Most Americans self-conscious of body odor


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The Scentinelle has a way of striking family and friends awkward feelings about their body odors. Some have expressed worry or shame that I will think that they stink. Others take precautions before seeing me–like not eating garlic, using mouthwash or applying extra deodorant–and then tell me about it, hoping I won’t judge them. It’s an awkward and sad conversation that I’ve had many times over the previous months. Collectively, Americans spend about two billions dollars per year masking our natural aromas.But now that I can’t smell anything, I’m reminded of how vulnerable and self-conscious we can feel about how our bodies’ odors. For example, before leaving the house this week, I have relied on a strict hygiene routine and my husband to tell me if I reek.

Most Americans are highly self-conscious of our bodies' natural odors, and we pay dearly to mask them, to the tune of about 2 billion dollars per year in the US.

Most Americans are highly self-conscious of our bodies' odors.

Lack of body odor is one sign of status in our society, which partly explains why it’s a serious insult to tell someone they smell like a homeless person. If I’ve learned anything as the Scentinelle it’s this: there is an important difference between differentiating and judging smells. Differentiation involves focusing on an aroma and telling its layers apart. Judging implies some kind of preference, where one smell is deemed better or worse than another.


Early on when I was new to the super olfactory power, I did a lot of judging as my brain desperately tried to cope with a mind-warping landslide of new information. I never meant to hurt anyone’s feelings.

Now, as a neuroscientist friend suspects, my brain has adapted to the new olfactory information by increasing my neural capacity for processing odors. I do more differentiating and less judging. I have become less overwhelmed by odors and more adept at breaking them down. Writing this blog as helped me adapt to the harsh reality of olfactory TMI.

If I have to make a judgement about how we smell, it’s honestly this: people’s natural body odors are far more preferable and less offensive to the Scentinelle than synthetic covers. It’s counterintuitive, probably unbelievable, in our society where the deodorants industry profits run in the billions of dollars. But it’s true, people smell better to me than perfumes. Now that doesn’t mean I want to stick my nose in your armpits, but then again, I am on smellcation.

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  1. Amen! Body odor is fine — the synthetic crap used as deodorants and perfumes gives me a headache.

  2. Grafton: Have you tried lemon juice? :-P

    Actually, when I’ve picked up a bad armpit flora, I’ve used isopropyl alcohol with great success. Knocks it right out, and something more pleasant re-colonizes.

    You might also investigate your diet.


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