When I would complain to her about being sweaty, my grandma used to say: "Women don't sweat, we perspire." Coming from a woman who liked to build stone walls and would sweat commensurately with that intense labor, I always found it strange that she would say such a thing. Later, I realized that was something she was simply repeating, coming from a time when many people thought it was somehow "unwomanly" to sweat when you were working physically hard.
Or I guess that maybe it was seen as "unwomanly" to work hard in the first place? Considering that anything great (the U.S., the Internet) was built on the sweat of hardworking women and men, that's clearly ridiculous.
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Because of course women do sweat, just as we pee, sneeze and sometimes even fart — all normal for a functioning human body. And these days, with women runners competing in 10K runs at similar levels to men (and taking Bootcamp classes, spinning and becoming firefighters and Army Rangers), women are sweating (gasp!) in public.
I am one such woman. I go running, where I do tend to get sweaty, and then I sometimes stop by a coffee shop for a tall iced coffee (usually accompanied by a large glass of water) during my cool-down walk home. I also ride my bike around town, for errands and for fun, and when it's hot, that makes me sweat too. I think of these activities as those of a modern woman, and not particularly remarkable.
But apparently, this idea that — women especially — shouldn't be seen sweating in public persists.
Amy Roe, over at the Guardian writes about how she was recently "sweat-shamed" (her phrase) when she stopped by Starbucks post-12-mile-run. A woman commented on her being sweaty in public, and Amy felt embarrassed. And it's not the comment that's actually the biggest problem — naturally there are always going to be over-chatty people in the world who say silly things.
It's that Amy felt embarrassed about being sweaty in public, because she was taught not to. And later, she realized, "We have been hiding this natural bodily function so long we have no idea how much a 'normal' woman sweats — if there is such a thing — much the same way many men have no idea how much make-up it takes to produce 'natural beauty." After reminding herself that she has nothing to be ashamed of, she writes that next time she knows "how I might react differently."
Typically, I'm on the side of decorum. I believe in manners, and love a bit of formality. But all that goes out the window when it interferes with keeping healthy and minimizing one's environmental impact.
Sweating because you're running is healthy. And riding your bike instead of driving is not only healthier for you, it improves the air we breathe. How many people have you heard say that they would like to bike to work, but don't, because they would be looked down upon for showing up to work with a sheen?
Standing next to a person who is sweaty from exercise — or hard work of any kind — isn't going to hurt or impact you any more than someone wearing an outfit you find ugly. And just as you wouldn't say anything about an ensemble you find unattractive, commenting on sweatiness is inappropriate. (As we all know, a sweaty person, if otherwise reasonably clean, doesn't obviously smell.)
But feeling badly about a normal bodily function that impacts nobody else is also wrong.
I'm joining Amy, who plans on going back to that Starbucks after her next run, sweat and all, to enjoy a cup of coffee. I'll sweat, and be seen in public — and I'm not going to feel bad about it.