August 4th, 2020


Age Is Nothing to Sniff At

Lenore Skenazy

By Lenore Skenazy

Published Feb. 24, 2015

Don't touch that Botox! Slap down that scalpel! Grapefruit is on the way!

Yes, this just in: Women who smell like grapefruit look younger to men. About six years younger!

Men who smell like grapefruit, on the other hand, look like their same, sad selves.

That's what they've determined at the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, where the admittedly offbeat director, Dr. Alan Hirsch, decided to pose the probing question: What makes a woman smell young? (But not too young, like Tootsie Pop breath.)

"If you think about how you decide how old somebody is, you look at how they're dressed, their speech pattern, wrinkles, the color of the teeth," says Hirsch, "but smells have never been considered."

Yet smells obviously play a big role in how we perceive people. Notes psychiatrist Carl Wahlstrom: "If two people are walking by and one kind of smells clean and fresh and the other one smells of dried urine, it's going to conjure up different reactions."

Er ... yes.

So, anyway, Hirsch decided to try dousing several middle-aged subjects with all sorts of different smells (none of them dried urine) to see whether any of these affected the way onlookers judged their age.

Broccoli, banana, vanilla, cucumber, cologne, lavender, spearmint extracts — "none of them had any impact," says Hirsch. But when he tried the grapefruit scent — eureka! (As opposed to what everyone probably said when he tried that broccoli scent: "You reek-a!")

"The bottom line is that the odor (of grapefruit) changed the man's perception of women, but it had no impact on women's perception of either men or women," says Hirsch. That's either because men are more easily influenced by a woman's scent or because women are better at guessing ages. Or maybe it's that men have bigger noses.

Me, I just wanted to see what grapefruit could do for me, in my middle age. So I did what any woman in her right mind would do. I ran out to the street and started asking male strangers, "Hey, how old do you think I am?"

The responses yielded a 20-year age span, and all the men sounded kind of nervous, as if maybe I was going to belt 'em if they upset me.

So then I got a grapefruit, rubbed it all over myself and tried the experiment again.

The responses were exactly the same, except that this time, I was so sticky, I didn't care.

When I got back to my desk, I called Dr. Hirsch and announced: "Ha. You are wrong! The grapefruit had no effect!"

No, he replied. It was I who had it wrong. I'd done the experiment incorrectly. See, I had confronted the men head-on. When Hirsch conducted his experiment, he had men greet the women and then quickly walk a ways off. Only then did the guys discreetly jot down their age guesses, so as to avoid flattering (or ducking) the ladies.

OK. So I humiliated myself out on the street, and my data are unusable, and now my fingers are sticking to the computer keys.

On the upside, I've got a leftover grapefruit for my lunch.

Better still, I have learned a great lesson. Next time I want to look younger and more attractive, I will not dab on Broccoli for Her.

Or any actual toilet water.

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