The joy of sweat
W.W. Norton & Co., $ 26.95
The developer darkened the patches under our arms before a presentation. The cold slide of a loaded handshake. Sweat reveals what we often want to hide: our nervousness, fears and efforts, all with the faint smell of what we eat for the last time.
But maybe it’s time to find “serenity instead of shame” in sweat, argues science journalist Sarah Everts. Through her delightful book, The Joy of Sweat, Everts offers what she calls a “sweaty conversation” that drains with science and history.
Everts ’dip in sweat is full of energy and his open curiosity about our so mischievous body secretion is poured into every page. Regulating temperature through sweat, he points out, is a trait that few species can boast. Every drop narrates our evolution: our ability to stay fresh has kept us literally alive and flourishing.
The book offers many fascinating facts: in our perspiration traces of drugs and disease appear. Small drops of sweat create the fingerprints used to identify us. Sweat can even have clues about the nutritional content of what we eat.
While sweat “keeps us honest,” Everts writes, it also raises questions. For example, how long until companies start exploiting potential data dripping from people’s foreheads? Forget the smell of stinky feet; we may soon have to worry about the privacy implications of sweating in public.
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But Everts is never too serious. He plays the armpits professionally and joins the audience naked and sweating for the sauna theater. It even comes out with smells, making you sweat in a crowd so potential mates can smell for love or at least attraction.
These stories are fun, but a deeper point persists. People collectively spend billions of dollars every year deodorizing, removing sweat, and pretending with all their might that it doesn’t exist. The joy of sweat shows how this demand was created by the manufacturers of deodorants and antiperspirants who sold sweat as a problem in the first place. The clear advertising twist will make readers reflect on how much of our hygiene habits are the result of fabricated humiliation. By highlighting the story, Everts demonstrates that the problems perceived by sweat are usually cultural and not biological. Sweat is simply “a body that does its best to do what it does,” he writes. And if we let that message seep into our minds (and armpits), we can also revel in the joy of sweat.
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