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When you’re overweight like me, you kind of get used to all the things people assume about you. You know, those stereotypes like “fat people are lazy” or “fat people are unhealthy”.
I consider myself a pretty fair person, so I can also admit when there’s a little bit of truth behind something. Because sometimes, stereotypes are derived from something that’s true for some fat people.
To get to the point, why do fat people smell bad? Or at least, why do people assume that fat people smell bad?
Fat people smelling bad is a stereotype with some truth behind it. People who are overweight do sweat more. The moisture from sweat gets trapped in skin folds, which contributes to odor. However, sometimes bigger people don’t actually smell bad. Research shows fat bias makes people associate worse smells with people who are overweight.
Below, I’ll go into more detail about what causes body odors and why fat people are sometimes more likely to experience them. I’ll also talk more about the role that fat bias plays in the stereotype that all fat people smell bad and give you some tips about what you can do to manage body odor if you’re overweight.
Do You Smell Worse if You’re Overweight?
People who are overweight can smell worse than the average person. This isn’t to say that every fat person smells bad- it’s actually more about hygiene. You have to be a little more diligent in managing body odor when you’re overweight.
The biggest problem with managing body odor is our rolls or, more specifically, the folds of skin between those rolls. When you sweat, it can get trapped in these rolls and cause body odor until you are able to get in there and clean them.
Overweight people can also struggle with this after a shower or a bath, particularly if there are areas that are hard to reach and dry off all the way. Any type of moisture, whether it’s from a clean shower or not, starts to grow bacteria and smell if it’s in dark, warm conditions like the folds of your skin.
Why Do Fat People Smell Bad?
Often, the reason that fat people smell bad has to do less with being overweight and more with personal hygiene. Fat people have unique challenges when it comes to hygiene- we’ve already talked about the struggles that go along with bathing or shaving when you’re fat in other articles on the site.
When it comes to body odor, the first obstacle to overcome is that fat people sweat more. Not all sweat smells, however, sweat that comes from apocrine glands tends to produce an odor once it comes into contact with bacteria on your skin.
Apocrine glands produce sweat from under your hair follicles and are highly concentrated in areas like your groin and under your armpit, which is why odor from these areas is worse than other areas. By contrast, eccrine glands are sweat glands that release moisture on the surface of your skin to help cool you down. This sweat is usually odorless.
Body odor can also come from moisture being trapped in the folds of your skin. Any time that moisture is in a dark, warm environment, bacteria that exist naturally on the skin come into contact with this moisture and multiply. This trapped water can also have an odor- just think about how water trapped in your dish sponge starts to stink after a while.
Since fat people have more sweat glands and have to deal with cleaning under folds of skin, this means you might just need to take extra steps like showering more often and using strong deodorant. We’ll talk a little more about what you can do to manage body odor toward the end of the article.
All that being said, keep in mind that having some body odor is pretty normal and has nothing to do with your weight. Even thinner people experience body odor when sweating or if they don’t practice good hygiene, so sometimes it isn’t a weight issue at all.
Can Body Odor Be Caused By Medical Issues?
Even though body odor is something we think of as a hygiene issue, there are some instances where your body odor is linked to underlying medical conditions. This might be the case if you notice a sudden change in body odor.
Hormone changes alter the way your body smells. Women are likely to notice these changes when pregnant, ovulating, or going through menopause. Hormonal imbalances or overactive thyroid can also cause body odor.
Diabetes also changes the way you smell, which is important to know because obesity is linked to a risk of Type 2 diabetes which is 6 times greater than it is for the average person. Instead of a sweat smell, however, diabetes can make your sweat and breath smell fruity from a condition called ketoacidosis, which can be life-threatening.
Conditions like gout and problems with your liver or kidneys also change how you smell. In the case of kidney and liver problems, your body gives off an ammonia or bleach-like smell.
Finally, in rare cases, body odor that smells like fish might be a condition called trimethylaminuria, or fish odor syndrome. This is genetic and doesn’t have a known cure. If you believe an underlying medical condition might be linked to your body odor, talk to your doctor.
Dietary Causes of Body Odor
Your diet isn’t the only thing that affects how much you weigh. However, if you’re a foodie like me, then there is a possibility that some of the foods you eat are causing body odor because they change the composition of the bacteria on your skin.
Sulfur-rich foods are associated with body odor. This includes things like red meat, garlic, onions, cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli. Other known food triggers for body odor include curry, cumin, other spices and spicy foods, hot sauce, alcohol, caffeine, and MSG.
