How to Sweat and Like It

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You could try to fight it — fill a Jacuzzi with antiperspirant and soak until your pores seal shut. Perhaps by August you will be named runner-up to a silica gel packet in the competition for World’s Driest Woman, and only then will the CEO of a deodorant company ring you up and finally answer the question, “What happens to a sweat deferred?” Does it dry up behind your armpit like a raisin in the sun, or is there some trumpet-spit-valve-type apparatus that you can empty into a mason jar and exchange for a sexy, employed boyfriend who showers daily? Maybe it builds up somewhere inside your beach bod and is converted into aluminum-deodorant-related cancer myths. I don’t know — I love to sweat!      

Does any summertime ritual feel more indulgent than letting yourself go? On a 90 degree day, I will sit braless on my roof for an hour at a time, eating peaches and drinking ice water until my face and chest are wet with sweat and juice. I am not an especially beautiful woman, but in summertime I love to become a kind of lazily beautiful machine that converts idleness into water and salt. What is more luxurious than doing nothing and having something to show for it? Is there a more empowering beauty ritual than giving your body permission to function exactly as designed? It can feel oppressive, with groceries to haul and buses to run after, but summertime sweat is not without reward. Science says that perspiration is a free amenity provided by the hypothalamus, the part of your brain that regulates temperature control. Sweat evaporating off the skin takes with it the heat of morning walks and patio cocktails and time spent reading by the pool. Think of it as locally sourced AC.

Are toxins real? This I don’t know. Does sweating cleanse you of them? I would stake my life on it. In the classical logic of womanhood, if something is difficult, then it must be good for you. When a face mask stings, I know it’s working. If I can’t stop crying, I know I am about to get a promotion, or finally reach my goal weight!

Once, in 1999, when I was 7 years old, I read an article in a women’s magazine about rejuvenating Russian banyas where women whip themselves with birch branches, sweat for hours in a steam sauna, and then dunk in pools of freezing water. People are always stressing about young girls internalizing Disney princess standards of beauty, but what about those of us who got caught up at an early age in the fantasy of butch Russian grandmas sweating themselves handsome? Into adulthood I’ve carried with me an only lightly interrogated delusion that I can sweat my way toward better health or better skin or a thinner, flatter core. At most, I succeed in making myself thirsty.

Luckily, nothing pairs better with a sweaty and self-deluding afternoon of leisure than the myriad iced drinks of summer — phosphates, egg creams, seltzers, spritzers, coffee, cider, tea, and water (with or without gas).

Tomorrow will be hot enough to sweat if you let yourself. Walk ten blocks in the heat until you are sweaty and self-conscious, then walk ten blocks more until you forget to care. At the cafe on the corner, buy yourself something over ice to replenish the fluids. You will need them for the rest of summer, but first, the sweaty walk home.