shirt without worrying about sweat stains or dance in a blue dress carefree. But I can’t stop my sweating. It’s a part of me that I’ve been dealing with for a very long time.
There should be a decrease in the stigma associated with sweat, not just for women but for everyone who encounters it. Sweat is a normal bodily function that everyone deals with. No one should feel embarrassed by small sweat marks under their arms and we all should be able to buy and wear clothes we love without worrying about it. Basically, what I’m trying to say is, we shouldn’t sweat it.