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downers: sweaty pits

Finn is on the cusp of something. I don’t know if it’s the beginning of manhood, or the end of babyhood, but I’ll tell you this: it doesn’t smell right.

As usual, Cuz voiced it first. “Finn smells,” she said. I had noticed it myself, usually after one of his soccer games, but had been in denial, for months. Normally, Finn smells like warm, active boy—a very good smell. Possibly, the best smell. More and more often, however, that boy smell comes with a dash of Gouda.

I can’t even tell where the smell is coming from. At bathtime, I stuck my nose under his armpit as he grumbled about privacy. It didn’t smell good, but neither did it smell like cheese. I think it’s his feet. I almost keeled over this week when he sat down next to me and pulled his feet, sockless, from a pair of Nikes.

finn pits

How did this happen? Finn is half Asian, and Asians don’t have B.O. I know, because I know a lot of Asians. And in general, none of them smell as bad as white people. It’s not a scientific sample, but take the Asian and white guys I know. The Asians might smell like a shit ton of Polo Sport, but they aren’t going to smell like rotting vegetable matter, like Tom does after a summer day in a suit. I’m just saying. Sidle up to an Asian after your gym class. Maybe not exactly roses. But not so bad, either. I can’t explain it. Might be the lack of body hair.

It sure as hell isn’t the lack of sweat. I am 100% Asian and I sweat profusely in situations requiring even the most minimal amount of physical exertion. Once, after a Zumba class, I passed by a nice old lady in the locker room. “I hope you enjoyed your swim!,” she chirped. Listen, friendly people: sometimes, it’s better not to make assumptions. Sometimes, in fact, it’s best not to say anything at all.

At least my sweat doesn’t smell. I know, because, duh, I’ve touched my sweat and smelled it.

Sweating really creates issues when it comes to clothes. I remember when I wore a pair of tight pants to go dancing, way back in college. They call it vegan leather now, but back then it was called plastic. Imagine dancing in a hot room in skintight plastic pants. I’d dance for a few minutes and then go to the restroom to roll down my pants and sop up the sweat with toilet paper. For the record, it’s really hard to look sexy in your tight plastic pants if people think you have a weak bladder or uncontrolled diarrhea.

Sweat is also really bad with silk. I wear a lot of silk, because it drapes nicely over my A cups and skims over my love handles just so. But for me, even thinking about sweat while wearing silk results in immediate pit stains of man-sized proportions. I’ve spent many a wedding with something wedged under my arm, to hide the evidence. Try hugging someone with a wedding program tucked under one arm, and an evening clutch tucked under the other. Or don’t. Best to wait to be hugged in such scenarios. You can participate in the hug by leaning in. I’m a great leaner.


linds and me, leaning

Anyway, I’ve spent a lot of time googling stuff like “extreme sweatiness” and “excessive sweatiness” and “does Certain Dry cause cancer.” Linds turned me onto Certain Dry, which she says keeps your armpits sweat free. I’m sure Linds wouldn’t mind me sharing that as a white person, she worries about sweaty pits even more than I do. If there’s someone with B.O. in a room, she immediately assumes it’s her. Even I don’t do that. Anyway, the Certain Dry. It works, Linds says. Of course, she had to stop using it when it started causing her to scratch at her armpits uncontrollably in public. There’s always a catch. Why does there always have to be a catch?

Why can’t they invent a silk that makes sweat invisible? Can you put deodorant on a six-year old’s feet? That Asian you know who smells really bad? I’m all ears.

40 Comments Post a comment
  1. Susie E. #

    B.O. was a recent conversation topic in my sphere! I read that Asians, and especially Koreans, have fewer apocrine glands than other races. Lucky me, I can save money by omitting deodorant from my shopping cart. Anyway, that’s not why I’m commenting. Today, I wandered into a cute little shop in Hollywood and chatted with the store owner who showed me pictures of her grandchildren. I stared. “I think I know those kids! From a blog!” What a small world Portland is.

    May 17, 2013
    • oh how fun. my kids think grandma’s store is tops. portland is a manageable little community, isn’t it? also thank you for verifying that I sweat less than my white husband

      May 18, 2013
  2. Eh. Boyfeet. We had those x3. We had rules. Leave your shoes on after soccer in the van. Leave your soccer cleats on the front porch to air out. Shower after every game so Mom and Dad do not die from boyfeet. It gets worse until they are about 15 and then it seems to improve. I also am adamant about clean socks and never letting them go sockless in shoes. They can wear flipflops if they do not want to wear socks. Courage, Mom. There are going to be a lot more changes coming along in your house…

    May 14, 2013
  3. Aunt Bora #

    I’ve discovered several things in the last year:

    1. It’s really hard to smell thyself.
    2. Little known fact: Asians DO smell, after all that bragging, but don’t smell like white people. White people smell like onions (or of that variety). Asians smell like vinegar or a pickled vegetable. I went over this theory with a room full of white people and it was scientifically confirmed.

