Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Deodorant Identity Crisis

According to a 2010 report by Global Industries Analysis, Inc., by the year 2015, the market for men’s grooming products will exceed $33.2 billion. Although many male and female oriented personal grooming products have basically the same ingredients, marketers seem to have successfully convinced us that women perspire while real men, like me, sweat.  Does this marketing further divide the sexes or simply highlight the already seeded inequalities?

One morning in the not too distant past, I involuntarily and quite innocently grabbed deodorant and began gliding it under my left arm.  As I switched hands to give the other side a swipe, I noticed that I had mistakenly grabbed my wife's deodorant.  I looked at my brand still sitting there on the shelf.  I looked at my wife's in my hand and then back at the shelf.  I had applied my wife's deodorant, women's deodorant.  pH balanced deodorant.  Instead of smelling of sport musk, I'd be lilac fresh all day long. 

I had options.  I could simply apply hers to the other side; I could put my deodorant on the other side; I could step back in the shower, scrub it off, and apply anew. 

I glanced back at my deodorant on the shelf and then back to hers in my hand.  Oh, the heck with it, I thought, and evened up the other side with her stick.  I told myself if anything out of the ordinary happens this day, I'd know why.

I stood halfway inside my closet trying to decide what to wear.  With my deodorant identity crisis now full blown, I was cautious about every move I made.  Why had I just pulled out a silk shirt?  It wasn't what I usually wore to work.  Plain, breathable cotton is what is called for, certainly not silk.  Was it that I now wanted something softer against my skin?

After pouring a cup of coffee, I turned on the television to one of those morning news shows.  There, during the station breaks, I was told how a mother can comfort a sick child with liquid pain relief; that women who work can come home and pour a complete meal out of a plastic bag from your grocer's freezer; and if I had decided to go strapless today, I had used the right deodorant because even though it was a solid, it goes on clear.

I wondered if I would be more or less aggressive on the commute.  Would I be more or less tolerant of sexist slurs in the professional workplace?  Would I listen far more carefully to what people say without thinking more of what I'm going to say when they are done speaking?  Would I take off one of my shoes in a meeting?  Would I clean the office microwave? 

I contemplated calling in sick and watching Sports Center all day.

Enough, enough, enough!  What was I doing?  I have always considered myself an enlightened, forward-thinking individual.  I have prided myself at being above the lure of advertising.  It doesn't affect me.  I don't need Madison Avenue to tell me what to think or how to smell.  How could I have been so wrong?

Is it that I had been fooling myself for years, or is it that advertising seeps into our collective subconscious far more than we'd like to admit?  Are we far more duped than we realize or does it go deeper?

Perhaps what we fear most is that part of us we don’t want to admit is there.  Does the liberal tolerate so much diversity because he or she is afraid of the conservative within, a suppressed trust, perhaps, in a father's words?  Does the civil rights activist commit so strongly because deep down inside there is suppressed hints of bigotry placed there by an environment in which he or she was raised?  Does the conservative demand fewer social programs so adamantly because he or she those programs just might work and level the playing field?

My wife met me in the kitchen just as I was about to leave.  She asked me why I had used her deodorant.  How did she know?  Did it show?  And here I was, thinking I had just gotten over the whole thing.  No, she told me.  Tell tale hair stuck to her stick.  Relieved, I explained to her my mishap.  She sighed and said she didn't know why we couldn't just always use the same one.

I shrugged my shoulders.  A faint whiff of lilac drifted to my nose.  I really didn't know why either.

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