Bring on the B.O.

I haven’t worn deodorant since we left the office and quarantined ourselves at home. I doubt I’ll wear deodorant ever again. If that smells funny to you, let me explain why it’s not.

First there’s the obvious health reasons. Over the years I have slowly been changing all of my personal habits to align with that which is most beneficial for my body. I don’t eat perfectly clean all of the time but consistently enough to make a big difference. Sleep, exercise, grooming, TV habits – all tuned for optimum health. My body is my temple and I treat it as such.

One element of these actions is eliminating environmental toxins and stressors from my immediate surroundings. I’ve switched to organic soaps and you guessed it – organic deodorant. Most common deodorants have some combination of the nasty 5: parabens, triclosan, phthalates, propylene glycol, and aluminum. These lab-made chemicals have a dubious record as potential carcinogens. For years I doused my underarms in “manly scents” from your traditional big brands until I finally realized I did not want this junk directly on my skin day after day. 

Progress made. And the organic deodorant I use passes the sniff test. I cannot remember a day in more than a year of using it that I was disappointed in its odor eliminating abilities. Yet even my organic deodorant is a concoction of different ingredients that mean relatively little to me. I don’t know what ozokerite is. Do I know how my body specifically reacts to it? Not really. And could I separate out reactions of one ingredient from another? No.

One of the guiding questions that guides my health habits and behaviors is: what is natural? Natural from an evolutionary biological perspective. As in, what are our bodies uniquely adapted for over the last tens of thousands of years? This answer to this question is why I practice intermittent fasting and see validity in the Paleo diet though I don’t follow/prefer it. 

What is natural is body odor. Armpits (or other areas of our body) smell because of bacteria that thrives on the skin. Our pits are the perfect local hangout: warm, moist, and usually dark. There’s a bacteria party in our pits. When we sweat, the bacteria break down the sweat and produce a product called thioalcohols which are nowhere near as fun as normal alcohol and significantly more putrescent.

According to Dr. Zeichner, a board-certified dermatologist in NYC, “some people speculate that stopping use will help your skin’s natural microbiome reset, though it is unclear whether this has any significant impact on your health.” 

So how did we get here today?  

Deodorant and anti-perspirants are an $18 billion industry. It wasn’t always thus. We didn’t always slather our pits with a concoction we know little about. We didn’t always abhor the natural odors of the body. Would it surprise you if I told you our habit is due to a brilliant marketing campaign? Turns out there is plenty in common between diamond engagement rings and deodorant

When first introduced at the turn of the 19th century sales struggled because many people thought the anti-perspirants and deodorants were unnecessary, unhealthy, or both. Decades of advertising focused on a different angle for women and men. Odor busters got their pithold with women who were told explicitly that the reason for their loneliness or inability to keep a man was their odor. Presented as a social faux pas, odor was portrayed as a significant deterrent of healthy social functioning. Decades later the advertisers focused on men during the Great Depression, warning men that those who were the smelliest in the office would be the first to lose their jobs. New flash: your career and your odor are inextricably linked!

The Stank

I used to think I didn’t have body odor. And I didn’t. I would even skip a day here or there and voila, fresh pits without any B.O. The reality is that I so consistently applied deodorant that it leached into my skin. My decision to stop wearing deodorant is guided by another simple question I ask myself: why do I do what I do? Is it mine? Or is it programming from parents, friends, television, culture, etc…?

Our retreat from the office seemed like the perfect opportunity to go au natural. As I stopped wearing deodorant, the illusion of my fresh pits quickly faded. I’m now fully aware that my body does in fact have odor.  Joy!

I’m celebrating this because it feels like an opportunity to claim what is good and natural about me. Modernity is obsessed with everything clean, hygienic, and sterile. Our contemporary construction designs produce buildings with clean materials. Our public spaces are sanitized for fear of germs (which besides from a pandemic are beneficial in building our immune system). 

When you look out in nature, you can see that it is messy and dirty. Any stroll through unkempt nature reveals there are not clearly demarcated lines where one plant begins and another starts. Nature is a highly complex and interwoven system that does not resemble the sterility our culture now prefers.  

The presence of my body odor is claiming my natural self before the cultural programming instilled from a young age that odor was bad unless it smelled like cologne (or at one time half a bottle of Axe but that’s a different story). 

I recently finished reading Iron John. It feels as though the liberation of my underarms ia parallel to my reclamation of the Wild Man. There is a palpable instinctual feeling to catching a whiff of my odor – a power and sense of raw self. No evasion of nature here!

About a week in, it seemed to be very strong. Not nasty. Strong. Like sitting in my chair going, “what’s that?” Oh…that’s me! type of strong. But then it mellowed out. I average about 6 showers a week and a bath. I’m already clean. With proper shower habits, despite intense daily workouts, I can say that I’ve never felt dirty once. 

I’ve also noticed a direct correlation between my diet and the odor. It seems that pit odor is a great barometer for how healthy and clean I’m eating. Up the sugar and the effect is noticeable. In writing this I read several articles about food items that increase odor. According to this list, I frequently consume two of the top 5: fish (I eat salmon twice a week and broccoli/cauliflower (thrice a month). Every body is different. 