    May 14, 2013
  4. BlueJean #

    Sorry to come late to the game, but have we established that sweat is not particularly smelly on its own? It’s the bacteria that grown in the sweat that smell. That’s why you don’t smell bad DURING a workout but after can get dicey fast. Everyone has different bacteria on their skin and the rate of B.O. appearance depends on that. So, to help with Finn’s feet, make sure his socks are getting changed regularly (extra sweaty day might mean a few changes) and try to alternate shows so they have a change to dry out for a full day. If the sweat dries before the bacteria kick in, you’ll get less smell. If that isn’t enough, spray the shoes/shirt underarms/whatever with a dilute vinegar and water mix. When it dries, the smells will be gone – including the smell of venegar 🙂

    May 10, 2013
  5. My mister is a caucasian Euro-Canadian mutt like myself and he has no BO. Even when he’s really sweaty, he doesn’t get much of an aroma. It all comes down to one gene- and in fact, you can know if you’d have BO by the kind of earwax you have. If you have sticky moist earwax, you will also likely have BO- because both are due to not having this particular gene, ABCC11.
    Weird, huh?
    I don’t have the gene. After a workout, he smells better than I do. He gets kind of this sweet musky smell, a little like roasting chestnuts?

    My brother used to sweat so profusely and stanky style in high school he would wear two shirts to hide his pit stains- but then I was like, dude, doesn’t wearing two shirts make you hotter, and therefore, sweat more?!
    Teenage boy logic. That’s your future!

    May 7, 2013
  6. Your son is half-Asian. Which means, there is a good chance he picked up some stink potential from his dad. I am half-Asian, and I have to say, it takes me longer to get stinky than my white counterparts. But, if I shun deodorant, get a good workout, and sweat through a less than %100 cotton shirt, I get odoriferous by evening.

    May 7, 2013
  7. I’m Japanese + I’ve never had to wear deodorant + I sweat it out like nobody’s business!!!

    May 7, 2013
    • I’ve heard you can’t smell your own smell. this is what gives me pause, occasionally. that and the fact that my exercise clothes do smell. I feel like Tom would tell me though. Bonds of matrimony and all

      May 8, 2013
  8. You should look into a natural crystal deodorant, they come in solid, roll-on and spray formulas. Just be sure they are natural and do not contain aluminum or other harmful ingredients. I’ve had success with PitRok and Naturally Fresh (I like the Papaya Fusion, which can also be sprayed on feet). I even managed to convert Captain Canada over to using them…score!

    May 7, 2013
  9. my son is hitting puberty and his room stinks big time. recently started asking for deoderant as he said his friends told him he smells. thats boys for u. wont listen to me about it, but everyone else yeah lol still got to fight him to bathe or shower at 13 it is hell lol

    May 6, 2013
  10. Great post. This especially made me laugh: “They call it vegan leather now, but back then it was called plastic.” Oh so true.

    May 6, 2013
    • if they want to be really progressive about it, why not call it something else entirely? why call it leather at all? and why is plastic better for us? i mean besides the ethical quandary of killing cows for their hides. so many questions

      May 6, 2013
      • I think the ethical issues turned a lot of people off the real deal. I remember when they called it pleather — so you didn’t have to say you were wearing high quality saran warp around your legs. Man, did those things sweat!

        May 6, 2013
  11. essence and ego #

    You can get a small spray bottle and fill it with rubbing alcohol, this will eliminate shoe odor. My husband uses it in his sneakers every time he wears them and it does work. Our son has a pair of shoes that he wears when we play in the water outdoors, those things could walk off his feet they smell so bad…our son is one. His feet are like little heaters and sweat all the time. I can only imagine what his room will stink like when he’s a teenage boy. Scary. Good luck to you!

    May 6, 2013
    • oh man this is funny. stinky feet at one! a prodigy. it doesn’t matter how bad they stink when the feet are so small and presh

      May 6, 2013
  12. Andy #

    Also, do you think Sheryl Sandberg’s new book “Lean In” is actually about not sweating on your friends? I think it might be.

    May 6, 2013
    • I can’t escape this book. Do I need to read it?

      May 6, 2013
      • Andy #

        I think you’re appropriately leaned in. But then again, I don’t know you at all and I’m a card carrying member of the patriarchy, so take my advice for what its worth.

