So really, truly, do you tell someone if they smell?

(134 Posts)
awkwardsis Fri 05-Apr-13 20:35:01

Am faced with a dilemma. I have a sister 10 years younger than me. She started university in September, wanted to come home pretty much straight away as she was struggling being away from home. She is a very very young 19. My parents live rurally, she has been very isolated and is very unwordly. I had her to stay with me a few days this week. When she arrived she smelled badly of BO. It lasted the 2 days she was here, and I've had to wash all of the covers on my sofa now she's gone as the smell just clung to it sad She's having difficulty making friends which tbh I had put down to her being very unlike the ones she's sharing a flat with. The pictures I've seen on her facebook show them as the 19 year olds I remember from my first year at uni, very into their clothes and make up. But now I'm wondering if there's more to it and they're actually picking on her and making her unhappy? She's about to go on placement as her degree is in teaching and I'm agonising over wether I ought to have a word with her about looking after herself a bit better? She's gone on and on about making a good impression at these schools but tbh I am worried that it won't go unnoticed. I adore my sister and feel an absolute bitch for even having an opinion about how she presents herself. I can't comment on her clothes and lack of make up as I know that's her choice, and yes I know we shouldn't feel we have to wear make up etc. But the smell? Would you want to be told? And how to I phrase it so I don't massively hurt her feelings or make her feel bad about herself?

LillianGish Fri 05-Apr-13 21:05:38

Marriedinwhite that's a great way to put it. So much better than an old boss of mine who when I complained about a very malodorous colleague dealt with the situation by saying:"I've had some complaints about your personal hygiene and from where I'm standing they are not exaggerated." I have to say it did the trick though!

Acandlelitshadow Fri 05-Apr-13 21:05:59

Yes, it's up to you to tell her. Others won't be as tactful and it's far, far better coming from you than for her to find she's being talked about behind her back or being told bluntly or possibly hurtfully to her face.

I did it for my kids when they hummed smile

bochead Fri 05-Apr-13 21:07:18

Sometimes BO can be a sign of untreated diabetes or other fairly serious health problems so you owe it to her to tell her just from that perspective. It doesn't always mean poor personal hygiene/skankiness despite popular perceptions. Do talk to her as you'd never forgive yourself if she were found collapsed in the street for the sake of a quick GP's check up.

If it were my little Sis I'd just want to be sure she was OK. e.g she wasn't wearing the same jumper all weekend cos all the rest of her clothes have been nicked at Uni, and she's skint + too embarrassed to let you know, & to be sure she didn't have some problem with her health developing.

Remotecontrolduck Fri 05-Apr-13 21:07:26

Definitely tell her, much better you do this than a teacher or a pupil at her placement.

Maybe she's a bit low at the moment, and has sort of given up on herself? Be gentle, perhaps offer to take her shopping for some new clothes or something? Maybe talk to her about her flat mates, if they're really not getting on, what she can do about it so she doesn't feel so in despair. Maybe if she feels good about herself and her life, the washing and pride in her appearence will come back.

It's totally ok not to care about make up and if she's not into it then good for her for being her own person, but maybe she would be interested but doesn't know how to apply it? Perhaps work on her general well-being first, then if things improve ask her if she'd be interested in coming with you to boots or something?

She has to have a good level of basic hygiene though, there's no way you can ignore it. You sound like a lovely sister smile

ShatnersBassoon Fri 05-Apr-13 21:07:27

I would say something, but I'd go about it as if I could empathise ie "I had the same thing at your age, I hadn't noticed until someone at uni told me. It's hard to notice your own smell, most people have BO at some point..."

RevoltingPeasant Fri 05-Apr-13 21:07:53

OP this is very hard but you must do something. My DSis4 is 10 years younger than me and like your sis very 'young' for her age.

She also didn't wear deo and would do things like opening the toilet door whilst someone was using it (we had a family loo with no lock on the door).

My mum spoke to her before university and she had a bit of a bumpy ride but is now fine, in her final year, and has made friends. But yes, students can sideline others and the sidelining happens quite quickly as they move into friendship groups fast.

What about taking Elsie's tack and saying you believe there are professional guidelines on self-presentation in teaching? Like, showering that morning, wearing deo etc? That might be a neutral way to present it.

ZZZenagain Fri 05-Apr-13 21:08:32

yes, tell her. She needs to know.

VerySmallSqueak Fri 05-Apr-13 21:15:42

I would probably say something like:

'I'm noticing a bit of a smell of BO,but I'm pretty sure you must be washing and using antiperspirant and all that stuff.
I'm just wondering if perhaps a smell is clinging to your clothes after they'v e been washed,because I know that can happen.It's weird because when you put them on they smell fine but as they warm up they start to smell....'

and then just continue a casual conversation,preferably while both busy doing something else so it doesn't get too intense.

schmee Fri 05-Apr-13 21:17:11

Could it be that her clothes smell rather than her. As other posters have mentioned, the smell can be retained in clothes even if the person washes regularly. I had a similar problem as an early teenager because I wasn't capable of planning to wash my clothes (I was at a boarding school so didn't have a parent to tell me to put things in the wash). It may sound crazy but I just wasn't organised/mature enough to make sure I had clean clothes every day or to plan to put things in the weekly wash.

