Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"I would prefer body odor over particular scents. At least body odor does not spread."

Sarah J.Dreisinger, an associate with a Manhattan law firm, doesn't mince her words, when voicing her displeasure with fragrance wearing by her fellow New Yorkers in the  New York Times Complaint Box rant page. The title ("Overperfumed") says it all, and the reader early on admits "I have never liked perfume", which should give us the proper focus on which to interpret her views,
but reading through the text, I realize some interesting things about what obviously annoys the author so much and they kinda make sense in a way:
1) the perception of personal fragrances as a "manufactured substance someone else has deemed desirable"
2) the bad interpretation of natural smells by low quality scented products ("a manufacturer's idea of gardenia or lilac")
3) the intermingling of fragrance with outdoors scents ("it lingers as I step outside, interfering with the city's seasonal scents") or the confusing collision between fragrances themselves ("when Warm Summer Breeze and Vanilla Bean are sitting next to each other")
4) the environmental health concern at the back of one's mind
5) the purposeful use of perfume to cover up bad smells (such as smoke or soiled clothing) resulting in something less than pleasant
6) the state of the fragrance industry, issuing hundreds of celebrity scents
7) the very idea of perfume as a vanity project

Well, Sarah, we couldn't agree more on points 2,5 and 6 (and we have been pressing from these very pages for more quality, more innovation, more originality and lyricism in fragrances produced). We have complained about the perfume industry all too recently. And really, whether you realize it or not, there is nothing non manufactured in all the scents in the city-scape; from the garbage from manufactured foodstuff (yes!) to the barbecues (it's not nature's way to barbecue food by itself) to smelling smoke of marijuana (another manufactured product, I bet) and the "subway mélange" (I rest my case).
Plus, the environment is much more aggravated by functional products with artificial smells, as attested by university studies. Perfume is only the drop in the proverbial ocean. And it's all right not liking it. It's an opinion and as such valid, we respect that.
But we have to disagree on body odor being preferable. Obviously you haven't sit in a closed-up space with someone who hasn't washed for days on end. Have you?

On to the readers, what do YOU think? Is body odor preferable over fragrance? Do you object to the idea of scents intermingling? Does something bother you in the scentscape you live in?


  1. Astrid11:39

    Nothing is worse than body odor, and it does indeed spread.

    Working in the hospitality industry, there's always somebody's lingering perfume in the elevator. It offers a clue to their personality. For instance there's an army of vapid 20somethings out there swathed in Angel/Euphoria, who've evidently never ventured beyond the mall perfume counter & are especially susceptible to packaging. They're usually the most vulgar guests.

    And lots of Anais Anais on polite middle aged women.

  2. Hmm, I'm wondering as she's American and we all know their obsession with no body odour, if she actually ever had the chance to smell the truly odorous?!
    And I'm with Astrid on the spread of BO.
    I don't understand in what way doesn't BO spread in relation with perfume? If molecules are released into the air, they spread (at least that's my perception of things).

    To answer your question, mingling perfume and BO is the most awful thing. It's just gets worse than each of it on its own (especially when it's one of those synthetic musky things that get stuck in my nose).

  3. Anonymous15:20

    i don't mind the smell of recently BO, like a person who has worked all day and has out lasted their deodorant. Hate the vapid musky fruity celeb scents, and their horrible bottles!

    I am wearing Nahema :) It's amazing to me how it starts with the smell of roses, 6 hours later I smell peaches and passion fruit. Later still the subtle strength of sandlewood. I know that it's supposed to be strong, but don't tell me that I am offending anyone!
    Carole MacLeod

  4. Oh, wah wah wah. Yes. Some people wear too much perfume. Some people wear crap perfume. Some people stink of cigarettes or wet dog or moth balls or their own funk. I am on a daily basis assaulted and insulted by others' poor aesthetic choices. Do I enjoy having to look at the too-sheer leggings on the too-wide backside under the too-short sweater? Or the godawful overplucked eyebrows above the overlined eyes? Or the torn jeans dragging on the ground as they are scuffed over by filthy flipflops? No, I do not. But I shudder to myself and get on with it. I am sick unto death of listening people complain about things not being exactly the way they personally like them and disguising their complaint as a "public good" issue. Grow up, lady. Other people live on the planet besides your precious self.

