Hunter is a professor of Creative Writing at Warren Wilson College.
This article first appeared in The Smart Set from Drexel
University. You can read more of Lockie's work at www.lockiehunter.com
grandmother, like an older bottle of wine, had a complex odor.
She was heady. A mix of underarm odour, baby powder, sour milk
and vine ripe tomatoes. It was lovely. It was one of the things
that made her memorable. My mother disagreed.
creative writing at a college where students can major in environmental
studies and outdoor leadership. These majors draw a mix of outdoorsy
types. Mountain-biking-kambucha-drinking-patchouli-wearing students
sit among computer science majors. Every semester I assign an
idea generation assignment, meant to prompt topics and themes
for essays, and every year at least one pupil brings up the
topic of stinky students. Here is the recent entry.
odd thing is, though each semester one student comes up with
the idea . . . no one ever writes the essay. The topic feels
taboo, fun to discuss during class, but difficult to address
seriously. If the student brings up the topic, then what is
the solution? One student told me that though the stink disturbed
her she was unable to write about it for fear of sounding prejudiced,
as if the stinky were a protected minority.
problem seems unreal as celebrities continue to release scents
(no pun intended) to capture their personalities. A January
1st 2012 blog post titled “Kim Kardashian Perfumes Let
You Smell Like a Reality Star” seemed like a gag line
until I saw that it was written in earnest. The post highlights
Kardashian’s latest offerings (she released three different
scents in 2011) and ends with the tag line of, “Are you
a fan too? Make sure you smell like one with Kim Kardashian
February 2012, one month after Kardashian’s latest release,
a student in Newfoundland was pulled from the classroom and
was sprayed with Febreze. The teacher was put on paid leave.
2010 KIRO news story reports that in Seattle an eight-year-old
girl was removed from her elementary school classroom ostensibly
due to the way her hair smelled. According to the family’s
attorney the teacher "told the child that she was afraid
that the child was going to make her sick and that she was allergic
to her hair and the product in her hair." The attorney
further claims that the school was not capable of coming up
with a solution, and was “unable to articulate a plan
problem is not new. A 2006 chronicle of Higher Education web
forum finds the topic being volleyed. The original post was
from an academic adviser, who met with one student who was “seriously
stinky.” He asked the forum how best to approach the student.
This set off an explosion of answers from “Put some Vicks
under your nose and advise him quickly” to “So daily
showering and Irish Spring are cultural universals?” One
Ozarks professor pointed to his rural students’ “impressive
home-grown BO” while another argued that western culture’s
insistence on bathing daily has an impact on the environment
and ended with “It's not like a little body odour is going
to hurt anyone.”
noted the difference in cultural norms between western and other
cultures. One noted that an inexperienced International Student
Advisor mentioned body odour in a newsletter that was meant
to help international students settle into the American culture.
And that he “got hell from all the international students
for the rest of his short-lived career.” Another poster
added, “the Japanese think Americans are smelly. The British
think the French are smelly.”
2009 UPI story tells the saga of a student winning a decade
long legal battle to reinstate himself in a university in the
Netherlands. He was originally asked to leave due to foot odor.
The judge’s official ruling was for fellow students to
“hold their noses and bear it."
preferred it if his women didn't wash.
X said that white people smell funny.
what do we do? Hold our nose and bear it? Do we dismiss the
elementary school child from the class, leaving her to learn
her reading, writing and arithmetic at home? Do we move upwind,
if such a thing as upwind exists in a classroom? Do we confront
the student? The grandmother? I've a better solution. We grip
it. We wallow in it.
living in San Francisco in the 1990s, the printing company for
which I worked produced a book titled smell this. Produced by
Women of Color in Coalition at the Center for Racial Education
in Berkeley, smell this attempted to build a sisterhood for
disenfranchised women. The editor offered up musings on her
own scent as an apologia for the natural scents of some women,
especially women of colour. Embracing natural scents can be
empowering . . . even if those scents are overpowering.
from a family of mixed and uncertain heritage. Certainly German
on my mother’s side but my father’s claim of his
side being simply ‘hillbilly’ as an ethnicity is
one I’ve always embraced. Hidden in that hillbilly heritage
is a long line of people with dark ruddy complexions, deep black
eyes and black hair. Due to my genetic makeup I rarely sweat,
and, I admit it, I rarely bathe. My spotty hygiene practices
prompted my college roommate to ask, quite seriously, if it
was time for my weekly bath. I'm aligned with the stinky masses,
and one day someone may be unable to articulate a plan for me.
wonder if my students posing the essays topics were referring
to their professor.
I truly stink. In my teens my mix included cigarette smoke.
In my twenties I added the ammoniac scent of hair dye. My thirties
added lavender wrinkle creams, and today my scent is most aligned
with my grandmother. A mix of underarm odour, baby powder, sour
milk and vine ripe tomatoes. Heady. Lovely. Memorable. My mother