Stinky pits

20

Apparently, the arms are the least attractive part of the female body! Funny, but I don’t feel this way at all, but it’s a fact according to Desmond Morris in his book, The Naked Woman, A Study of the Female Body. The safest place to touch a woman, in a non-sexual way, is on her arm. If we were to think of the arms in evolutionary terms, then perhaps this makes a little bit more sense because the arms used to be our front legs. When man began to straighten up, those front legs transformed into very important tools to help us grip, climb, throw etc. Typically, the female’s arm is much more delicate than a male’s arm; naturally men are more attracted to the slender arm, rather than that of a female body builder where her forearms are over developed and very bulgy. The male’s longer and stronger forearm is a testament to their evolutionary purpose, to be the aimer and thrower, reminds us Morris. Who knew, but even our elbow angle differs from that of the male’s. Their wider shoulders keep the arms dangling away from the body,  as opposed to the female design, and this is another one of those important gender signals.

Moving along the arm we reach the armpit, which believe it or not is an important component in chemical signaling. When our ancestors used to mate, on all fours, there was no contact with the armpits, but when the position changed to a face to face posture, suddenly the armpits became yet another gender signal—the reason we have specialized scent glands in that area of the body. What I did not know until reading this book is that females have more glands than males do; the odor that we emit differs significantly in both sexes, and is specifically directed at the opposite sex. And here’s my favorite bit, in an experiment that was conducted with blindfolded men, they actually became more sexually aroused when sniffing sweaty female armpits rather than the ambrosial scent of armpits doused with expensive perfumes. Ha, it makes a girl wonder why she bothers at all. Apparently, our armpit secretion is a bit oilier than ordinary sweat, and it develops when we hit puberty, and with that change comes the hair growth, which acts like in the vaginal area, as a scent trap helping intensify the sexual signals, naturally. This immediately brings to mind my roommate from university; Anna was a beautiful young woman, but one who didn’t believe in pruning and grooming herself at all. I still have vivid images of her in a dress with very hairy legs and very hairy armpits; you know, the type that sticks out even though the arms are rested against the body. She was smart and confident, and she also had a very loving boyfriend, but hey, according to science this girl was very good at trapping scent—the more hair, the more intensified the signal, which obviously explains why her boyfriend stuck around. It makes me wonder whether my first marriage fell apart as a result of too much shaving? Na, it was mother-in-law issues that will trump any hairy or non-hairy armpits on any given day.

There’s an old English custom passed down from generation to generation where a young man at a dance must place a clean handkerchief in his armpit under his shirt before the dance, and after the dance he uses it to fan his partner. This is an act of seduction to better spread his apocrine, or scent in layman’s terms. Thank goodness that it’s one English custom that my own English husband has not adopted for himself; I’m not so sure that I would’ve married him had he practiced it on me. According to Morris, in rural Australia it was the young ladies who would stick a slice of apple under their armpits when dancing, and once the music stopped they would offer the apple to the man of their choice. In Elizabethan England, the ladies would use a whole peeled apple for this seduction trick and it was known as the “love apple.” And speaking of sweat and smell, how can we possibly leave out the French? Mary of Cleves was a married woman, and after dancing at court she retired to her room in order to change her sweat-stained chemise. The Duc d’Anjou, who later became King Henri III of France entered the same room and by mistake wiped the sweat off his face with Mary’s chemise, thinking that it was a towel. His senses were so affected by Mary’s scent that he developed an uncontrollable passion for her. She was married though, so it only caused a lot of heartache and trouble down the road for everyone involved.

So it’s enough to just get a whiff of the scent, and you may find yourself hooked; this explains why sometimes men and women feel stimulated by the other sex without knowing what hit them. It could very well be that they had detected the armpit secretion on an unconscious level. It makes you think twice about online dating sites and their appeal to men and women, when such basic evolutionary sexual signals are completely taken out of the mix, and yet people manage to create bonds with each other nonetheless. I too met my husband online; however, I remember that when  I was planning on flying out to London to meet him for the first time, my sister warned me against feeling too excited, building too many expectations and hopes for a guy that I had only met online because “you may not like his smell, it may be completely repulsive,” she explained. I waved her off as though her words were complete nonsense, but what she said had somehow stuck with me. There was one other issue to deal with before I could concentrate on Greg’s scent; you see, in every single photo that he emailed me (pre-Skype), his mouth was closed. At first I viewed his closed-mouth-smile as cute, but after my sister had planted new ideas in my mind I wondered whether he had closed his mouth because he actually had really bad teeth that he was purposely hiding from me. Obviously it was not going to be a deal breaker, people can get their teeth fixed, but it’s a fact that in Europe people do not put too much emphasis on their teeth; look at Prince William and his teeth for instance. So Greg’s teeth happened to be very nice after all, lucky for me, and thankfully there were no problems with odor either. Generally speaking, the English do not have such a good reputation when it comes to cleanliness, and I can attest to this because I was born in England, and I have vivid memories of the London underground in the heat of summer; with my nose pressed against the back of a stranger while everybody standing holds up their arms to firmly grip the pole as the train races to the next stop–there’s no escaping the vile armpit odor of some people. The gym at the University of Manchester was no picnic either, it was sometimes hard to breathe in the weight room, and if you want to know more about that aspect of my life then you must read my novel The Diary of a Wrinkle where you will find a lot more examples of smelly English people. Orientals on the other hand lack this problem; in Korea half the population does not have the axillary scent glands at all, according to Morris. It’s the same with the Japanese, and in China it’s less common to find those glands altogether. For this reason in those countries they find armpit odor as terribly offensive.

So when did we begin to get rid of the armpit hair and use deodorant to hide the very scent that was meant to attract the other sex? It happened around the 1920s, and it’s no surprise to learn that it was the cosmetic industry who first sold this idea to young ladies by telling them that they would become much more appealing without the armpit hair. There were those who rebelled against this idea throughout the years, not many joined the cause, but in the book titled  The Joy of Sex it was deemed as “ignorant vandalism.” Another magazine that Morris quotes is Hair to Stay, The World’s only Magazine for Lovers of natural, hairy Women; what a mouthful. In this magazine they target women who poke fun at hairy armpits; they explain that those types of people just don’t know any better, because removing the hair is like rebelling against our sexuality. The armpit hair “acts as a transmitting antenna, sending out signals to invite sexual intercourse.” Well, to any proponent of this idea all I can say in my defense is that now that I’m married, I see my shaving ritual as safeguarding the sanctity of my marriage; making sure that I’m not spreading any unnecessary sexual signals around town. Perhaps for the unmarried and unattached women out there it’s okay to grow out the pits, but for us married ladies, why should we bother going natural when to all intents and purposes we would be attracting other men to us in droves? At the end of the day, isn’t having to deal with one man enough? Getting back to my opening statement, when I think of female fashion and what body parts women choose to expose, I feel that the arms are just as attractive as other, more noted body parts, such as cleavage, or neck, and legs. I think that any body part for that matter can be made to look sexy and attractive. Why do women choose to wear jewelry on their wrists if not to emphasize that part of their body? What about the phenomenon of tattooing one’s arm? If women were to think that nobody cared about their arms, then they would never bother adorning that part of their body with what they believe to be attractive ink. At the end of the day, beauty will always remain in the eye of the beholder, a really beautiful woman will exude sex appeal from within, and once that has been established, then every inch of her is deemed beautiful and attractive. Greg just read over my shoulder and he says that after reading this essay all he can think about is unattractive Bar Mitzvah arms . . .

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One hairy pit

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