public space

Body Odor Privilege

Many advocates for active mobility are people who are housed, or have jobs that provide the opportunity not to offend others. However, while most jobs are not in air-conditioned offices, that work still “needs” to get done, according to the dominant narrative. People without personal vehicles generally have longer commutes, most of which are unshaded and lack public access to water. A common myth about people who smell is that they are ignorant about how others perceive them; rest assured that people are well aware that there is no mercy when it comes to body odor. Getting to bathe in a world running out of water will be seen as a privilege, not a right, and societies will have to adjust to what that means.


One element of body odor is the temperature of the job. If people come to work in a frigid office building, folks can stand slight smell disruptions because most of smells are localized. Those who believe that most people can carry backpacks with changes of clothes and deodorant have never tried to run errands with a backpack, or heard of Latasha Harlins. The larger a backpack is, the more suspect it is to business owners, so no, everyone cannot carry all the elements required to make people comfortable who make a point of being sensitive to smell. Service workers have hot kitchens, active children, and a myriad of other reasons why they might not be able to avoid getting sweating and making people aware that all humans have body odor.


Does anyone ever see construction workers basking in the air-conditioning on a job site in August? Does anyone see factory workers kicking off their shoes and walking barefoot? No, because most trade jobs lack sufficient air-conditioning. Most of the workers do their level best to stay hydrated, but with rising temperatures, there is no way to ensure that people who work in the blazing sun or warehouses will avoid sweating. Sadly, when those same workers deal with administrative affairs around people who can sit in air-conditioning all day, they are judged for being unkempt. Because there is no standardized worksite, workers cannot guarantee that others will avoid being confronted with what fast delivery and displacement construction actually mean.


Having access to public showers is a gift, but with so much “luxury housing” being built with government incentives to developers, municipalities would die laughing if someone suggested that more public showers be made available. Also, people without cars have longer commutes; showering closer to work forces such workers to find even more time, and there are not enough scattered schedules for public showers to be efficient. Money and time are reserved for those who “deserve,” and inflation means that people cannot afford for more infrastructure based on people being dainty about scents.


What are the solutions? Of course, the pandemic demonstrated that most white-collar jobs can be done from home, and only businesses who offer that amenity deserve incentives. Moreover, there should be more sporadically placed co-working spaces, and cities can convert retail space so that residents with more chaotic home lives can afford finding a quiet space. The era of toxic office culture should be more than over, and any business demanding to build a monument to its ego should be completely denied any incentives because internet access exists. Simply put, the answer to body odor privilege is reducing commutes, and if people are committed to safe working environments, society should make it safe for both the sweaty and the dainty staffers.

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