The Role That Fat Bias Plays in How Bigger People Smell
While there are some logical reasons that explain why bigger people might smell bad, in some cases, the smell is something that other people imagined. Researchers evaluated this hypothesis and published their findings in the International Journal of Obesity.
In the study, participants were told that they were rating scent samples. Prior to smelling and rating each sample, they were shown a picture of either someone who was thin, someone who was overweight, or an inanimate object, which served as the control for the experiment.
The general trend was that while all the scent samples were odorless, people rated the samples they smelled after seeing images of people who were overweight as smelling worse. While this was only one study, it really uncovers the bias that people face being overweight regarding body odor and the way that they smell.
Understanding this bias is important because often, people are discriminated against without the other person being consciously aware of what they were doing. This makes it harder to break away from stereotypes and it does affect your life. Bias affects everything from the way that people assume you smell to how easy or hard it is to get a job when you’re fat.
How Do You Know if You Smell Bad?
One of the problems with knowing how you smell to other people is that you spend all day breathing in your scent. Your brain becomes used to the way you smell, so it’s very possible to become “nose blind” to your own odor. This is often the reason people walk around with body odor- they aren’t aware that it’s an issue.
One of the best ways to check your usual body odor is to take off the clothes that you’ve been wearing and leave them somewhere for 15-20 minutes. You’ll want to be sure to do this in an odor-neutral area like a dining room or living room instead of a bathroom or kitchen.
After the time has passed, go back and give your clothes a sniff. Be sure to smell areas like the armpits on your shirt, where body odor is likely to be worst.
If you still aren’t sure, ask a friend or someone that you trust about how you smell. This works best if it isn’t your partner. When you love someone, you are usually attracted to their smell because of the pheromones they give off.
How to Control Body Odor When You’re Overweight
Even though body odor is a very normal part of life that everyone has to live with, people who are bigger need to be a little more diligent than the average person when it comes to their personal hygiene. Here, I’ll share a few tips that I’ve learned as a fat person that can help you manage body odor if you’re overweight.
Make Time for a Shower if You’re Going to Sweat
We already talked about why it’s important to remove sweat from your skin if you want to manage body odor. Unfortunately, as bigger people, we tend to sweat more than the average person.
One of the times I sweat the most is at night, so I always make it a point to shower once I’m up in the morning and rinse all that sweat off. I’ll also shower if I can after strenuous activities, like when I’ve been out hiking or if it’s a particularly hot day and I’ve been sweating a lot.
Now, taking a shower isn’t always practical if we’re out doing something or at work. Pay attention here, because I’m about to give you a BIG tip that could really help with managing body odor between showers.
Applying deodorant or spraying yourself with perfume or cologne to cover up the odor doesn’t usually help with the bacteria that are causing the odor. This means you end up smelling like body odor and whatever you used to cover up with, especially as the day goes on.
Showerless wipes are a lifesaver for those times when you need to get that odor-causing bacteria off your skin. Using wipes takes care of that bacteria completely and there isn’t any leftover residue.
Be Thorough When You Clean
When you have folds of skin like I do, it’s not enough to give yourself a quick wash and just stand under the shower water to rinse off. There will be a lot of bending, lifting, and washing to get all that odor-causing bacteria off your skin.
Something that has helped me is having longer-handled shower tools. While these sponges are made for reaching your back, they really help with reaching everywhere else, too. You can find some more tips on how to take a bath when you’re fat here.
Always Dry Yourself Thoroughly
Trapped moisture is a breeding ground for bacteria that produces body odor. It’s as important to dry yourself thoroughly as it is to clean yourself thoroughly in the shower.
When you dry off, be thorough about it. There is nothing wrong with air drying, but you’ll want to move around and lift any folds of skin so you can dry under them. I have even used a cotton swab to get into my belly button because I have a hard time drying it.
Use a Good Antiperspirant
Antiperspirants work by blocking your pores, so less sweat gets on your skin. While they don’t really help with the bacteria, they can help manage body odor a little. There are also prescription-strength antiperspirants for people who need them.
Some people also swear by natural remedies for body odor like homemade deodorants or solutions because they actually remove the bacteria from your skin. Baking soda, tea tree oil, lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar all kill bacteria, though you’ll want to look up recipes if you go this route because they can also be harsh and cause contact dermatitis if the ingredients aren’t diluted.
So, why do fat people smell bad? More often than not, body odor is a sign of bad hygiene rather than just being overweight. However, fat people do sweat more and have skin folds where odor-causing bacteria are trapped, so it’s important to be more diligent with cleaning.
If you are dealing with body odor, as long as there isn’t an underlying medical condition, there are things you can do about it. I highly recommend trying some showerless wipes and checking out the other tips above!