What I haven’t correlated yet is the reaction of women. A body of research suggests that a man’s musk has potential negative and positive effects. GQ says “a recurring hypothesis regarding body odor and sexual attraction is that a person’s immune system influences what he or she perceives as attractive, and also influences what their own unadulterated scent would be minus all of the personal-care products.”

The Social Issues Research Center says “(t)he male pheromone androstenone is not the same as androstenol. Androstenol is the scent produced by fresh male sweat, and is attractive to females. Androstenone is produced by male sweat after exposure to oxygen – i.e. when less fresh – and is perceived as highly unpleasant by females (except during ovulation, when their responses change from ‘negative’ to ‘neutral’).” Unfortunately the fresh attractive sweat fades in 20 minutes and the oxidized sweat repellent lingers. The jury is out on this topic, though given the pandemic, rising cases, and an interesting summer ahead, it may be a long time before I get to notice an unconscious revolting reaction or the playful twirling of hair…

What’s Next

My odor is at a minimum. I’m eleven weeks in. 

I feel healthy. Natural. 

And there’s an untamed element to my persona which I really like. 

Though my weekly average has slightly reduced since quarantine, I still shower most days. 

The real test is the integration back into society – whenever that happens!

Will people notice? Will she be attracted by the pheromones? Or repulsed by the actual smell? Or repulsed by the programming she has about what is socially acceptable?

I’m socially aware enough to notice people edging away. I’ve certainly done it before. Like many things, perhaps MY smell is good, but YOUR smell is bad. Time will tell!

In the meantime, I will pray to Sterquilinus, the Roman God of Odor (or manure more accurately), that I may be blessed with a pleasing odor, just not too much of it.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

In Service Of What?

What questions are you asking yourself? I want to know.

Because the questions we ask ourselves are incredibly powerful in shaping our future. In our society, we often acclimate more to determined answers and finality. Better to know and understand than dwell in the realm of not knowing and inquiry. For those of us dedicated to personal growth and spiritual evolution, these questions we ask are the catalyst to new explorations that will ultimately unfold new layers of our experience.

The question I had been asking myself for the past two years is, “What do I want to be the best at?” What do I want to give myself to so fully that it’s 2pm and I’ve forgotten to eat because I’m so engrossed in what I’m doing? Having demonstrated time and time again that I am capable of anything I put my mind to, what is it that lights me up, that I find totally riveting, and that I am willing to put in the 10,000 hours to develop true mastery? What do I want to master?

At 31, I am happy to share I do not know the answer to this question. And proud to have been asking it. I refuse to settle for not knowing this answer. I refuse to look at my comfortable life and say that it’s good enough to not find this answer. When it is known, I greatly look forward to the new cascade of questions that will lead to deeper understanding. Being a lifelong learner is peeling off the layers of an onion that keeps regenerating from the inside. We’re never done unraveling!

Questions have the ability to be North Stars, aligning actions over decades, careers, and lives. When a question is held in mind, the incredible processing power of our brains begins to churn over reality sifting through the enormous data inputs and our memory bank to organize around the question. Depending on the question sometimes the answer flashes brightly like a sign on the Vegas strip. Other times it is much like tracking an animal in the wild. A track in the mud, a snapped twig, and a pattern in the grass suggest we alter course Southwest. This is momentum. And in this process it’s difficult to tell how close or far we are from arriving at our destination, the answer to our inquiry. Yet we are being pulled toward something. It beckons. The answer wants to be known.

A new question has emerged which eclipses my old question in importance. In Service Of What? Very simply this question calls forward to the purpose of my life. What is my mission? On behalf of what am I willing to dedicate my precious time and life energy to? This question calls on something greater than my life, comfort, earnings, etc… This question taps into macro movements that would come through me, assembling my life effort’s in a mosaic of humans beyond simple comprehension. In what lineage of thought and practice am I to take up the mantle in? What frontier is begging me to fulfill its purpose in being known? What reverberates loudly like a giant monastery bell, it’s gong resonating so deeply as to shake every cell of my being and declare, “THIS!”? Beyond simply setting my mind to accomplish something, this question begs the passion of my soul to set alight the fires of true inspiration, alignment, and authenticity.

This question is now begging to be answered. When I first came across this question, I heard it as “In Service To What?”. I’ve pondered, is it TO or OF? Words matter. Even the tiniest of prepositions can change the meaning of the inquiry and the subsequent outcome. The definition of TO is “expressing motion in the direction of (a particular location).” The definition of OF is “expressing the relationship between a part and a whole.” TO is giving to the one being served. Good but not like OF which is me serving on behalf of a larger whole.

The journey to wholeness can be perilous and it probably always has been amidst the daily requirements of “making it” in a society. Ultimately, this inquiry is about discovering what’s true for me at the level of my soul beyond career aspirations, normative expectations, and superficial appeasements. I will not stop until I answer this question or my life’s momentum in realizing this answer brings a new question into focus.

This is MY question. What is yours?

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash