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?

shockers Fri 05-Apr-13 22:15:46

We had a student teacher on placement at my last school who had really strong body odour. The staff were absolutely awful about/to her, I was embarrassed to work there. Having said that, it wasn't pleasant being close to her, although she was a really lovely woman. The Head had a word and the smell vanished, so there was obviously something that could be done, that hadn't been, IYSWIM?

She's doing really well now, in another school (we're still friends) and I'm so pleased for her!

IfYouLeaveMeNow Fri 05-Apr-13 22:17:11

If you don't tell her, who will? Someone needs to and as so done who loves her it will come better from you. Good luck.

DontSHOUTTTTTT Fri 05-Apr-13 22:17:39

You have to tell her and you will have to be fairly blunt.

My DS age 18 often stank. He wore clean cloths every day and showered every day. Allegedly, he also wore super strength antiperspirant. I was very very blunt. For some reason it stopped but I don't know if it was me, girls, hormones or what.
What I have noticed is that when he has a group of friends over the room smells fuggy. The boys are all 'naice', well cared for and generally responsible.....but some of them still reek. I don't think being smelly at that age is that unusual, although it is still unacceptable.

Good luck. I hope it goes ok.

IfYouLeaveMeNow Fri 05-Apr-13 22:17:58

Bloody autospell - someone who loves her

awkwardsis Fri 05-Apr-13 22:20:31

She's not chubby at all, very skinny in fact. I've kept an eye on this as eating disorders seem rife in our family (personal experience here, plus my brother and an aunt, all anorexics at some point sad) and in her first semester when she wanted to leave lost weight. It seems to have gone back on now thankfully, but she's always been very slight. I think partly she doesn't know how to look after herself. Mum never let us touch the washing machine for fear we would break it, while at the same time admonishing us for not doing our own washing so couldn't really win. I don't think she's depressed, but I know when I have been I've hidden it very well. She's always been socially awkward and just a bit naive. I made sure she had more than enough decent, smart clothes to see her through. And I mean really lovely stuff. But she seems under the impression she has to wear a suit every day to placement (I have no idea where she picked up this idea, she's been adament since she started the course that a suit would make a good impression) but I think that'd probably mean wearing the same clothes for days on end. I just don't understand how she can be oblivious to how she comes across to other people. It upsets me in a way as I can see how much potential is there. I'm going to make sure she knows where the washign machines are, check she has access to the shower every day. I know she doesn;t even own a hair dryer so maybe she's not washing everyday as she can't get her hairt dry, it's quite long.

RevoltingPeasant Fri 05-Apr-13 22:23:34

OP you could do what another poster suggested - don't remember who it was - and say, 'You seem to have a problem I had when I was your age; I think it may run in the family...'

Would that work?

LittleFeileFooFoo Fri 05-Apr-13 22:29:55

OP, I think you should take it one step at a time, meaning, work on the hygiene, don't worry so much about how she dresses, or whether she wears makeup. It's going to be hard to hear she's smelly, (I know, I had to be told this too!) but she'll appreciate knowing rather than having people make fun of her.

the clothes and other stuff may be easier to discuss once the hygiene is taken care of, as she may have to give up some clothes if they are permeated with smell.

You sound like a lovely sister, BTW!

awkwardsis Fri 05-Apr-13 22:31:43

RP I think that's the way I'm going to have to tackle it. I did have a problem with sweating loads after ds2 was born, but I think noone else noticed iyswim, but I was very self conscious. But I think to a certain extent that might be a normal hormonal thing. Which makes me think, not to dripfeed, but I've thought for a long time now that she might have a hormone disorder as she is quite hairy blush. I've wondered if she might have PCOS. It might actually be worth her getting a trip to her GP, assuming she's registered with one on campus. It could all be related I suppose.

LittleFeileFooFoo Fri 05-Apr-13 22:31:53

Als, when I had long hair I often didn't dry it, just put it in a braid. But I live where it's pretty dry and hot, so that was ok.

It would be good to tell her, no matter how difficult it is. You are showing that you care, she will see that.

Could you talk to her about how she gets on with the domestic drudgery of being independent? Could you maybe as a treat take her out for a trip to buy some new clothes for her placement? Then discuss caring for different fabric, how smells cling & can be hard to get out without the right wash? You can use camaraderie in a sort of "you know what Mum is like, she never taught me about this stuff".

I wish I'd had a big sister. My Mum never told me anything about basic hygiene, not sure why, she was a hippy, just didn't think to pass it on? Things like periods, shaving, washing - all of that was a steep learning curve for me.

You say your sister is young for her age, she will be open to learning, just being gentle, kind and considerate enough to tell her should help lessen the blow of finding out such important stuff. Don't be hard on yourself.

starfishmummy Fri 05-Apr-13 22:36:35

Please offer up suggestions of how she should address this rather than just telling her that there is a problem iyswim.
I had to tell a member of staff once and she reacted by drenching herself in perfume, which on top of the B.O just made matters worse.

frogspoon Fri 05-Apr-13 22:37:20

PCOS is unlikely (but not impossible) if your sister is slim and has recently lost weight, but could maybe be a different hormone disorder or a thyroid condition.

