I constantly think about the scene in American Hustle where Jennifer Lawrence is sitting at the dinner table making everyone smell her nail polish. She boasts that she and her husband can’t get enough of the scent because it’s “sweet and sour, rotten and delicious.” Jeremey Renner eagerly takes a sniff when she offers him her hand and says, “It’s like flowers” to which Lawrence excitedly replies, “Yeah but with garbage!”
As a kid I didn’t care about the sickly sweet scents of my teachers Mr. Sketch Scented Markers. I was over in the corner deeply inhaling the permanent markers she kept on the high shelf. In a house of all boys I was always the aggressor in the “Smell My Finger” game. When my mom would drive me to far away swim meets I would always volunteer to pump her gas so I could be alone with the heady smell of gasoline. As I sit here happily tooting-while-typing like a ripe Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn’t help but wonder… why do some people LOVE bad smells?
Psychologist Paul Rozin published a paper titled “Glad to be sad, and other examples of benign masochism.” Do you enjoy smelling your own farts? Do you also enjoy the pain of eating the spiciest curry available? Are horror movies your jam? Do you itch your butt and then curiously smell your finger?
Then my friend, you are into benign masochism. Go ahead and update your dating profile, I’ll wait.
We love bad smells because it is a “safe threat”. Like a roller coaster, we know we are safe but our bodies don’t, and it’s thrilling. Smelling our own noxious fart gives us that same pleasure.
We get comfortable with our own scent and can even adapt to enjoy it. But when my roommate just cracked open the bathroom door to ask me to throw him a new roll of Bippy and I smelled his own special brand of herbs and spices, the threat is no longer safe. My instincts as a mammal kick in when I detect a dangerous and unfamiliar scent and I decide on “fight” AND “flight” mode.
I chuck the roll at him before running to the terrace to breathe in the fresh air and delete that custom Gimp Suit from my Etsy cart. Secure in the knowledge that even though I’m into some butt stuff, it doesn’t make me a full fledged masochist. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)