My cousin T* always used to say she was “allergic to stupidity.” This was a woman whose house alarm code was the numeric equivalent of the word “genius” and was the most outspoken person I´ve ever known. Unfortunately, she succumbed to breast cancer 3 years ago after a valiant 12-year fight. She wasn´t what I would call a devoted fragrance lover, but she loved to wear Diorissimo on occasion. Towards the end of her battle, the various medications and chemotherapy treatments she endured killed her taste buds, but ironically ratcheted up her sense of smell. She developed a serious intolerance to most things scented, and let everyone know just how sensitive her nose had become.
While I was staying with her, the complaints would range from the scent of my shampoo, deodorant, and she even made a comment about my unsavory fragrance one morning, upon returning to her house from the gym. I felt like the Peanuts character “Pig Pen”: you know, the kid who was always dressed in dirty clothes and enveloped in his own personal cloud of filth. I had to replace all the scented toiletries I was using with unscented alternatives, and wearing perfume was completely out of the question. Even the Diorissimo was off limits. I cannot even imagine how horrible this must have been – to not be able to taste the very nourishment needed to keep strong in the face of insidious disease, and to have every scent in your midst mercilessly assault your nose. It is my hope that future cancer treatments will be more easily tolerated; that is, until a cure can be found. No one should have to suffer the way my beloved cousin did.
Cancer patients are by no means the only segment of the population who are sometimes unable to withstand powerful odors. Fragrance-related allergies are becoming more common, but who among us can say they have never been trapped in an elevator or other close quarters with someone (men, you are by no means exempt here), who has OD´d on the eau d´whatever? I bring this up because I recently had the misfortune of exposure to some fellow fitness enthusiasts at my gym, who were bathed in overpowering fragrances. These were not the scents of strenuous workouts; I can deal with those. I know for certain that my own personal brand doesn´t smell anything like roses.
Why is it that some individuals feel the need to saturate themselves with liberal dousings of Angel or Chanel No. 5 before embarking on a 30 minute stint on the elliptical trainer? Is it not common knowledge that body heat elevates anything scented that happens to be on the skin? Or, is this a secret only fragrance aficionados are privy to? I know a very lovely woman whose husband plays ice hockey, and when she washes his gear, uses at least twice the recommended amount of scented fabric softener to counteract the stench of his garments. I have taken to referring to him as “April Fresh”, unbeknownst to her, of course. But, the smell is unmistakable. I´m somewhat surprised that none of his teammates have commented on his waft, since the odor of game-worn hockey equipment is anything but fresh smelling. Hey, if no one else minds, then I am content to remain mute. Good thing his last name doesn´t happen to be “Downy”.
As for my fellow gym-rats: STOP! Stop trying to mask the smell of your unwashed bodies with liberal applications of scent! Or, if you´re an aprà¨s-work workout devotee, please go easy on the eau before showing up at the gym. I prefer my workouts in the morning, but there are plenty of occasions when I partake in a late-day session if it is more convenient. I don´t think I can comment with any accuracy which time is worse: morning or evening. It doesn´t matter how loud I crank up the volume on my iPod, or how far away I am from the offending individual; once my nose hones in on whatever it smells, all bets are off. I have yet to confront anyone, but I´ve come pretty close on more than one occasion. No offense intended to those who wear the scents I´ve mentioned, but please keep in mind that there are certain times and places where no scent is better than the most minuscule applications of those scents I used as examples. We´re all going to wear what we love, but we need to try to be more mindful of when we wear it.
*I wrote this to honor the memory of my cousin T.L., whose last bottle of Diorissimo I bought for her. What remains of that bottle, I wear every year on March 6, the anniversary of her death.