At university I didn't know where the washing machines were/how the laundry worked and was too shy to ask anyone, but by this stage I'd developed the habit of daily handwashing because of my boarding school experience.

awkwardsis Fri 05-Apr-13 21:20:56

RevoltingPeasant (great name!) I am worried that she's been sidelined. It's already almost the start of the final semester and she's still not found accomodation for next year, I think because she has noone to share with sadI'll try the approach of already buying her the stuff, and gently suggesting that certain things are expected of her on placement. At least then I can know I've tried.

KC225 Fri 05-Apr-13 21:21:43

I had to tackle this at work one time and I blamed the clothes (we had to wear a uniform). I said that I know you are someone who is considerate to others etc. and I'm not going to insult you with a lecture on personal hygiene etc., but clothes can become whiffy and it can be difficult to get rid of the smell once it's ingrained. I recommended a good hot, intensive wash and stronger deodorant when wearing the uniform (ie all the time). I said these things are important to the company and clients and if you want to go further in the company. It was acknowledged and it wasn't a problem again.

steppemum Fri 05-Apr-13 21:23:13

when I read your title, my initial thought was don't say, but then you describe your situation, and actually, you are the only one who can tell her, and you need to.

If she doesn't have a role model to follow, she may not know what is normal, so you may need to spell it out
ie, wash underarms/shower every day, with soap
wear deodorant every day (if she isn't doing anything at the moment, ordinary deodorant would be enough)
change your layer nearest to your skin (T-shirt/shirt) every day, and wash it
change jumper/outer layer every few days
don't forget that jeans need washing after being worn x number of times

She will smell more if she has long underarm hair, but if she washes with soap and uses deodorant every day she shouldn't smell unless there is a problem.

Finola1step Fri 05-Apr-13 21:24:01

You must tell her. If you do not, then her school based mentor probably will. Or worse case scenario, one of the parents!

Buy her the strongest deodorant / anti p you can find. But it does sound like that there has been a failure in her nurturing as a teenage girl. In short, you are going to have to have the conversations that a mother and daughter should have in the early teenage years.

Don't assume she knows that she should be washing herself daily, drying her armpits quickly and using deodorant straight away. It sounds like that you will have to be that basic OP.

She is very lucky to have a sister like you. She may be embarrassed but she will thank you one day I'm sure.

awkwardsis Fri 05-Apr-13 21:28:41

Finola, you've hit the nail on the head. There is no nurturing in our family. We were all pretty much on our own. I certainly am sad that I don't have a relationship with my mother, but there has never been any closeness there. I feel like I just lived in the same house, I wasn't brought up by her sad My sister is far from close to her as well so maybe I can approach it in the way that 'mum should have taught us this stuff, I had to teach myself so I'm going to pass the wisdom onto you'. I am just so worried this is going to make her more self conscious which is silly really. I do think it's a relatively easy thing to sort out, but absolutely cringeworthy to have to bring up in the first place.

Weeteeny Fri 05-Apr-13 21:33:19

Hello, I would like to say that you sound like a lovely sister.

When I was seventeen I started my first job and after about two weeks two girls had a very deliberate conversation with me regarding personal hygiene, and also they had bought me some deodorant and scented body lotion as it was "on offer" at the chemist. Half way through he conversation I realised that they were rather clumsily trying to tell me I needed to use them. It was mortifying. No doubt the whole place had been moaning about me and being the only other females they were sent to tackle me.

The thing was, I had never been taught to bathe regularly or even brush my teeth as a child. That is a whole other thread though! I probably had a bath about every 4 to 5 weeks and who knows how rarely my hair washed. Though I remember being itchy a feeling greasy basically all the time. A couple of times other kids told me I stank but I thought they were just being mean.
I'm not at all suggesting your sister has had the same upbringing as me however sometimes it's possible just not to know you smell. Also if your clothes are not washed regularly they will smell even if you wash. That was over 20 years ago and this is the first time I have ever told anyone about this but I'm eternally grateful to those two girls , they were as kind as they could be and I can't imagine the mortification if one of the managers had had to take me aside eventually. I became good friends with them both but the issue was never mentioned again.
Also looking back I can't believe I didn't know, I must have absolutely HONKED.
Your sister will be embarrassed but its worth it for her sake, and she will thank you eventually. Good luck

Ps I am super clean now and a probably a bit OTT when it comes to my own dc

ImTooHecsyForYourParty Fri 05-Apr-13 21:36:02

It's easier for you to not tell her, but it's far worse for her, going out and about stinking to high heaven.

It's a difficult conversation to have but, truly, wouldn't you want someone to tell you, rather than everyone you encounter gagging at the stench of you?