        May 6, 2013
  13. Andy #

    As a boy and a certified expert in boyness, let me be the first to tell you that you’r fighting a war of attrition. Boys (of all races) only get smellier. Each year on Earth corresponds to an ever increasing smellitude in every dimension: frequency of being stinky, range at which it can be smelled, and rankness. Only when we die and begin decomposing does the odor start to wane. Medical science has not yet determined why it is that boys smell like they are rotting from the inside out.

    The key to stinky feet is in the footwear. Shoes are the worst. Once his little feet are in those bacteria incubators they are going to generate a godawful stench. When his feet leave the shoes, the bacteria remain waiting for his feet to return. Once shoes become stinky its almost impossible to get them to return to a state of nonstinkyness. Clean socks are key to prevention, and I put absurd amounts of baking soda in my sneakers on a daily basis, which helps eliminate the odor- but I’ve notice that if I ever stop the smell returns quickly and with a mighty vengeance.

    May 6, 2013
    • no, you are exactly right about the shoes–if he wears them even once without socks, it’s over. the transfer of stink is well underway. i asked about this at Nordstrom and they said if you put those cedar shoe trees inside the shoes when you don’t wear them, they soak up the stink. but they don’t make them in little boy sizes. thanks for making me laugh, as usual

      May 6, 2013
  14. we havent hit that stage yet, but my son wants to wear deoderant already, hes only 6 lol…. so funny you say asians smelling like polo sport, while living in korea it was so funny because they dont really wear deoderant there, but they always smell so good like clean laundry?? i do miss korea…

    May 6, 2013
  15. Susan #


    May 6, 2013
  16. My son has learned to leave his shoes outside at night… fresh air works wonders!

    May 6, 2013
    • we need to do this, but scared of effect on would-be visitors

      May 6, 2013
  17. texasdeb #

    ALL little boy shoes are/can be awful. I read someplace you should put fabric softener sheets in them in between wearings to help combat the stank, and the only other option that worked for my boy (back when I had any input) was to keep his shoes well filled with various foot powders. Did he walk with his own powder cloud like a life-sized version of the cartoon character Pigpen? Perhaps. Did he leave a trail of powdery prints behind every time he left a room? Probably. Both were a tiny price to pay for the ability to breathe through the nose whenever he was around. Because otherwise? He was a pretty great kid. He just didn’t have the smellies to match.

    May 6, 2013
    • love the pigpen reference. i love pigpen almost as much as peppermint patty

      May 6, 2013
  18. Ted Viramonte #

    Try deodorant salt. It’s great! It doesn’t smell, it’s natural, and it keeps the pit stains away. You can get it at Whole Earth, or some place like that. He’ll, I think even Freddie’s sells it now. I’ve used it for years and it really works.

    May 6, 2013
    • I am amused imagining application. Do you sprinkle it from a shaker?

      May 6, 2013
      • Uhm, no. It comes in a crystal that you wet and then apply. The crystal lasts for years, btw.

        May 9, 2013
  19. sweeney22Anne #

    Ok I pray may dear daughter doesn’t see this! But my kids are all Asian (adopted from Kazakhstan) and my dear 15 yr old daughter has her times of smelling funky. She runs and works out and she comes out of that smelling yucky! Thankfully she recognizes this and is very big into showering. My boys hitting puberty? Ugh! and they aren’t into girls enough to start being obsessive about showering without being told to do it! I am white and not a big sweater but I am into plugging up the underarms bc if I have a sweat issue its there. My daughter and I both want a long lasting anti-persperant! Certain Dry? I will look into it. and good for you wearing plastic pants! We had leather pants in the 80’s and I never tried them out! They scared me! I was afraid I wouldn’t get out of them! Is it bad that I had a boyfriend who wore them? Great post! Thanks for sharing!

    May 6, 2013
    • wait i don’t want to be responsible for your daughter using certain dry, which I believe may be very bad for you, sweating aside. I need a disclaimer on this post. I’m sure your daughter’s challenges in this area are only temporary, as they generally are for most girls!

      May 6, 2013
      • Donna in Doha #

        I lived in both Japan and Korea (6 years in Korea) and I can tell you that after a class of 22 engineering students left my classroom the smell of kimchi, garlic and soju that was mixed with their sweat was pungent. I used to sit on the subway and gag at the smell of Natto seeping from the pores of Japanese people. I think everyone sweats and some have ‘better’ BO than others. Just used to a different kind sweat, I guess. My Korean students always said Westerners smelled of meat and cheese!

        May 13, 2013

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