  5. Anonymous15:39

    I'm allergic to garlic (yes it can happen) and I'm always astounded that people who LOVE garlic can walk the world and ride my elevator simply REEKING of the stuff. It makes me gag. People think it's almost like a badge of honor, it shows they are good cooks, or cosmopolitan, or whatever. It leaks from their pores and is just plain sickening to me, literally--it makes me stuffy and sneezy.
    There's my rant for the day!


  6. Yay StyleSpy! I think I love you.

  7. Anonymous17:09

    LOL, StyleSpy! I'm in total agreement, and couldn't have said it better.

  8. Yes, i guess so. At least for body over, people won't accuse me of having bad sense of fragrances and bad choice. <3

  9. Eva H.18:15

    IMO perfume is WAY preferable to BO. I don´t think fresh sweat is a bad thing but people who smell as if they haven´t washed in a few days or people wearing clothes that need washing BAD are icky to me.
    Sure I don´t like every perfume created but I still prefer it to any kind of BO.
    The only thing worse: unwashed human trying to cover up the stench with perfume....

  10. Anonymous18:27

    Whatever. Some people wear too much "bad" perfume and some people don't wash; it all smells equally bad. And... it ALL lingers and spreads.

    Also, there is B.O. and there is B.O. Someone who has not washed or changed clothes for days smells horrible and wafts it everywhere and I would much prefer to smell a whole noseful of Angel than that. However, if my significant other showered then spent the day in the outdoors chopping wood, THAT is a whole other story right there. Wouldn't want any frag interfering with THAT.

    I also don't object to scents intermingling, as long as it is not bad B.O. or certain "natural" big city smells mingling with anything.

    Basically, we live in a world of bad smells and great smells and not all of us agree on which is which so let's just all remember our manners and move on.


  11. Anonymous20:39

    I don't see anything wrong with the intermingling of scents. In fact, that is one thing I love about big cities and outdoor farmers markets. Just walking around you can smell flowers, food, incense, and people (whether they're perfumed or have some body odor). It's all part of the experience. I do however agree that there are way to many people that use either too much perfume, or use the wrong perfume (cheap or too strong) which can become offensive or irritating.

  12. I'd rather go with a badly perfumed person than body odor. This stems from someone I went to school with. He seemed to be the type that didn't believe in the need to bathe or wash his clothes. Of course, he the sterotypical sweaty, obese person. It was a wonderous day when he was told if he wasn't going to shower, he couldn't come to school.

  13. Anonymous01:20

    OMG, complete agreement with StyleSpy!

    Two additional points:

    1. People in New York encounter perfumed spaces as regularly as perfumed people, but don’t think of it enough to complain about it. There’s a whole industry around scenting hotels, conference areas, restaurants, stores, ladies lounges, etc. but because it’s “invisible” you won’t see a rant about it in the NYT.

    2. On “Why would I want to smell of some manufactured substance someone else has deemed desirable?”, people who know perfume likely agree with the sentiment behind that assertion, hence the ongoing quest for the perfect scent or scent, something that perhaps creates a signature or jibes with a sense-memory or otherwise fulfills a very individualized need. See also, scent layering.

    A lot of her rant and her assertion, “Can aroma really indicate character? I doubt it,” reminds me of people that make generalizations like saying that rap music is crap or that foreign films are boring when they haven’t tried to immerse themselves in what they’re criticizing. Maybe this woman needs a perfume-wise friend to take her out to shop or a counter and let her widen her (understandably) biased view about perfume. Sadly the author is in New York City, but is oblivious to the richness and diversity of the perfumery all around her!

    -- N.

  14. Astrid,

    I have a couple of horrid experiences with being stuck up into ships with people who hadn't washed in weeks and I can attest to the horrendous spread of BO, thank you very much.

    Very interesting observations about hospital guests/patients and their scent choices. Thank you so much!

  15. Ines,

    there's a valid point on what constitutes "the unwashed" indeed, good observation. There's unwashed and then there's truly stinky! That greasy, peaty, horrible stench of the truly unwashed (we're talking clochard level here) is intolerable. A little clean sweat doesn't bother me either.
    Usually trying to cover up some kind of perceived stench with a synth cheap product is the worst combination. But apparently people do it regardless.

  16. Carole,

    as you say there's a great variation between stages of unwashed and unclean.

    Nahema is such a complex fragrance, multi-nuanced indeed. Enjoy!

  17. Stylespy,

    excellent comment, brave!

    As you say, why is something that hurts the eyes tolerated while something that hurts the nose is not? It's an excellent question to ask, really and I wonder if the author might come aboard and reply. It would be most interesting to see the rationale.

