Pandemic Stress Is Making My Body Odor Go Into Overdrive — Op-Ed

Isolating in this global health crisis means different things to everyone, depending on what their circumstances are. I’m lucky enough that I live alone in a sweet apartment (nice) in New York City (cool), which also happens to be the epicenter of the most cases of COVID-19 in the country, if not the world (way not cool). I wasn’t surprised when I learned of this, watching the case numbers multiple by itself every single day to staggering heights — I mean, the population density combined with the levels of poverty and lack of universal health care meant this city didn’t really stand a chance against a fast-spreading, airborne virus. But as someone with a fairly robust immune system and a secure base to hunker down, my mission is clear: Stay home by myself and just wait it out. Completely doable!

I’ve been staying home for nearly two months, and the adjustment period of the first two weeks was iffy, to say the least. I was either not wearing makeup at all or doing painstakingly elaborate makeup looks that took hours to create just for the sake of something to do. I wasn’t wearing real clothes — just an amalgamation of athleisure and pajamas. I’m sleeping in later and later. This deterioration of lifestyle probably mirrors some intense personal crisis, but something about the fact that everyone else I know is going through similar motions helped me to feel at ease, eventually vanquishing FOMO completely. Nobody is hanging out without me, or at all. I’m missing out literally on nothing.

Along with FOMO, any opportunity for my beauty to find itself in the eyes of any beholder also went out the window. Sure, there’s Instagram stories, but ample filters can be “makeup” if you really want them to. Also, no one can smell you in quarantine. Therefore, I have no incentive to put on deodorant. I’m showering at the same frequency as I always have and am much more sedentary now than before when we were able to walk around all willy-nilly (ah, those were the days). Somehow, though, this does not mean less body odor.

I am not a sweaty person in general. You know how everybody has their own unique body aroma? I’m always curious about what mine is since it’s something I always notice about other people. My body odor, according to past lovers, is on the neutral spectrum. This is feedback that I specifically solicited, as I grew up as “the smelly kid,” and sometimes that’s a hard mentality to escape. I love fragrances; I change them up as often as you’d change underwear (so… regularly). I switch between a couple of natural deodorants because I’m allergic to ones with aluminum. When I say “allergic,” I mean that just one swipe can give me giant, painful, throbbing cysts that at one point (as I was learning of this allergy during puberty) required surgical removal. Yikes.

Back to being the smelly kid: When I was coming of age around the turn of the 21st century, natural deodorant was basically nonexistent. I think Tom’s of Maine was the first mainstream natural deodorant I could find, and it was a godsend that was probably responsible for my rejuvenated social life during my junior and senior years of high school.

Puberty is awkward as it is but combined with tween hormones pumping out of my sweat glands, I’m pretty sure there were visible stink lines coming off of me. My teenage body odor possessed a sort of umami quality that made it as complex and memorable as it was intensely offensive. I have a distinct memory of being picked up from a birthday party and my friend’s mom pulling my mom aside to gingerly offer some motherly advice about my body odor because “it was an issue.” (I’m pretty sure my mom suggested she take a pregnancy test if her nose is that sensitive because that is my mom’s sense of humor.)

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