We All Sweat, Let’s Talk About It

We can all admit, sweating is kinda gross. But living in Florida, being sweaty is inevitable. It’s a natural part of life - we all sweat. So why do we feel so ashamed for other people to know? Well, let’s talk about it.

womans face with stickers Photo by Billie from Unsplash

Being sweaty is weaponized against us by the media. Despite the fact that we all do it, it is pointed out as a sign of someone’s weakness. Just ask Marco Rubio. He was attacked repeatedly while running for president. Not for his ideas, but for his tendency to get sweaty while speaking publicly. Even as far back as the ‘60s, during the Nixon/Kennedy debate, people attacked Richard Nixon, again not for his ideas, but for his sweatiness during the debate. Even the language we use has this through-line of sweating being something you should prevent unless you want people to think you are fragile. Has anyone ever told you to “never let ‘em see you sweat?” Language like this plays into the idea that sweating is weak. 

Of course, this is not true; everyone sweats, weak or strong. But it does pose an interesting question. Why are we so afraid of being caught sweating? Well, anything about our bodies that could hinder us in the workforce, usually has to go. Because more conventionally attractive people are more successful. And studies have shown that most of the “attractiveness advantage” in the workplace is different for women than men, “For women, most of the attractiveness advantage comes from being well-groomed. For men, only about half of the effect of attractiveness is due to grooming.” This works to reinforce the idea that for women, beauty is something they do, rather than who they are. The expectation in our society is for women to comply with this idea of “flawless natural beauty.” This unrealistic idea helps women get ahead in life. But the truth is, this idea doesn’t even really include things that are natural - like body hair, stretch marks and sweat. To be the idea of natural beauty, we have to change things about our natural bodies.

sitting side by side on bed Photo by Billie on Unsplash

As pointed out in the article Why I was Sweat-Shamed as I Waited for my Coffee at Starbucks, by Amy Roe, “We have been hiding this natural bodily function so long we have no idea how much a ‘normal’ woman sweats - if there is such a thing - much the same way many men have no idea how much make-up it takes to produce ‘natural’ beauty. (Cue Amy Schumer if you doubt me.) I understand exactly what Roe is saying. There are so many ways women hide and stop their sweating. Everything from antiperspirant-deodorant, to Botox, to surgery removing sweat glands, to shock therapy.

In this article, Roe also examined some of the ways of commenting on other people’s sweat, in addition to our desire to try and conceal our sweat, is a subsection and consequence of body-shaming. Sweat is the exact opposite of feminine. Roe writes about how in The Feminine Grotesque, by Mary Russo, the image of an “open, protruding, secreting body” is a stark contrast to the archetypal soft feminine beauty we are so used to and have been taught, by the media, we need to achieve. The fact that we sweat undermines this idea of women all being a rosy-cheeked and Jane-Austen-novel-mannered.

I’m not saying the desire to stop sweating is only something women experience; everybody wants to not look sweaty. What I am saying, is that there is a double standard. Just think back to an antiperspirant-deodorant commercial you’ve seen on TV. Generally speaking, if you thought of a men’s deodorant commercial, you probably pictured a man using deodorant to make him smell really good. And, most likely, he wasn’t actually sweating in the commercial. But if you thought of a commercial for women’s’ deodorant, the woman was probably either telling you how her deodorant prevents her from getting sweaty, therefore allowing her to be a stronger person, or it was a woman realizing and becoming embarrassed about the fact she is all sweaty. Then, the commercial shows us how if she had used their antiperspirant-deodorant it would have prevented this whole humiliating situation. One commercial even had a set up that was a woman putting on deodorant with text on the screen telling the audience something she could now do because she wasn’t sweaty; like run a board meeting or workout (??!!). Again, I’m speaking generally here, (Serena Williams has made some really empowering deodorant commercials) but if you actually sit down and compare the ways in which the same product is pitched to men and women, the double standard becomes hard to ignore. These commercials enforce the idea that a woman’s beauty is the key to her success.

drying off underarm sweat with hairdryer Photo by Billie from Unsplash

So, I think even though it’s kinda gross, it’s time we all talked about sweat. Being sweaty deserves to be part of our new definition of “naturally beautiful.” Because we all do it. When we’re nervous, or just hot, or sometimes for seemingly no reason at all. And it has nothing to do with who we are as people and how we deserve to be judged. To those who will tell you to “never let ‘em see you sweat” I would say, sometimes, it just happens; and it has nothing to do with how powerful we are.

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