Self | Global Warming
Embracing Your Sweat Glands in the Age of Global Warming
I spent my childhood summers on the east coast of Florida, playing outside on thickly grassed lawns and sun-scorched driveways. The sweltering heat and sound of cicadas buzzing in the background are forever burned into my memory. We played endlessly and sweating was always a foregone conclusion, and rarely even discussed.
Then, a well-entrenched stigma against sweat revealed itself as I got older, and entered middle school. I walked to school each morning, up a short, steep hill, and often entered class with beads of sweat on my forehead. My classmate Jeremy jokingly said, “You look like you ran a marathon in a sauna.” Eventually, I became self-conscious and asked for a ride.
The stigma around sweating is extensive and emblematic of a 20th century shift in thinking about our bodies, which could become problematic given the state of the world. Temperatures are rising due to global warming, with 2023 having a 99% probability of being the warmest on record. Our sweat glands, these things we treat as pesky nuisances, may well help us push forward into an uncertain future, as they did thousands of years prior.
The stigmatization began when advertisers infiltrated our psyche and convinced us we smelled, turning deodorant into an $18 billion industry. Commercials with sweaty models smelling their arm pits and then grimacing cascade across our TVs. In the early 20th century, printed ads targeted women, saying their body odor could become offensive and uncouth. Then marketers realized they were missing out on 50% of the market and everyone was snagged.
The very word sweat mutated into negative connotations. In gaming, a sweat is a “try-hard”, to the degree of annoyance. When I was in high school, “sweating someone” meant you were lusting over an uninterested party. Even the late George Carlin joked, “Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.” As global temperatures climb, it necessitates recalibrating what sweating actually means for us, and our culture.