The Stigma of Sweating | Think Group Health

I came across this video the other day that in three minutes gives you the low down on a complaint up to 3% of the population are plagued with- hyperhidrosis, otherwise known as excessive sweating. Sweating on the palms, underarms, feet, scalp, chest, crotch, back… almost anywhere. While some causes can be easily identified, such as excessive alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, and some medical conditions, for many people it’s a burden they carry with no heritage or clear cause. The video explains very well the causes and the treatments available for excessive sweating, but I wanted to look at the stigma, and how society treats this condition.

In olden times, sweating, and the accumulation of resultant body oils on the skin was seen as healthy. Yes, it may have stank a bit, but it created a coating on the skin which was semi-waterproof, was resistant to lice, and gave a degree of insulation against the cold. People only bathed if they had to ford a river, or occasionally, perhaps three or four times a year, just because the lack of cleanliness led to itches, sores and an overwhelmingly unpleasant smell.

In later times, men and women attempted to disguise the odours and sheen of sweat by applying powders and scents. But there was still nothing that could be remotely described as an antiperspirant or deodorant. As we moved into the Twentieth century, bathing and the use of soaps became more prevalent, although many homes only had a kitchen sink to wash in (and an outside toilet). After the Second World War, with the advent of radio and television, advertising became powerful, and a whole generation in the sixties and seventies were constantly lectured about how to avoid what was termed “B.O”- body odour. This was the birth of the Mum Rollette roll-on deodorant, under arm sprays, the Sure “tick” effect showing which people had used the product, plus all manner of other products for us to spend our growing disposable income on.

People who were smelly, or had visible underarm staining of their shirts or blouses became the subject of derision or disgust. A female member of Parliament, Rosie Barnes, for the constituency of Greenwich in London, is still most well-known for her double-armed victory waves to her supporters.. revealing two large darker patches under her arms.

In the fifties and beyond Lie Detectors were used, particularly in the United States to see if people were lying. These monitored heart rate, breathing and sweat secretion while a series of questions were asked. Woe betide those who suffered from excessive sweating. They were clearly out and out liars. Take them down!

Many criminals were portrayed on television and in films as slimy, sweaty individuals, n’er-do-wells out to con and rob you. Even in these enlightened times, noses will wrinkle and lip edges will down turn if one smells someone with body odour, or sees someone not in the gym who is sweating profusely on brow or through their clothes. Just stop and consider. They may have Hyperhidrosis. Don’t condemn them in your mind out of hand- they may be struggling to combat a condition that is no fault of their own. Me? I’m afraid I’ve had four pints of lager, a prawn vindaloo and three cups of full strength coffee to finish. Is it any wonder I am sweating?!!

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