Not so embarrassing bodies: What it’s really like to be ‘nose-blind’

Written by hannahlewis

We’ve all seen that advert of the famous air-freshener, when the smelly teenage boy has apparently gone ‘nose-blind’ because he has become immune to his own hormonal stench.

And we laugh, and we talk about smelly teenagers, and then we forget about the whole thing.

But what if for some of us, we can’t forget being ‘nose-blind’?

I have for as long as I can remember had Congenital Anosmia, meaning I am actually nose-blind.

I first realised that I had no sense of smell when I hated all of my friend’s perfumes, had no idea if I was burning my toast and thought that the sentence “I love the smell of freshly baked bread in the morning” was a turn of phrase.

The house I grew up in was opposite a bakery, and every morning when my mother would walk me to school she would say “I love the smell of freshly baked bread in the morning”. It was only when I was in the playground, saying this, with no bakery in sight and greeted with funny looks, did I realise that this was not a phrase which meant “I am in a good mood”.

Although I do not know what flowers, newborn babies or fried bacon smells like, I also have no idea how poop, farts or bin juice pong.

It doesn’t stop there though – being anosmic means that about 80% of your taste is compromised. It’s a shame, because I have no idea what herbs or seasonings do to any dish. I also can’t handle any sort of spicy food. I can’t taste flavour, so I only perceive the heat, which is just sadism really. I can only taste really sweet food or really salty food, so for me it’s all about the texture and appearance.

I’m the target of extreme mockery when it comes to my friends criticising my culinary skills. They often pull an expression of disgust when I tell them that I’m making a sweet corn and pomegranate salad with honey-glazed aubergine – which is delightful, by the way. All that I’m concerned about is that my dish looks aesthetically pleasing and I can at least experience some flavour with the honey and the pomegranate. 

Another tragedy of my life is when I’m with shopping with my friends and they all rush, excitedly, to the perfume aisle of the department store. After having been ambushed by the shop assistant spraying me with fragrance, and having to awkwardly explain that I don’t know if what she just sprayed me in the face with smells like a sea of roses or in fact cat piss (on the days I can be bothered – most days I just pretend to smell my wrist and give a fake nod of approval), I then have to entertain my friends who are trying with all their might to pick the right perfume. Meanwhile, I observe the pretty bottles and base my decisions on the aesthetics that the perfume itself is presented in.

I mean, it’s not all bad. Of all the senses to lose I guess one’s sense of smell has the least importance. And besides, I am told frequently that there are more gross smells than pleasant ones, so maybe I’m actually the one winning here?

Nevertheless, it’s a great conversation starter.