Refinery 29: Be Honest, Do I Smell?

There’s a scene from Mad Men that I think about a lot. Peggy Olson, the young copywriter, is confidently delivering a pitch to an important client. The client licks his teeth at her in what she reads as a crude but ignorable gesture. The meeting ends successfully, she smiles at her colleagues and is told matter-of-factly that she has lipstick on her teeth. Her colleague, a man she’d argued with earlier, had deliberately not told her in order to humiliate her. A small disrespect in the context of 1960s ad agencies but one that still stings.

There is something incredibly humiliating not only about being marked by something embarrassing but in being blissfully unaware of it, especially if you’re a woman. Spinach in your teeth, toilet paper on your shoe, visible snot in your nostril or – if you’re really unlucky – menstrual blood on the back of your skirt. For the most part, I genuinely do not care if I find myself at the end of the day with a smear of chocolate on my cheek or if I have sleep in the corner of my eye at 4pm. I’m a human and these things happen to humans. Who cares, mate!

But like Peggy in that conference room, hurriedly rubbing red from her teeth, I feel like I am constantly on the verge of humiliation when it comes to how I smell. In particular, that I would unknowingly smell bad.

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