During the heatwave a couple of weeks ago, a Siberian husky locked eyes with me on the sidewalk. What have I done to deserve this? it seemed to ask me, as I wiped the sweat off my brow. I shook my head, wondering the same for myself and the rest of the humans cooking in this crockpot of a planet (but I know the answer to that one).
Both the husky and I were moist and miserable, but only one of us had on a full-fur bodysuit. Inconveniently, humans are the only animals that sweat and care what others think—like when we have two oval sweat spots on our butt cheeks after sitting down, or leave someone else coated in our perspiration after a hug, or have to plead with the bouncer that we sweat our stamps off on the dance floor.
The husky and I may understand each other, but I am a beast of another kind. One who has grown increasingly tired of apologizing, every summer, for brushing up against people with my wet arms, or showering and putting on nice outfits only to arrive places looking like I came from the gym. This summer, I told myself it was going to be different. Less sweaty, more confident, generally more huggable. Determined to figure out how to make that happen, I asked MR community to share their best hacks for combating summer sweatiness. The list was extensive and inspiring, but as soon as I dove in, I realized the task at hand was trickier than anticipated.
The Journey: Peppermint between my tights, panty liners in my armpits
The hacks—there were many of them. One of the most common suggestions was “get Botox,” which is neither casual nor affordable for me (but is, according to some, effective), so I skipped it. I was intrigued by “put ice cubes in a bandana sack to keep on your neck,” but although it made me cooler, it also made me wetter, which seemed like a lateral move. “Put peppermint oil between your thighs” felt seasonally disorienting, but refreshing for a minute, before setting my entire groin area ablaze. “Put panty liners in your armpits” made me laugh, and also cry: They ended up slipping off and falling out of my shirt in public. “Put Gold Bond powder everywhere” helped keep me dryer and less chafed, but left me coated in white dust. “Spray yourself with chilled rose water” was another popular one, and while it didn’t help me sweat less, it did cool me down, make me smell delightful, and allow me to briefly imagine I was at a Mediterranean garden party. “Carry a Venetian hand fan” sounded too glamorous for someone like me to pull off. “Carry a rechargeable hand fan” seemed more up my alley, but it felt like a tiny person was blowing on my face, which proved more irritating than enjoyable.
Clearly, my attempts to be less sweaty were a failure (though don’t let me discourage you if one of the hacks appeals; it’s possible I’m just beyond repair). But the most pertinent finding of my soggy research was that the most useless-seeming tip at the outset—“Stop caring if we are sweaty messes and just carry on”—turned out to be the most prescient. Instead of trying to avoid my body’s natural response to the heat, I learned I’d probably have better luck trying to adapt to it.
The Destination: I’m human. We all are
As I tested the sweat hack list, I started making a different kind of list in my head. Instead of tactics for how to be less sweaty, I wondered: What if I crafted tactics for how to accept we will all be sweaty, act cool, and co-exist? You know, like sweatiquette. And by the end of the whole experiment, my proposed summer code of conduct was born:
- Be okay not touching each other: Even if I love you, I still might opt out of a hug right now. If I say, “I am really sweaty so I am going to just kiss your cheek or shake your hand,” please do not respond with, “Well I am really sweaty too, so I don’t mind!” before hugging me. Just because you don’t mind my sweat doesn’t mean I don’t mind yours! Now we are just in a wet hug. I would like to suggest a hug hiatus for the summer. Let’s initiate more high-fiving (I have been trying for years).
- Avoid commenting on other people’s sweatiness: When someone says to me, “Wow, you are soaked!” I just begin sweating more as I fume inside. I have been working on commenting less on people’s bodies in general, and I propose we all extend this to the particular misfortune of being drenched in sweat.
- Be aware of how we affect each other: This is the baseline we should be building towards to address all human dilemmas, from the sweaty and small, to the tremendous and tragic: Do our best (maybe carry a sweat rag in places that require body contact?); be aware of how our actions impact others (maybe double the body buffer zone for these 2.5 months?); put energy into the things that matter (maybe use 5% of my day thinking about how sad it is that my cute white outfit is already wet enough to show my nipples, and 95% of my day thinking about how to add to creation and take care of myself and whoever I can touch).
Humans are special animals. We are tangled together in societies and relationships, and these demand constant negotiations along the borders between our own needs and desires and those of everyone around us. Sometimes this means forgiving ourselves, other times it means forgiving others.
So, to answer the husky’s question, which has often been my own: None of us did anything to deserve this. But we do deserve to enjoy summer and eat fresh peaches, roll in sand and wrestle with waves, be sticky and sweet and feel a special kind of alive. So if you need some Gold Bond, Botox, a Venetian hand fan, a panty liner, or peppermint oil to do that, I support you. But if those don’t pan out, you’re always welcome to help me flesh out and spread the word on the delicate art of sweatiquette—how to be comfortable co-habitants, be sensitive but not superficial, and balance out our animal side with our human side.