Why I don’t suffocate my skin for the sake of acceptable femininity (ie, why I don’t wear antiperspirant)

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There’s a Dove commercial (I think it’s Dove; they’re great at doing problematic things disguised as progressiveness) that does this big long “Ode to the Armpit”, talking about how the armpit is an undervalued bit of flesh and constantly gets mistreated by shaving or waxing. They then go on to talk about taking care of the armpit the way it deserves…

…by using this certain antiperspirant on it.

Because nothing says love like suffocation!

I don’t wear antiperspirant. I haven’t for years — not since I was young and impressionable and believed capitalist patriarchy when they said so long as I sweat at ALL I was gross and unfeminine and boys would never want to kiss me.

(This made worse by my father saying, basically, the exact same thing when I hit puberty.)

I used to wear antiperspirant on a not-regular, but not-once in a while basis. Why? Because then it was my only option for smelling how I wanted to smell. I used to wear Old Spice deodorant. I hate smelling like Old Spice. I like the smell of it, but on other people. (Specifically Mr. Katje.)

But there were no options for me! If I went to the deodorant aisle, the “women’s” section — ie, the ones that smelled how I wanted to smell — was nothing but antiperspirant. The “men’s” section had actual non-antiperspirant deodorant.

I turned to natural deodorants in an attempt to find something that smelled the way I wanted to smell — and failed miserably. I have always had very strong sweat, both in amount issued by my body and smell. Even when I wore antiperspirant, it didn’t work for as long as it said it would. By the end of the day I was sweating through it, and stinking even worse.

Natural deodorants were no match for my super-sweat. They’d last an hour, if my luck held out.

So I started using antiperspirant on occasion. Not for daily use, but for going out to parties or with my friends or on Halloween night. It would wear off by the end of the night. But, I thought to myself, at least I smell like flowers instead of musk.

And then the pain started. The more I used antiperspirant, the more my armpits hurt. It felt like a knife was being stabbed into them.

I’d heard stories about antiperspirant and breast cancer, and I panicked. Put it down and didn’t pick it up again.

I mean, even if there is no link between antiperspirant and breast cancer — you’re blocking your pores for hours on end. You’re blocking an area that’s meant to sweat from sweating. That cannot be healthy.

I went back to wearing deodorant, searching high and low for “women’s” non-antiperspirant. Every time I found one, it would be gone from the shelves within months and I’d have to start my search again.

Recently I found one that hasn’t disappeared yet (though I may have bought 7 sticks of it right off the bat, out of fear). It smells like roses — my favourite scent — and it actually lasts most of the day (depending on how active I am).

It helps that I don’t live in Hawai’i anymore, too. 90 degree days are not a friend to the person with the terrible sweat problem.

It really says something that I have to search high and low to find a “ladies'” deodorant that isn’t antiperspirant. We, as a culture, do not want women to sweat. It’s “not attractive”. Whereas the “men’s” section is FULL of deodorant that’s not antiperspirant — yes, there is antiperspirant there, but not in the same ratio as there is for “women’s” deodorants.

(You’ll notice I’ve been putting “men’s” and “women’s” in scare quotes. This is because our segregation of deodorants into gender categories based on what kind of scents they have and whether or not they stop you from sweating is absolute bullshit. If a woman wants to wear Old Spice because she likes the smell of it on her, that’s awesome! She should go for it! And if a man wants to wear a rose-scented deodorant, he should also be able to go for it! Instead there is stigma around more floral or “light” scents as being a “woman’s” territory, and stronger scents are seen as more “masculine”. Scents are not gendered. There’s just what you like and what smells good on you. I happen to prefer the scents assigned me as someone socially-classed-as-woman, but that does not negate my genderqueerness.)

The pushing of antiperspirant on women is yet another way our patriarchal culture tells women to abuse their bodies for the sake of being seen as worthy — in this culture a woman’s worth is measured by her sex appeal, and we’re told that sex appeal does not exist if there is sweat. (Which is stupid; I mean, what do people imagine happens when you have sex? THERE IS SWEAT INVOLVED. At least there is if you’re doing it right.)

If you want to wear antiperspirant for your own, personal reasons, and it doesn’t have any ill effects on your health, or even if it does — get on with your bad self; I’m not going to tell you to stop. That is between you and whatever god of armpits you worship.

But if you’re wearing it because you’re expected to? If you don’t like wearing it because it hurts? If you would rather quit but feel you can’t?

Don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s self-care to stop your pits from sweating. Don’t let the commercials fool you either.

You are not required to wear antiperspirant if you do not want to. Sweating is a natural human function for all genders, no matter what the corporations tell us.

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