There are so many things that women are conditioned to think they’re not supposed to do. Sweating is one of them. Going to the toilet is another.
And it’s so strange because both definitely happen every single day.
As a woman who has always suffered from the charmingly named condition EXCESSIVE SWEATING I can confirm that this belief is particularly unhelpful.
There are people who say that men sweat and women perspire. Well, you can call it what you like, but it’s the same thing. It’s as basic as coughing or sneezing or yawning so loudly that you sound like Chewbacca. We all do it.
Yesterday, whilst out dancing at a friend’s birthday party, I was reminded of my true sweating credentials. I moved seamlessly from looking like a person who’d put a good couple of hours into straightening her hair, applying liquid eyeliner, and colouring in her lips with a pencil, to a shiny-faced mad woman who appeared to have just done 20 lengths in the swimming pool, and no amount of hand fanning, forehead dabbing or sticking my face out of a window could stop it. I mean, everybody was hot but this was ridiculous. If only I’d been flexible enough to slot myself into the Dyson hand dryer in the bathroom, I would have done it.
I first discovered that I had this issue when I was a teenager. As if growing up wasn’t already hard enough – boy troubles, friend fall-outs, and a permanent fear that I was going to be called a weirdo was already keeping me busy enough – but then I had this little treat thrown into the mix. Thanks very much, genetics.
It didn’t even have to be hot. I just had to be awake. Of course, heat made it worse, but for the real sweaters among us, Winter is no holiday. If anything it’s worse because nobody expects to see somebody mopping their brow when it’s minus one outside.
I became super strategic in my clothes buying. I knew what types of colours and materials were most likely to show patches, and which could shield a day’s worth of salt loss. I didn’t have much money at the time – because who does at that age – so I kept a small number of tops on rotation that shielded me from being outed as the sweatiest girl in town.
And then one day I heard my dad talking about a special type of deodorant that can help people who sweat too much. I’d never told anybody about my problem before – I just assumed I’d have to live with it forever and hope that eventually I’d grow out of it – so I was ecstatic to hear that maybe there was a way out.
I booked an appointment with my doctor and had to stop myself from crying when I asked him to please prescribe it for me. I was 16 and awkward and desperate to feel normal. It was going to take a lot more than a sweat gland annihilating roll-on to do that but it was a bloody good start.
And ever since then, things have been better because I’ve had some control. Like so many situations, knowing that there’s something you can do about it is everything. Of course, it doesn’t mean I’m cured, it’s just much more manageable. Now it only really kicks in when it’s actually hot, which helps.
Thankfully it doesn’t really affect my self-esteem too much these days. And I have a critical moment that happened in February 2006 to thank.
Leon and I had only been together a few months and we went to see The Arctic Monkeys play in Leeds. This was prime Monkeys time – we were at university in Sheffield and the whole city had gone mad for them.
We went to the front and jumped around and it remains to this day some of the most fun I’ve ever had. When they went off stage I realised my entire head, back, and chest was soaked, my hair was like wet string, and my eye make-up was a distant memory. I looked at Leon and said:
“Sorry, I must look disgusting.”
And he shook his head and said:
“No you don’t – you just look like you’ve had a really good time.”
And ever since, I’ve held onto that answer.
I know that if I go out and let my hair down, I’ll end up looking like I’ve been left out in the rain. I know that dancing for five minutes does to me what 45 minutes on a treadmill does to other people. When I look in the mirror I do feel pretty alarmed – I mean, that level of perspiration does nothing for a heavy fringe; if I went out partying more frequently I might need to reconsider my hair style – but at least it shows I’ve had a good time.
I’m not writing any of this down to gross you out, though I guess there’s a chance it might have that effect. I’m writing it down because this is the internet and those of us who have learnt to deal with the little surprises that life throws our way have a duty to talk about them so that others know that they’re not alone.
I think things have moved on quite a long way since I was young. The This Girl Can campaign has done us the world of good. Hey, guess what, women exercise and when they do it, they look like everybody does when they exert themselves – hot and a bit red in the face – and nobody cares.
We could spend our lives being worried that we might accidentally be revealed as having been human beings all along. That we’re not all that different after all. That our bodies need to do things to keep us alive.
But that feels like a terrible waste of time. For every moment that we’re doing that, we could be dancing to Beyoncé or Taylor Swift. Or The Arctic Monkeys.
I can’t imagine they’d let a bit of sweat get in their way.