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How I Learned To Combat Shame Around Sweating

I was in 8th grade when I first realized I was the sweaty fat kid. It was the end of the year social event: snacks, dressing up, dancing, the whole shebang. I spent most of the school year in hoodies, trying to hide my stomach rolls. I had hopes of my fat body being nothing but an obscure shadow in the background of my peers’ minds. A blob they could ignore.

But…this was the Social. I had to dress up. I wore a nice blouse and a skirt with a pair of Converse. I wanted so badly to surprise people with femininity that I hadn’t explored yet.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of fun memories from that night. I remember taking a break from dancing my heart out to use the bathroom. I left the dark dance space and made my way into the fluorescent-lit hallways. I strutted past my middle school peers and made my way to the bathroom. I was horrified by my reflection in the wall of mirrors. Sweat stains larger than I’d ever seen before lay under my armpits, spreading down each side of my ribcage. The light brown blouse highlighted every single drop of sweat.

I thought of every person I saw in the hallway moments before, mortified. I returned to the dance room but sat on the sidelines for the rest of the night. My arms were tightly pressed against my waist.

It may sound ridiculous, but after that night, I never raised my arms in sweaty situations again.

Now, at 26, I’ve realized I’m still living in fear of perpetuating that sweaty fat kid stereotype. It’s been over 10 years! I moved from Massachusetts to Kansas recently, and while I’m excited to experience a blizzard-free winter, the Kansan summer really has taught me a great lesson about sweat. With temperatures regularly reaching 100 degrees fahrenheit or more, sweating is inevitable. Simply put, it’s damn near unavoidable here.

This required some reflection about my experience with sweating. It’s no doubt the Midwest has a uniquely relaxed way of navigating life. Farming is in abundance. It’s almost admirable to be working your ass off and sweatin’ buckets. But there’s something extra difficult about strutting your sweaty fat body with pride versus being a thin, fit, dewy person.

We’ve all watched scenes in films where girls drool over muscular men working out. They’re dripping in sweat! At the same time, we’ve also seen fat kids mocked in films, suffering in gym class, pouring sweat and unable to keep up. What’s the deal? These contrasting messages we receive through media are clear. And we internalize them. Even though thin people working out is hot, my fat body is gross if it sweats. I learned this at a very young age and acted accordingly.

But then I moved to a new place where the oppressive heat made sweating unavoidable. I began problem solving. My first option was to remain indoors with the air conditioning all summer. I could wear black clothing exclusively, in hopes of minimizing any trace of sweat. I could plan, avoid, and prep.

That took a lot of forethought. And it wasn’t exactly how I wanted to live my life. I remembered that I’m committed to practicing body positivity, which means I have to challenge this shit. Yes, even sweating. I have to fight societal standards of beauty, recognize my own worth, and show a big fat middle finger to those harmful messages about fat bodies.

So how do I combat this shame around sweating?

Sweating literally saves our lives. It controls our body temperature and cools us off. It’s crucial for us to function properly without damage. It’s not only normal, but it’s super helpful. It’s science. However, if you’re like me, science alone doesn’t always do the trick.

I had to change the narrative for myself about sweating as a fat person. This is where positive self-talk comes in. On those really hot days where I found myself walking short distances outside, taking our dogs to the dog park, or enjoying the lake, I had to continuously remind myself that it’s good to sweat.

Honestly, this is going to sound so simple and maybe even a little patronizing. But it’s not. I’m a firm believer in the “fake it till you make it” mentality in certain situations. I do believe that we can change narratives within ourselves by actively combating the negative and replacing with  positives.

Here’s the simple steps I took, and continue to take, to not let sweat get in my way and live my best life:

  1. Remind Yourself: This is good for my body. I’m sweating because I need to cool down. It’s science.
  2. Wear Cool Clothing: If you have the means, buy tank tops and shorts. Your body wants to be cooler. It needs to be! Keep practicing body positivity and let those arms out to breathe. Don’t spend years in hoodies like I did.
  3. Name It: I found it helpful to just put it out into the universe that I know I’m sweating. When I name it out loud, I’m giving myself permission to not feel like I have to hide it. Just saying in a matter of fact way, “I’m so sweaty!” can feel like a relief.
  4. Change the Narrative to Positive: This may sound like a total joke, but there have been times when I’ve actually said to myself, “sweating feels good,” and it totally changes my mood about it.

You deserve to be out there living your life and not hiding away in fear of being shamed about a process that is so completely natural. Sweating is natural. Fat bodies need to be able to cool down too, especially if you’re out there trying new things and being adventurous!

Let your body do its thing. You don’t want to look back on the middle school dance and wish you’d danced harder and had more fun. You’re allowed to live life out loud and be an active participant in it. You’re allowed to sweat.