I first realised I sweat a lot when I overheard two girls, one of whom I happened to think was a good friend of mine, discussing a rather active pair of my sweat glands. They were giggling excitedly- I suppose it was a nice respite from class. One of them then suggested a ‘high five,’ something I realised would reveal the offending area for all to see and to laugh at. I declined, politely. They continued to laugh on anyway. I can’t recall what they carried on saying, but my perspiration was the punchline of their joke.
I don’t sweat a lot all of the time- just most of the time. Right now, I’m not. But I can be cold and calm yet be sweating how most might sweat when they are warm or anxious.
It isn’t the sweat that bothers me- it is a bit uncomfortable, but not really a problem. What bothers me is how people react. I’m not sure if all or even most of my friends realise, though I know the ones that do; the friend who drew attention to my overly moist forehead as a point of humour for the group we were sitting with, or another occasion where a friend’s comment revealed their near-disgust at my prodigious perspiration. This year, my request to open a friend’s kitchen window was met with a laugh and cocky smirk, as my forehead wetted in their humid kitchen.
It was the same at work. My sweating became the butt of the type of jokes the victim/punchline cannot really laugh along with, or it was the subject of behind-my-back conversations which, one way or another, found their way back to me. Each time I’d fake a laugh, get my head down, and get back to work.
When these sorts of things happen, I feel like a snap judgement is being made about me, even though it is something completely out of my control. This winter, I stepped into a professor’s sweltering office and, right on cue, my forehead began to sweat slowly. As we talked and I sweated, he seemed more and more uncomfortable, almost suspicious. It was unsettling, and ultimately depressing.
Why must my sweating be the butt of exclusive jokes, or degrading conversation? Why do people feel uncomfortable about it?
I guess because it is different.
I know that my sweating is nothing on many people’s experiences growing up: friends whose depression has driven them close to suicide, for example. But each and every joke, put-down and suspicious look has shaped my thinking, and at least upset me for some brief period. The way I dress, the jobs I apply for, the nights out and places I choose to socialise, the clothes I wear, are all influenced by how I think people will perceive me and my perspiration. It drives me to research all sorts of weird and wonderful ways to reduce my perspiration.
I can feel a bit pathetic about it. I don’t care what people think of me when it comes to anything else- what people think of me is none of my business. Then I hear a female friend say they aren’t romantically interested in another guy because they are ‘a bit sweaty,’ or someone else’s sweat is a point of conversation, then I remember why it bothers me- people are judging another’s worth on something other than the strength of their character, something beyond their control. And that is extremely disheartening, even depressing.
I have tried to deal with it, become okay with the odd joke and strange look. But I think the damage is done: my outlook feels pretty set- sticks and stones?…
For now, I will thank one particular friend. They’ve stuck up for me on the few occasions that they’ve been around and somebody has made me feel uncomfortable. I don’t think they realise completely how I feel, but it is nice to occasionally have an open, unjudging conversation about sweat. It is strange, given how embarrassed people can feel about sweating, that we (as a society) don’t talk more about it.
And of course, thanks to those people, ignorant or indifferent, who’ve said nothing at all.