A few months ago, when I was rummaging around the internet for new running t-shirts to sweat in, I stumbled across one that read: ‘I don’t sweat, I sparkle‘ . “Oh, deary me!” Was my initial reaction! I then quickly moved on to wondering who would want to sparkle after exercise? Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of sparkle; the disco ball (which seems like a distant memory now), the Christmas tree lights and my sister’s engagement ring, but I have never associated sparkling with the soaking wet, drowned rat aftermath that is me after a run. I quickly realised that this t-shirt was not targeted at the sweat loving exerciser, it was for those who denounced the powers of the eccrine glands!
Sport participation takes a dip when girls are approaching puberty (1). Young teens may be embarrassed about their changing bodies or the potential to display their perspiration in front of other human beings. Or it might just be because Boyzone was much more interesting than getting sweaty and gritty at the cross country (that was maybe just me though). I’m well aware that there are marketing ploys created in an attempt to quietly entice them into ditching the red cheeks of embarrassment for the red cheeks of effort. However, when it comes to exercise, sparkling ignites images of glitter and pink fluffiness; a small helping of light physical activity to make you glow, getting your body ever so gently primed for attracting that handsome, muscular peacock on the weights machine! It’s the polar opposite of the powerful images that sweat creates in my mind. Are these marketing ploys perpetuating our unhealthy relationship with sweat potentially, especially for young girls?
Sweat has powerful connotations of grit, determination, hard work and effort. We talk about blood, sweat and tears if something has taken pretty much all the fluid in our bodies to achieve because of how difficult a task it was. However, for some it seems that sweating has manifested itself as an ugly, smelly beast that must be avoided at all costs. I’ve seen a few women at the gym gently tickling the treadmill with the soles of their shoes and working extremely hard not to generate any heat related body reaction that may cause the foundation to slide off their face like butter on a hot knife. Not that I’m against wearing make up at the gym. If it feels right for you, then it’s very empowering to feel confident in yourself, I’m just trying to understand why we still have a slightly warped attitude towards sweating.
Here’s the thing – you sweat, I sweat, your Granny sweats (although very interestingly, older adults do sweat less than the younger population) (2) – nevertheless, we all sweat! Sweating is a beautiful and underappreciated function that is essential for a healthy body, especially exercise induced sweat. Did you know that when we sweat our skin releases toxins to cleanse the body? Have you ever gone for a run with a hangover? (obviously once you can stand up straight and have stopped puking up the lining of your stomach). Sweating does actually make you feel better! Not only that, but it can improve circulation and creates a protective barrier, reducing bacteria on the skin, which helps skin conditions such as acne (2). How wonderful is that? So, maybe the slogan on the t-shirt should read:
“I don’t sparkle, I sweat, because sweating helps my spots”!
Ok, so it’s not quite as catchy, but it’s honest and could be a helpful nugget of information for our younger generation!
Sweat is the prize for our effort. It should be displayed like a trophy, busting out for all to see, not shunned and put in a corner, a la baby from Dirty Dancing style! I don’t sweat, I absolutely drip, even on an easy run. I want to be a gritty, gasping, temple veins popping mess, with the tell-tale red blotches of exertion and effort on my face and a colossal patch of lower boob sweat titivating my t-shirt. In fact, if I have gone to the effort of getting changed for some physical activity and can’t see a single sweat patch, I feel completely short changed! Over the years I’ve managed to break 2 ipods with my sweat gland secretions and seriously disrupt the function of a number of mobile phones as well – those are some powerful eccrine glands I hear you say! The answer just might be that we need more images of strong, active women of all ages with under boob sweat patches, beads of moisture rolling down their neck and damp, matted hair stuck to their forehead. Embrace your sweat like a long-lost sister, display it like a badge of honour and be proud of what your powerful and capable body can do! But not for too long as old sweat can smell. Yikes!
- Bluetooth headphones and arm sleeves are the way to go for the music loving shuffler (and obviously for safety to have your phone with you). It means you don’t have to ruin all your technology by keeping things down your sports bra!
- There is absolutely nothing wrong with sparkling if you want to – just do it your way! My way is to get into a soggy mess so that I can physically see my effort. All I’m saying is sweat is gooooood!
- On hot days (few and far between in Scotland) sweating can make you chafe more, so add some Vaseline to the sweaty hotspots (under boobs, tops of thighs, basically wherever there might be some skin-on-skin action).
- It’s just a t-shirt, I know. Maybe I over-reacted? Nah, I don’t think so!
- House of Commons, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Women and Sport, First Report of 2014/15, July 2014
- Physiology of sweat gland function: The roles of sweating and sweat composition in human health, Lindsay B. Baker, Published online 2019 Jul 17, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6773238/#CIT0084