Beat the Heat: Begrudging Acceptance of Sweating

Steve Snodgrass/CC BY 2.0

Look, I don't like sweating anymore than the next person. Perhaps I don't mind as much as some people, but it's not at though I like having a damp brow, dewy limbs and a trickle of perspiration running down my spine into my nether regions, sometimes soaking the waistband of my pants. It's not like I seek it out for its own sake.

But, you know what, for the sake our ourselves, our society and our planet we need to seriously get past worrying about sweating in public.

Despite advertising trying to convince us that sweating is unnatural, unstylish, and nearly anti-social, the fact of the matter is that sweating is an essential biological part of the human experience. When it's 90°F+ out it's all but inevitable with the slightest exertion. And we shouldn't care about that, either personally or in others.

While acclimatization to heat, our clothing habits, and daily routine all certainly play a factor in how we perceive heat, these only go so far. Just travel to places where it's routinely really hot—say, India, someplace I've spent a decent amount of time, in May or June. You'll encounter all sorts of people (including yourself) sweating, sometimes profusely, in public. All the time. And, usually, no one much cares. It's as much an unthought-of fact of life as someone coughing or sneezing or laughing. Humans sweat. When it's 105°F and sunny, humans sweat a lot. In fact, from the standpoint of health it's likely a bigger problem if we're not sweating.

Worrying about this, having any sort of social stigma, personal social discomfort with this is just manufactured nonsense of the highest order—manufactured by advertising linking sweat to lack of control and, at a deeper level, by ingrained hierarchy (sweating is laboring and laboring is a lower rung on the social ladder than being able to pay or order people to labor for you; cool people don't labor).

Admittedly I'm going way out on a sociological limb here, but to my way of thinking, sweat-phobia is also a byproduct of dysfunctional human relationship with the natural world, made all the worse by increasing dependence on air-conditioning by people and in situations which the human body is perfectly capable of adapting.

The more we expect that we should be able to control our physical environment in all situations—and air conditioning allows us to do this with temperature and humidity, albeit at a high environmental and social cost, as authors like Stan Cox have repeatedly demonstrated—the more we psychologically need that level of control. And, not incidentally, the more our bodies become less capable at self-regulation and adapting to temperature variations unconsciously.

This attempt at total control of temperature, keeping that temperature a constant cool temperature (that of a pleasant late spring day in northern Europe), is just further attempted separation of humanity from all of biological existence. In a different way an extension of the thinking that places humans above all other animals and indeed outside of ecology.

Digress for a moment for a counterfactual, but still within the realm of humans separated from nature and attempting to have totalitarian control over temperature:

What if instead of European and North American powers being the first to rise to the top of the Industrial Anthropocene age, taking with them patterns of dress and notions of what constitutes a comfortable temperature, ignoring the historical details, what if the nations of South-East Asia were the seat of economic power? Would we be trying to always have our building interiors at 85°F instead of 68°F? Would that be the temperature consider normal? Either one is perfectly comfortable when you're used to it—you don't instantaneously perspire with activity at either.

In any case, sweating is a good thing, just the body regulating temperature, a small or sometimes not-so-small reminder that we humans are too alive and not entirely dissimilar from other animal species, not disconnected from natural cycles, something everyone does so why should we care if we ourselves are doing it or others around us are, something which if we simply accepted perhaps we'd not feel the need to constantly manipulate interior temperatures, expending inordinate and unfair amounts of energy (and carbon emissions) to do so, all so that we don't let other people see us, eee gads, doing what we're meant to do as biological beings.

Come on people, it's a small thing, even somewhat intangible compared to other ways to beat the heat, but I think it's very much psychologically and socially important: Let's embrace sweating, if only begrudgingly.

Tags: Beat the Heat | Weather

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