It was my good fortune, two Thanksgivings past, to attend a splendid affair of the St. John-delightfully-quirky variety with some of the island’s loveliest people. Most of the guests I did not know, as my habits tend toward the hermetic and workaholic. Keen to make a good impression, I made an effort to look my best—fab dress, fun jewelry, make-up, shaved legs—the whole bit. It pleases me to say that I’m still able to look pretty damn hot when I try. (The sexy kind of hot, we’ll get to the temperature kind here in a minute.)
At the party, I was re-introduced to a man I’d met the previous year in my role managing a vacation rental complex. He and some colleagues had been on property to discuss a possible construction project.
Now on this particular day, I’d made zero effort to look anywhere near my best, as my work responsibilities required my maintenance woman hat. In reality, there was no hat (it would have merely exacerbated my condition), but I wore my standard laborer’s uniform of athletic shorts, cotton tank over bikini top, no makeup, ponytail, worn flops, AND covering my head and torso, a thin yet persistent layer of glistening sweat.
At one point during the site survey, one of the estimators (a disgustingly cute manchild who tried to make me a booty call some months later) offered the unsolicited, consolatory remark, “Don’t worry, your body will acclimate after being here a while,” to which I responded that I’d already been here almost three years, and that I’m just a sweaty person. But thanks.
Which brings us back to the Thanksgiving soiree and the man to whom I was being re-introduced. While shaking hands, I reminded him that we’d met once before at my work/home. Upon hearing the business name, his face morphed into an expression of complete shock, and from his mouth erupted the words, “You look…different!”
“Yes, I’m clean today,” I responded with my most winning smile, “And not sweaty.”
“Yeah… you were really sweating that day, ” he said, his face still showing utter disbelief at how this fetching creature before him could possibly be the same hideous swamp monster he’d met a year ago.
Without doubt, my hyperhydrosis, as it is officially called (In preparation for this piece, I googled the term, almost wondering if I’d dreamed it up. Turns out there’s an association, and support groups, and Botox treatments for the many excessive sweaters of the world.), has the power to make those in my presence overheat simply from witnessing the vast amount of sweat my head and torso find necessary to produce.
I used to greet most guests upon arrival and accompany them to their condos. And I was usually sweating, the job having required much more climbing of outdoor stairs than sitting inside an air-conditioned office. Guests often took one alarmed look at the rivulets coursing down my neck and decided to blast the AC without delay. Which, of course, is exactly the opposite of what I wanted them to do.
While putting the last finishing touches on their condo rentals, it was not uncommon for sweat to drip from my face onto their check-in sheets, smearing the ink. And that’s how it stayed too. I’ll be damned if I was going to walk two flights down to my office for a fresh copy, so the soiled document is what they got.
Oddly enough, a similar drip incident (drip-cident, for short) occurred in the workplace shortly before I moved to the V.I. Only this time I was inside an air-conditioned office. It was summer in Minnesota, and I was wearing a sleeveless top to work. While leaning over a co-worker’s desk, a drop of sweat fell from my armpit and landed in a visible dollop right next to the paperwork we were reviewing.
“Did you just drool?” he asked, looking up at me, his face a mix of shock, concern and horror.
“Oh no, that was just my pit sweat. Might be time to shove some paper towels in there.”
This response only intensified the expression of incredulous disgust on his face. But, seeing as that I was moving to a tropical island in a month, his opinion of me and my relative grossness was of little to no concern.
By this time, I had clearly moved past the shame associated with excessive sweating, having dealt with the issue since the onset of puberty. (At some point I figured – hey, it’s better than being dull, ugly, or stupid.) I distinctly remember the day I noticed the problem. I was not quite 11, it was springtime in Iowa, and I wanted to wear my new favorite shirt from the Limited Too— a sleeveless, button-up denim number embellished with the hippie-inspired floral embroidery that enjoyed a fashion revival in the early 90’s. But the joy of wearing something cute for the first time vanished within minutes when I noticed the two dark little half moons that had appeared beneath the armpits, ruining what little sensation I had of being attractive during this, my most awkward stage of physical development.
And so continued the daily battle with my armpits through adolescence and early adulthood. No amount of antiperspirant helped, even the clinically strong variety. In fact, I finally realized that antiperspirant actually makes me sweat a whole lot more. Thank you very much, strange body of mine!
Now, you would think that moving to the Virgin Islands would make my sweating problem worse. And in a way, it has. But I quite prefer the manner in which this tropical climate has altered my body’s sweating patterns. It’s so damn humid here, that instead of all the sweat being produced within the eternally moist confines of my armpits, it comes out nearly every pore of my body, taking some long-overdue pressure off my poor pits. Don’t get me wrong, my armpits are still nowhere near dry, they’re just no longer stuck in monsoon season all the time. This means I’m far less encumbered by the fashion malfunction of pit stains that have plagued me for the last two-thirds of my life. The trade-off being that the rest of my body is often in a state of glaring glow.
But I’ll gladly take it compared to what happens, sweatily speaking, when I visit my mom in Vegas. Traveling from the tropics to the desert does not have the effect of sending my sweat glands on vacation. Oh no, the dry air— while reacquainting me with a lifestyle that requires twice daily moisturizing and the hourly application of chap stick — just channels all of that sweat to my armpits, palms, and the soles of my feet.
So, all exposed parts of my body—every last skin cell—becomes parched and flaky, but my pits, palms and soles turn into hyper little secretion machines. It’s both obnoxious and uncomfortable. But at least it has led to the realization that I’d rather embrace a full-body glisten than endure the wretched super dry/super wet imbalance that happens in a drier climate.
Plus, since pretty much everyone in the tropics sweats on a daily basis, and since I am far from the only person here who could be diagnosed with hyperhydrosis, sweating visibly is like drinking a beer at noon in the Caribbean— it’s pretty much expected and accepted.
Easily, the biggest most silvery lining here is the promise that all this facial and décolleté sweat may very well keep my skin supple, smooth, and looking young (if not exactly fresh) well into my AARP years. Either way, whether for excessively sweaty armpits or crows feet that run too deep, I think I’ll skip the Botox injections and just do what I can to love this weirdo of a body I was given. Even if it means I have to tease her a bit. I kid because I love. And I’ve never appreciated normal anyway.