Far better that it comes from you in a loving and supportive way than some drunk in the pub lays into her and the whole bar bursts out laughing.

Weeteeny Fri 05-Apr-13 21:41:26

Can't believe I have just confessed to being the stinky neglected kid at school and also later work. Without a name change too, EEK

ZZZenagain Fri 05-Apr-13 21:42:23

doesn't matter where you start out, it is where you end up that matters. If no one teaches you these things, how are you supposed to know?

Weeteeny Fri 05-Apr-13 21:44:04

Thank you , ZZZ

RevoltingPeasant Fri 05-Apr-13 21:46:53

OP thanks and yes, it does sound like that may be the case. I'm sorry. They mostly have sorted out their accommodation by now (I'm a uni lecturer, btw).

However, you need to be kind but direct about it. Someone once had to tell me that they could smell garlic on my breath but they did it in the most roundabout way by repeatedly offering me polos (which i don't like). They then got v exasperated and I really couldn't understand why.

It was much more mortifying when I finally realised. And you know, you might make it about a wider discussion: 'How are you getting on at uni, then? Have you found anyone you like well enough to want to live with? What about your placement - have you organised stuff to wear for that, as you'll be in the world of work now!' - and just let her talk.

Also if she can't find roomies then her university's accommodation office should be able to help her find somewhere to live if she gets chucked out of halls in the 2nd year (quite common).

WeAreEternal Fri 05-Apr-13 21:55:16

I have a friend at work who is a lovely woman and I could really see us being friends, if it weren't for the fact that she has poor hygiene.

She is 24, she's overweight but still pretty, she obviously cares about her appearance as she always wears her makeup nice and styles her hair.
I don't really understand it, she just always smells.
She often wears the same clothes for several days, I have often noticed her re wear something days later with the same stains (So it obviously hasn't been washed)
As far as I can tell she only washes her hair once a week, on Mondays it will look lovely and clean, but as the week goes on it will look greasier and dirtier until it looks awful.
She often smells of bo, and I wonder is she is not washing.
It's so bad that you can smell when she has been in a room, and the smell is quite nasty.

Everyone has tried to make subtle hints, but she doesn't seem to get it.
Last year I sat her down and in the nicest way possible said that several clients had mentioned her personal hygiene in a negative way, and that I though she should try to improve it as it could affect her job.
She seemed embarrassed and I tried to be reassuring and supportive, but nothing had changed.
It's getting to the point where I am going to have to be unkind and tell her that it is unprofessional to smell and wear dirty clothes and if she doesn't address the issue she could face disciplinary action.

Your sister will certainly have problems as a student teacher with personal hygiene issues, you may have to be cruel to be kind, the last thing you want is her dropping out of uni because she is being bullied/has no friends/can't find anyone to live with because of her hygiene problems.

And if you sprinkle lots of baking soda on the sofa cushions and rub it in with a dry cloth. Then Hoover it off a few hours later (it's good to apply on the evening and hover off in the morning) it will help get rid of the smell on your sofa.

tigerdriverII Fri 05-Apr-13 21:55:50

Oh this is horrid and embarrassing . Was having this discussion today with our HR Director, remembering someone who despite being a professional person with lots of responsibilities couldn't get the hang of washing. Poor girl reeked of BO, and was so upset when it was pointed out. We can only think that no one had dared say it before. In her case it was mainly not washing her clothes properly, and not wearing deo. You have to say something to your sister. It might hurt but not as much as it could from someone else.

frogspoon Fri 05-Apr-13 22:04:45

You have said she has always been unworldly, but if her personal hygiene has deteriorated significantly since going to university, there may be an underlying cause. Have you considered that she may be depressed. Sometimes people with depression can overlook personal appearance and hygiene. Or it may just be that she is used to your parents doing her washing, and doesn't know how to/ is afraid to ask.

It is really important you speak to her before she starts her school placements. I am surprised that a tutor at her university has not spoken with her about it, but if they only have large lectures and not many small seminars/ tutorials it could go unnoticed. If someone at her university has not said something, her school placement mentor will. Also schools do have a dress code (usually smart/casual) which she will be expected to follow.

KittyLane1 Fri 05-Apr-13 22:07:13

can't believe I am admitting this when I was 16 and started college I was a bit smelly. I hardly had time to do a wash and couldn't afford new clothes so my tops and trousers smelt even though I washed everyday.
A few things I would think about and maybe bring up:

Does she wash her clothes and undies?
Can she buy new clothes?
Is she feeling a bit down?
Is she a bit chubby (can make BO worse)
Does she need new shoes? (Smelly feet)

Shopping around for a good body wash and deodorant as not all work for everyone. Shaving would help a lot.

At college some girls had conversation about smelly people and I clicked they meant me blush but it helped.

I would tell her before someone nasty does x

dolallylass Fri 05-Apr-13 22:13:22

Can't you fib and say you had the issue too and this is how you fixed it. Might hurt less? Take her shopping and get her something to soften the blow. Good luck.

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