Don’t sweat it: My experience as a woman with hyperhidrosis

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Kamrin Baker
DIGITAL EDITOR

Photo by Kamrin Baker/the Gateway

When I was in sixth grade, I remember hanging up some posters for my teacher during a free study period. Three boys began laughing at me, whispering behind my back and obviously teasing me. I thought it was because I hadn’t shaved my armpits yet, at 11-years-old, my blonde hair barely even surpassing its follicles.

My teacher called me over to her desk. “Hey, do you need to go to the nurse?” she asked.

“No,” I answered, confused and worried. I was just working hard to help her and felt great.

“Okay, you just seem kind of hot,” she replied. “Do you think you have a fever?”

“No,” I answered again, more frustrated and almost indignant. Those posters were not going to hang themselves!

She felt my head with the back of her hand, shrugged and sent me on my way.

That memory has stuck with me for almost ten years now. It wasn’t until just recently that I realized they weren’t laughing at my non-existent underarm hair (which, they very well could have because female body hair is often considered atrocious. Not today’s issue, though; let’s table it).

They were laughing at my sweat.

Since that very memory and later into my school year—with our good friend puberty entering the scene—I have been a sweaty person. I also suffer from a severe anxiety and panic disorder; a lot of the sweat is and was probably exacerbated by that–but it also is very common to simply be sweaty. Damp. Moist.

Yuck, right?

So it seems. At least, because I’m a sweaty girl. I don’t think many people enjoy sweat, sweating, or hugging a sweaty person, but I do think we accept it a lot more naturally when we see a sweaty boy or man.

He must have been working hard, or playing sports—or lifting something heavy. I literally just sweat for no reason–or when I have a large emotional response to something. I can only wear black and white shirts comfortably, knowing my sweat circles won’t be spotted.

It’s scientifically true that men sweat more than women, especially when it comes to exercise, but the condition I have is called hyperhidrosis—and it affects men and women equally.

Nearly one in 20 Americans suffer from excessive sweating, and of those, 71 percent said that it makes them anxious, according to checkyoursweat.com, an organization raising awareness about hyperhidrosis.

For everyone doing the math at home: that is one vicious cycle of having stress or anxiety, sweating to combat said stress or anxiety, and then experiencing more stress and anxiety due to sweating four to five times more than the average individual.

Like I said, there are certainly men who experience excessive sweating and the shame that comes along with it, but I have definitely experienced my journey as a gendered issue.

There is a phrase you’re likely to have heard that goes a little something like this: “Horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies glow.”

I’m definitely not denying the glow of a perfectly highlighted cheekbone, but I also know that phrase is BS. I’m sweaty. The thing happening in my armpits is sweat. I just got a prescription antiperspirant. I carry a men’s deodorant in my purse. I’m not glowing.

There are also a variety of cutesy quotes floating around the internet (I’m talking to you, Pinterest) that say things along the lines of “I’m a lady. I don’t sweat; I glisten.” Sure, glitter and glow, girl, but our perpetual insistence that women (and their bodily functions) must be beautiful is such a disservice to all of us. It’s just factually inaccurate. If I am having a panic attack and sweating my brains out, I should not have to apologize.

How many times have you heard—joking or otherwise—that girls don’t fart or poop or burp? While we understand that women must alleviate themselves at some point during the day, it must be behind closed doors. While it might not be handsome when men burp in public or go to the bathroom in broad daylight, we let them do it. If a woman pees with the door open, it’s the main scene on display in a trailer for an Amy Schumer movie. Or, god forbid, we see a woman who breast-feeds in public.

This insistence on the ideal aesthetically pleasing woman is two specific things: 1) a deep-rooted view of women as objects, or primarily sexual beings who are flawless in the service of others, and 2) far from the truth.

Most women poop on the delivery table when they give birth. All women fart. All women go to the bathroom. We itch, we scratch, we spill, we sweat.

Now, this is not my official manifesto telling everyone to perform their most smelly bodily functions everywhere all the time, rather a call to allow women to feel less embarrassed that they simply have bodily functions. Or even the allowance to discuss them publicly. Hello, women, you may now talk about your period whenever you want. You’re welcome.

I would definitely prefer not to sweat, but I’m also not going to make myself hotter and more uncomfortable by squeezing my arms to my side whenever I feel it coming on. I do not exist to make others more comfortable with my existence. Even though having an excessive sweating condition is the last thing on the totem pole of “People Being Socially Ostracized or Oppressed,” it’s still valid, and I still had a $25 co-pay on my prescription antiperspirant.

Only time will tell if my sweat glands actually shrink with my newfound medical resource, but for now, I will leave you with three pieces of advice:

1) Men’s deodorant/antiperspirant is cheaper than women’s products. You get more bang for your buck, and it smells like you go hiking. Old Spice is my go-to, so ladies stop denying yourself and just boycott Secret already. It’s not a secret, anyway.

2) If you feel like you might suffer from hyperhidrosis take the Sweat Assessment at checkyoursweat.com! They also have a ton of tips and statistics to check out.

3) Do your best not to judge people in situations that might initially make you uncomfortable–especially women. We already have a hard enough time as it is.

Essentially, don’t sweat it for me. I’m already doing it enough myself.

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