    I always found that smell is more pardonable due to its ephemeral state; it dissipates (or gets away). An architectural eyesore on the other hand is much more permanent and therefore hurts my sensibilities much more.

    And yeah on masking one's displeasure with something as a public issue to be addressed formally; I attribute the craziness of people insisting on complete sanitisation on public spaces and offices to that. A new kind of fascism, so to speak.

  18. Calypso,

    I sympathise, though I do love garlic myself (it;s very healthy too), but then it's in my culture to cook with it quite often. It's no cosmopolitan aspiration, but I get what you're getting at in different cultures.
    Garlic does permeate sweat and breath and it tends to smell foody and pungent. We've devised techniques on flushing it out quickly and garlgling with parsley juice and coffee, but of course if one over-consumes it, then....ouch!

    Welcome rant; rant away!

  19. Anonymous10:37

    Obviously, she never smelled YET an Indian or Pakistani reeking of his natural body odor. Super-duper awful, like rotting onions. I know this very well when I was on holiday in Dubai because I asked them where they're from.

  20. K,

    SS worded it just the way that it should be worded. Why the segregation of the received stimuli?

    Probably because perfume is considered as something you (indadvertedly) breathe and therefore everyone breathes it with you, etc etc.
    I would say "vanity stuff" too, but then how is giant hoop earrings and low-slung jeans revealing thongs not also "vanity stuff" (albeit vulgar)? Hence I'm not using that as an argument.

  21. Patty,

    LOL, she retorted so perfectly! :D

  22. Shoppingaholic,

    how very interesting! So being perceived as being unclean is preferable to being perceived as having bad taste? Do I get it right?

    That would annul the notion that cleanliness is a class thing (a la George Orwell's quote) and would question just how unclean/unwashed one can be in order to pass the test by fire.

    Thanks for commenting, you put me into thinking this over!

  23. Eva,

    couldn't agree more. The truly unwashed is something quite different than what the author had in mind, most probably.

    Eww on covering up with scent: exacerbates everything one scale up IME.

  24. Natalia,

    you make a fascinating point. Clean sweat can be erotic, pleasing, a hint of the animal. Certainly not disruptive or alienating for most of us. Stinky old sweat from weeks on end and the natural grease/sebum to go with it is repulsive, no matter what. (I don't know anyone who appreciates the scent of a clochard, no matter how hard a perfumista).

    I think the crux of the matter lies in your final phrase: we don't always agree on what's good and what's bad. And we tend to complain a lot.

  25. Anon,

    too true. I find that by scent alone one can draw interesting, sometimes fascinating conclusions on some people and places. It's one aspect which I find enriching even if it can become too much sometimes.

  26. Eld,

    with your experience, how can one think differently?
    It's interesting to note that sometimes obese, sweaty people are very self-aware of their condition and therefore wash more frequently. Then again, there are exceptions of course. And people who will just not wash, no matter what.

  27. N,

    great points, thank you!

    As to #1, this is exactly what I believe constitutes a repulsion with scent in the collective unconscious (and forgive the Jungian reference). There's just TOO MUCH ADDED SCENT around these days. Everything comes scented on top of its natural scent, so people think that the" visible" scent (i.e personal fragrance) is to blame.

    As to #2, indeed. I would suppose that would have to consciously bypass one's own aversion and try out things, to make an effort to raise oneself above and beyond. Since one declares from the start "I never liked perfume", it's rather hard. I believe the author also lacked the proper education and guidance into more refined compositions, so that she might come to appreciate a more nuanced, more subtle choice. She might also have had bad formative experiences regarding scent; that happens too. Who knows? I would be interested in finding out.

    Like you say so succinctly, the search for the perfect personal scent is a journey into mapping identity (at least one aspect of it) and this is exactly what she misses.

  28. Anon,

    I don't really know how to respond to your comment :"Obviously, she never smelled YET an Indian or Pakistani reeking of his natural body odor. Super-duper awful, like rotting onions. I know this very well when I was on holiday in Dubai because I asked them where they're from."

    Aren't you grossly generalizing based on a bad isolated experience? I could also argue that I see Pakistani people here selling tissues at traffic lights for a living and never noticed any particular stinky smell.
    It's rather racist (isn't it?) to lump up people like that and talking about their "natural body odor", as if it's something they can't help and not a product of hygiene negligence. I hope you didn't mean it so and if you did not indeed, I apologize in advance for replying the way I'm replying.