MrsPoglesWood Fri 05-Apr-13 22:42:35

Yes you have to tell her. You can tell her kindly, with love. Others probably won't be as thoughtful.

I do think though that some people cannot smell their own BO. It's as if they have 'smell blindness' and your DS may be the same.

When I was first promoted to a management grade many years back I had to go on a training course and dealing with staff with BO was one of the situations. The recommended approach was to say that their current hygiene/deodorant regime wasn't sufficient to deal with our heating environment and they should rethink it and try a different deodorant. As managers we were expected to never make an employee feel inadequate and just provide solutions and suggestions as to how the situation could be resolved.

TBH I don't think these cool wash tablets/gels help as I don't think they properly clean clothes. DP's work clothes came out just as grubby and just as stinky as before they went in the machine. Waste of money!

awkwardsis Fri 05-Apr-13 22:47:31

Oh yes, I'd never just tell her and leave it at that. I fully intend to help her ddo something about it. I just dread her feeling got at. I know she'll be coming over next week, but so will my brother. I might see if he'll take the dc into the garden for a bit so I can chat. I think I'll make her a little care package. I sent her one when she was feeling low with some DVDs, pjs and hot chocolate in it. I'll put some deodorant, washing powder and some treats in there too. I think that's a good idea actually. I can get some new cheap basics for her tomorrow, some cotton vests and new socks and things like that.

I once told my boss that he smelled (after HR procrasinated so long I realised they were never going to do it - and it was making life in an open plan office very unpleasant, and was very embarrasing in client meetings). It went surprisingly well. I went on a bit about how some detergents and low temperatures didn't really do the job and that he should be using bio detergents etc etc and changing his shirt more than once a fortnight. It didn't cause any awkwardness and it cured the problem, and he used to occasionally check in with me to ask if things were still ok in that department (how he couldn't smell it himself is still a mystery, but seems to be quite common).

steppemum Fri 05-Apr-13 23:08:06

with regard to clothes and work, if she is going into a primary school, the last thing she needs is a suit. The teachers all wear things like black trousers and vaguely smart tops and cardigans.
She needs to be able to sit on the floor, do pe, get covered in paint and then stick the clothes in the wash to get the paint out.

It might be worth suggesting that she looks at what the other teachers are wearing and copy their style.

if she doesn't know about washing machines, she may need a little lesson in how to sort her washing, what powder to use, how to use 40 or 60 wash if clothes smell etc

Teeb Fri 05-Apr-13 23:16:56

Have you thought about making her a little uni pack for her to take away with her? I know lots of parents will do this for their children when they go away, but you've said your mother isn't really like that. You could tell her you were worried about how expensive these things can be to buy in the shops these days, but didn't want her to feel like she had to scrimp on washing her clothes or any toiletries she needs.

Put some washing powder in (have a general conversation about where the washing machine is, if she is managing okay with everything and how annoying ironing is!) toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, shower gel, toilet rolls, fairy liquid, toilet rolls, tinned foods etc. Make it look like a general nice big sister thing to do for her in a box and just that you are keeping an eye on her.

I think it could be a good thing to make it more about general conversations you have, where there is a back and forth, rather than just telling her she smells.

tigerdriverII Fri 05-Apr-13 23:19:15

Actually if she is going into primary school teaching, this might be the big reason for her to wake up, as steppemum says.

HoppinMad Fri 05-Apr-13 23:21:54

OP its possible to have pcos and be slim, I have it and was tiny before dc, still an ok size. In fact I know of two other ladies who have it and are skinny. Get her to make app with the docs about her hirsutism (hairiness), and BT to test hormones. I had awful problems and it took years before a proper diagnosis, and it affected my self esteem to the point I had difficulty making friends.

I would also advise to speak to her, maybe book a spa day treat (if it can be afforded) for the pair of you and it would be perfect setting to discuss hygiene and have a heart to heart? if you are really struggling then maybe write a letter/email, so she can be alone when experiencing the 'wish the earth would swallow me' feeling.

tomatoplantproject Fri 05-Apr-13 23:22:45

An old boss at work told me that I had to smarten up - its not quite the same as your sister - but she basically hit some of my buttons and said that the quality of my work was top notch but that I was letting myself down in dressing too relaxed and people not taking me sufficiently seriously. It hit a nerve. You need to find what will work for her - it's much kinder to help her stop than let her carry on obliviously.

HoppinMad Fri 05-Apr-13 23:25:50

Also a reason why she may not have worn all the nice clothes you bought for her may be because she feels theyre too nice for her iyswim? Low self esteem issues and all that, she may not want unnecessary attention, ironically shes getting it with her bo but she may not be aware of how bad its gotten.

WittyMonica Fri 05-Apr-13 23:27:17

Just wanted to say that you sound like a lovely sister and you're absolutely doing the right thing by telling her.

It might be an idea to get her some Febreze fabric spray for her to use on her clothes between washes? Just to tide her over until she is able to wash them.

TheChaoGoesMu Fri 05-Apr-13 23:31:37

Tell her op. You have to, she's your sister.

steppemum Fri 05-Apr-13 23:37:50

I wondered that Hoppin, that she doesn't wear the nice clothes, because they take confidence to wear

BriansBrain Fri 05-Apr-13 23:41:14

You sound lovely and you have had some great advice smile

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