Friday, May 4, 2018

Battling the Bodily Stench or Embracing the Feral and the Ripe?

Battling bad smells has been a millenia-long battle for humanity. Fighting body odor specifically has been a battle against our very own human make-up. With the exception of those carrying the gene ABCC11 (which makes for no armpit smell), common amongst the populations of the Far East,  the vast majority of us of European, African, Central Asian and Native American descent have the sort of apocrine glands in the armpit and groin which secrete a sort of sweaty liquid that when mixed with surface bacteria develops body odor. The ecrine glands, situated throughout the body, secrete just water and salt.

The quest for deodorisation brings us to the American contradiction of a malodorous past coupled with an almost sterilized present. The pioneer settlers, coming from Europe driven out for their strict Puritan religious beliefs or our sheer need for greener pastures and personal growth were not accustomed to washing up too much. Popular westerns, films chronicling the adventures of the Wild West, have long exploited this very notion, having the lone cowboy bust into the odd saloon and demand a cigar and bath in the back quarters after months of herding cattle all alone in the wilderness.

The very interesting thing however is not the invention of deodorant (and anti-perspirant, which debuted in the early 20th century based on aluminum chloride first marketed under the suggestive name Everdry) but the power of marketing. Women, American women in particular, were especially targeted in typically sexist campaigns which implied that their natural odor was repulsive to heterosexual men, therefore they had to rely on a deodorant or anti-perspirant in order to land the man of their dreams. An advertisement from the Walter Thomson Archives, at the Duke University, proclaims in the very title "Within the Curve of a Woman's Arm. A frank discussion of a subject too often avoided." Including lines asking "Would you be absolutely sure of your daintiness?" and "Does excessive perspiration ruin your prettiest dresses?" The agressive campaigns by the Odorono Company, giving their address as Ruth Miller, The Odorono Co., 719 Blair Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio, promised the "so simple, so easy, so sure" solution for that "problem", imaginary or real.

Please read the entirety of my article on Fragrantica.

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