    Still, it's your opinion and democracy is all about saying what you believe, so I'm leaving the comment stand as is. Doesn't mean I agree.

  29. Maria11:29

    Agreed with StyleSpy and with Natalia's idea of us sniffers disagreeing over what is good and bad. To me smells and specifically fragrances are many things and among them a way to identify true tolerance - when it comes to perfume. I feel there is something very intolerable in forbidding an aroma. Let people smell how they like, be it BO, garlic or Hermes, and learn from it. You can't please everyone and nobody is obliged to please you, even - in most situations - take your opinion into consideration.

  30. @StyleSpy,

    Ha,ha, ha, very funny and spot-on!

    I bet she's never smelled the funk of old-man sheets permeating the house--one smelly bed will set the "tone" for the whole house. Which will in turn permeate the closet and one's hanging clothes, then said person will come to work and funk up their cubicle plus yours!

    The clincher is no one tells that person to wash their sheets, wash their clothes and wash their bodies. But folks have no problem telling someone NOT to wear perfume...of any kind.

    Why, the other day I saw a sign posted on the front door of an office building that houses a community college and various Dr's offices. The sign said: No smoking within 50 feet of the door/building and no perfume wearing because it causes indoor pollution.

    It then went on to list all the horrors perfume contributes to like: cancer, respiratory aliments, skin disorders etc. the list was longer than what cigarette smoking is known to do to the human body!

    The world has gone crazy.

  31. Anonymous12:08

    In my opinion natural smells ( BO)are allowed only in privacy. They can be very welcome there :-))
    But in a " social" circumstances they have to be banned.
    I doesn't mean people should exaggerate with perfumes...

  32. Barbara15:53

    I work in the medical profession, which obviously is the worst for bad odors. I would rather let the "bad" odors evaporate naturally than put up with that horrid room freshening spray my coworkers use to mask it. It gives me an instant headache and makes me gag worse than the body secretions of the patients!

  33. Advance warning. This is long-winded.
    I'm an x-ray tech and the management in my department tried to enforce a "no perfume" rule a few years ago because of one girl who used to douse herself in whichever perfume was her choice for that day. Usually SJP Lovely or DK Be Delicious.
    I've been wearing perfume every day since I was ten years old. Well, except for six-weeks when I was in military basic training. Anyway, I turned 49 two days ago and am not about to give up my perfume wearing ways.
    So far, I have successfully ignored the rule. But I'm also very conservative in my application of the perfume on my work days. As in, spray on a cotton-pad and rub that on my pulse-points.
    There are a couple of girls that I work with that bathe the night before and I can smell their B.O. at work. Imagine how that can affect a patient who is already feeling badly. To smell someone's B.O. and not be able to escape the nausea-inducing smell because that stinky tech is giving them medical care.
    I've actually had patients complain to me about them. Seriously, management should enact a policy about personal hygiene. Bathe before coming to work. Wear deodorant. Even if it's unscented.
    Okay, vent over.

  34. I completely agree with StyleSpy! In my opinion the problem is that some few people seriously overapply perfume, although it's no that common in Sweden. Myself I've never recieved any complaints although I wear perfume often (and sometimes check with people if they think my perfume is too strong). I agree with Barbara that the absolutely worst is trying to cover up horrid smells, I still shiver when I recall the pine-scented airfreshener trying in wain to cover up the smell of formaldehyde and decomposition during anatomy lessons!

  35. My coworker wears a-men in an attempt to eliminate competition. He must be taking an antidote or something to counter the stupefying effect. Every morning at work is like a hangover

  36. PS. I can't decide which one I hate the most A-men or Angel (RANT!)

  37. I forgot to add/mention in my previous post is that this guy willfully didn't bathe. I told him that the last time I checked, we both lived in a first world nation were soap and water were plentiful and there is no good enough reason not to bathe. I can find out how to make my own soap from home quite easily. Nothing can be worse (sometimes) when someone refuses to bathe and refuses to wash thier clothes. Naturally there are those who will wear perfume on top of it all.

  38. Eldarwen22, sometimes people with autistic/Asberger syndrome difficulties can have an aversion towards washing/changing clothes, just like they can sometimes develope very specific eating habits. Doesn't mean people around them have to accept terrible BO, but it can explain why it might be difficult to persuade them to alter their habits and that it's not due to laziness. Don't know if that might have been the case here?

