If Everybody Had B.O., Would Anybody Care?

What is the attitude of people who live in societies were underarm deodorant is not common toward body odor? I here that B.O. is socially acceptable in parts of Europe. Is this true??

Since the use of deodorants and anti-perspirants has absolutely NO medical benefits, wouldn’t we all be better off if we agreed to stop using them, and in the process we would get used to the natural odors and bodily secretions of other human beings?

Well, considering that we’ve had deoderant for probably 100 years and people have been around for thousands of years, I’d say BO probably isn’t a big issue. I think that, for the most part, sensitivity to smells (at least to the magnitude that it’s at today) is a relatively new concept.

According to Richard Zacks’ book An Underground Education:

“Back in the Middle Ages, the first thing Chaucer’s pilgrims noticed when approaching a city was the stink of human shit moldering at the base of the walls …”

I’d say that BO probably wasn’t a big deal.


The olfactory receptors become fatigued after a while. This, no doubt, is what allows people to live in the San Juaquin Valley. :wink: If everyone is exposed to the same smells, they will stop noticing them.

Everybody does have BO. Just ask any dog, or for that matter, cat. Some of it is offensive to other people, some of it isn’t.

One of the most offensive BO’s I ever experienced was a woman who so heavily perfumed that it almost brought tears to my eyes.

My son spent 4 months in Russia, about the time Yeltsin was coming to power. He said that when you entered an apartment (which was always kept hot) it was overpowering.

Well, I asked my cat and he spoke at length about genetics and evolution and I couldn’t make head or tail out of it and he just wouldn’t get to the point, go I gave up.

Perfumes and scented oils generally have been major import/export items since before the days of Marco Polo, so at least the aristocracy who could afford to buy such things certainly thought it was worthwhile.

Deodorant in various forms, including antiperspirant, has been around for way more than 100 years. Thousands of years more likely. Wasn’t it the ancient Egyptians who wore cakes of scented wax/oil on their heads that would slowly melt down in the heat, masking their body odour?

Alum crystals have also been used for eons.

And the Lord said unto Moses, take unto thee sweet spices with frankincense and make it a perfume, tempered together, pure and holy (Exodus 30, 34).
–I suspect we’ve been trying to hide BO for at least awhile.

That said, what we hide today probably doesn't reflect what our great (multiply here) grandparents chose to hide.

Goats don’t mind natural goat smell. Monkeys don’t mind natural monkey smell. What’s so special about humans that they cannot tolerate their own natural smell?

And this whole concept of B.O. didn’t become popular until the turn of the century, when Lifebouy soap invented it and used it in manipulative, fear-mongering ads.

Nowadays, everyone’s sense of smell is so protected that they can’t deal with ‘B.O.’, so we all have to buy deodorant to cover up our natural, ‘offensive’ state.

Don’t forget, Surreal, that in 1879 Listerine was a disinfectant (and promoted to fight dandruff, too).

It wasn’t until the 'teens that someone used the word “halitosis” and popularized the idea of sticking the stuff in your mouth.

I am not offended by BO. I can’t say that I like it, but it doesn’t bother me.

So Surreal, trying to au natural?

Anyways, who knows why? We just do. You may as well ask why we build skyscrapers - the answer being that we like it better. Regardless, I think we’ve shown that people, when they can, will try to cover their smells.

Regardless, why are you assigning so much importance to “natural” things. Nature sucks, its dirty, and it stinks. SHe’s fine for an afternoon, but I woulnd’t want to live there.

The reason goats don’t wear deodorant is because thay can’t, not necessarily because they don’t want to. When I take my dog for a walk, she will often try to roll around in something she thinks smells good.

Just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s better. Even if you don’t consider BO offensive, you can certainly think of smells that are better. That this has evolved into not tolerating natural smell is probably a result of priority and opportunity. People have been altering their natural smell as long as they have been altering their natural look. If you have the means and it’s important to you, why not improve your look, smell, etc.?

I guess if you feel like we’ve been swindled by Big Deodorant, you could find alternate ways to appease modern noses. Where did I leave my frankincense…?

I have a book at home with recipes from sixteenth and seventeenth century housewifery manuals, including a concoction supposed to relieve “armhole stench.” The recipe calls for white wine, rosewater, and cassia ligna (a bark similar to cinnamon). In other words, our ancestors used alcohol to kill bacteria and pleasant-smelling stuff to mask odors – the same basic ingredients used in deodorant today, minus antiperspirants. While we may have a relatively lower tolerance for body odors today, the general principle hasn’t changed all that much.

I’m going to guess that much of the ancient and continuing effort to avoid stinking has to do with class. If you’re a wealthy medieval type, and can afford to (a) hire people to do your dirty work for you and (b) import pretty-smelling stuff from distant lands, you can make it obvious to anyone with a functioning sniffer that you are different from the peasants.

Of course, bathing would do the same thing, but that stuff can kill you.