Tuesday, 2 November 2010

BO! Body Odour and Gender Identity

When I was in my early teens I was 'confirmed' into the Church of England (I know, who'd have thought it now?) and sat through a sermon from the then Bishop of Burnley talking about "BO", he then explained (or rather, boomed) the words: "Body Odour!". He then went on to explain that God was like Body Odour. I didn't get it and found it quite hard not to explain to him after that whilst I agreed Lynx could indeed be regarded as the ubiquitous devil, there are alternative brands.

This random anecdote comes to mind this morning as I sit in bed working through the paper, preparing to embark on a day of work. The Guardian has a story today by Kira Cochrane in which she talks about the rise in the number of people now showering and ditching deodorants, what Cochrane calls 'extreme soap-dodging'. A poll has apparently found that 41% of men and 33% of women don't shower every day with 12% having a 'proper wash' (whatever that is) once a week. It goes on to talk of our comparatively recent fetishisation of cleanliness.

BO is a key element of our sexual and gender understanding. We talk of 'manly' smells (less so 'female' except in the artificial perfumed sense) and we can be attracted to particular smells. There is an intrinsic sexual element to smell.

I found the gender divide stats interesting and I do suspect that there is more freedom than men. Not shaving for men is an acceptable option (if a little cliched) whilst a woman arriving at work with unshaven/waxed legs would be regarded as having seriously let herself go. It will be interesting to see how this non-washing rebellion develops and what it means for defined gender identities.

The piece isn't currently available on the Guardian website but I'll post a link if it becomes available.

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