  39. Eva S,

    He didn't have autism/Aspbergers but did have some kind of disability. But apparently his whole family (even the 'normal') was the kind of the same way (refusing to bathe, wash clothes, clean up after themselves). I think part of it was he didn't know how to live any other way but when there was the threat of him getting taken away, there were steps to clean up. I think it can depend on the person's homelife while growing up.

  40. I notice when I am near that time-of-the-month, my sense of smell becomes terribly acute. I am averse to my own perfume at those times and avoid wearing it. The morning rush hour mingling of perfumes from half-awakened and not-wholly-happy people going to work on the train can be off-putting at any time, as well. That's some city thing: one has to face it, if not embrace it. But I'd prefer any and all perfumes to body odor, indeed. The author of the Times piece reminds me of the phrase, "she acts like her sh*t don't stink." Disgust, for the most part, is a learned thing. The perfume hating sounds like a cover for general misanthropy, here.

  41. Maria,

    what is good and bad, anyway? Babies are not born hardwired to hate certain things.
    A more lenient environment on individual preference is something that is needed nowadays; there is a growing nannying of so many things...
    As you so wisely say, nobody is actually obliged to please us.

  42. TFC,

    what a scary image but totally true: the mustiness and funkiness does permeate a house. And a closet, And someone's locker. And I bet the whole row of lockers etc.
    As to the whole "terror of perfume", I admit I don't comprehend the panic; it's not plutonium left on the loose, is it?

    But the greater matter you raise and which interests me enormously is WHY is it that we generally find it easier to express displeasure with a perfume (thus, in the words of Shoppingaholic above conveying that we object to someone's taste) but not displeasure with someone's body odour? (thus conveying displeasure with someone's hygiene).
    Is it because taste is a more "difficult", can't-help-it issue, but good hygiene is considered manageable nowadays even on a strict budget? Is it maybe the notion that indicating a person's bad body odour might be constituted a class segregation (obsolete I'd think nowadays) or even a racial slur? (There is that too, from some, at least). So that should make it a no-no for public discussion? Or is it something else? The reluctancy to voice this particular displeasure is a social exigency that no doubt exists.

  43. Anon,

    too much perfume is very annoying, very true. There should be subtlety & good manners in such a pleasure. As to intimate smells in an intimate setting with someone you choose, of course, that's a whole different game...

  44. Barbara,

    ewww, medical setting and intense room freshening spray is the recipe for disaster. I can sympathise!!

  45. Diana,

    very interesting comment, thanks for sharing!
    And welcome vent, as there is a very specific environment in which you work and I realize that there are very specific rules. Indeed patients are patients and should be respected, be it heavy perfume or B.O.
    Your method sounds very discreet.

  46. Eva,

    those "masking" sprays are a mystery that defies simple physics and chemistry. The worst IMO are those reserved for taxis in scents of artificial sweet coconut. (gagging just thinking of it)

  47. K,

    my sympathies.....

    These are scents that were created to be worn by waving a soaked Q-tip in front of you and then closing the door firmly behind upon leaving the room. I can't think of someone dousing in them!

  48. Eld,

    did he wear perfume/cologne on top?

    I have found out there is some inexplicable aversion of a few people to soap & water. (No, not specialized cases as mentioned above, or teenage boys, just general population). It defies logic, but there you have it.

  49. Eld,

    it looks like it was a matter of upbringing then. Could it be depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder for some of them?
    (the more psychologically or medically inclined please shoot me now, doing this armchair diagnosis)
    Just trying to understand better.

  50. M,

    I have heard this from several women (about pregnancy too). It's interesting to contemplate.
    There's a whole lot of entitlement in our society and this "stand up for your rights" mentality, which while originally a good thing, I feel has degenerated into imposing one's likes and dislikes to others ("because I'm worth it"). :-D

    Personally I haven't noticed changes in my smell acuteness really, barring the instances when I had a clogged nose due to a cold! ;-)

  51. @Melissa

    I suffer from the same 'affliction' during that time-of-the-month. I can smell odors (good or bad) behind closed doors! Sometimes I find the hyper sense of smell exhausting, hard as I might try to overrule my brain, my brain wins out.

    So nice to hear I'm not alone in this area.

  52. TFC,

    that's what we're here for, I guess: sharing experience. Glad you found a kindred soul.
    (Ladies, I feel left out though; how come I can't smell through closed doors? *just kidding*)


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