Women are only supposed to sweat in “sexy” places. I know this since I worked as a fitness model for several years. (Before you get all excited to check out my abs of steel, know that I was often used as a model representing “real” women, aka those that don’t look like ripped bodybuilders.)
Unlike regular models, part of a fitness model’s job is to, well, fitness. This meant I often had to repeatedly jump, run or hold uncomfortable athletic poses for long periods of time while the photographer got just the right shot. This also meant a lot of sweating as, for me, my body breaks out the pit sprinklers the second my heart rate goes up even a little bit. And make no mistake: I do not shimmer or sparkle or glow or any of that nonsense. I am soaked in honest-to-goodness stinky sweat.
While I’ve been told my ability to flop-sweat on command is actually a sign of good health, it was aggravating for the people doing the photo shoot. I still remember on my first shoot naively asking the assistant furiously blotting me off between takes why she couldn’t just leave the sweat. After all, I’m supposed to be realistically exercising, right?
Nope! I was quickly informed that the only sweat allowed in photos had to be in “approved” places, which were limited to my hairline, neck and cleavage. Notice what’s missing from that list? Basically every place a girl sweats. Underboob sweat, armpit stains, back splatter and crotch lines (this is why you should never work out in light gray, ladies) were all strictly verboten.
But, it got even sillier. It turns out that real sweat doesn’t photograph so well so that usually meant that any stray beads were toweled off and then I was spritzed (on just the face and cleavage!) with glycerin water to achieve a more attractive sweat glow — a trick often used by photographers.
I tell you all this because “approved sweating” isn’t just limited to glossy photo shoots. A recent article in the The Washington Post detailed a run-in that Amy Roe, a marathon runner, had with another woman at a coffee shop. The other woman “sweat shamed” Roe by pointing out her public dampness and implying she was gross. Roe says she immediately wanted to disappear from embarrassment and wonders if other women are bothered by it too.
“I’m pretty accomplished and relatively fast, not overweight and obese,” Roe said. “If it can affect me — and obviously I’m less vulnerable to this kind of thing than other people — presumably it can affect a person out there running for the first time. People are afraid to exercise for how they look doing it.”
When I first read Roe’s account, I wanted to high five her through the computer screen. Not only have I, too, totally been “sweat shamed,” but I’ve gotten way worse comments than a sneered, “Were you swimming?” I’ve had people ask me (at the gym no less):
- If I’ve peed myself. (Certainly not — unless I have to do 10 or more jumping jacks, then all bets are off. I have had five kids!)
- If I’ve tried wearing deodorant. (Yes, but unless I put it on from head to toe, it’s not going to help much.)
- If I am secretly a man.
It’s that last one I’ve decided to own. I’m not now nor have I ever been a man (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but I’ve noticed that men get to sweat with impunity. On them, it’s just seen as natural and normal. Have you ever seen a guy wearing a tank that says: “I don’t sweat, I glisten?” No? I rest my case.
Now I just tell people, “I sweat like a dude.” While I’m sure they think I’m referring to the amount of sweat (and I kind of am), what I really mean is that I will sweat however my body needs to and I refuse to be ashamed of it.
So, to the every lady who’s ever tried to hide butt-crack sweat with a sweatshirt or pretended to spill a water bottle on herself to camouflage a sweat stain or just felt like avoiding the gym for fear of looking like a drowned rat, I welcome you! Come to the dark (sweat-circled) side! Own your sweat and be unashamed.