Have You Ever Had a Smelly Friend?

Have you ever had a smelly friend? Someone who consistently emits a foul body odor? What–if anything–did you do?

I ran into this issue a few years ago. There was someone in my friend group who, frankly, smelled bad. I must admit that I didn’t ask anyone else if they noticed the smell, as I don’t like to talk about people behind their backs, but it was to the point where it was difficult to be in an enclosed space with them. I’m not sure if it was a lack of deodorant, not washing their clothes often enough, or something else, but it was bad.

The hardest part was the person truly didn’t know, bless their heart. They’re very considerate of others, and I think if they had known about the smell, they would have acted to fix it.

But just as they were unaware of the smell, I couldn’t figure out how to tell them about the smell. Can it possibly come across any other way than a judgment on their character? I didn’t want to bring that shame to my friend.

That said, if I put myself in their shoes–if I was the smelly friend–I would want them to tell me. Sure, it might sting a little, but at least I would know how my hygiene was impacting those around me. I’m still not sure exactly how I’d want them to tell me, though.

Have you ever encountered this situation? How did you navigate it?

8 thoughts on “Have You Ever Had a Smelly Friend?”

  1. As a counselor who has had to have a lot of awkward conversations about hygiene with people with mental health issues, I find that direct and to the point works best, followed up with a question about their wellbeing. “I noticed that you have some body odor today. Have you noticed it? Are you doing okay?” Often times hygiene is indicative of mental health, and for my clients, it’s often a sign that their depression is becoming more severe or that they are struggling with life stressors a bit more. In my experience, dancing around the subject, hoping they will infer what you mean without you having to say it just leads to a longer and more awkward conversation. Don’t use 50 words when 7 will do, don’t be unkind, and always follow up with support. Are you doing okay? Can I do anything to help? The timber and pitch of your voice when you ask these questions transforms them from embarrassing to caring, and some reassurance and support goes a long way 🙂

    • This is excellent advice, Nicole, and I really appreciate it. I like the use of language that shows that you care and want to help.

  2. As someone with not the most acute olfactory sense, some paranoia, and, occasionally, a digestive system that enjoys voicing displeasure at dietary choices, I would want to know if it was me (oh, god, it’s not me is it…?). Also, thinking about perhaps why they smell the way they do can inform you how to how about informing them. Is their breath bad? Offer breath mints after eating one yourself. Do they seem like they’ve come from the gym (or marching a 3 mile parade)? Offer to give more time before your next hang out to allow time to freshen up. If they say it isn’t necessary, then the subject has already been broached for “actually, yes it is…”

    • Jeff: The odd thing about this friend is that the smell seems completely unrelated to the types of activities that would normally create such a smell. I could see them any time of the day (even soon after a shower) and they would smell this way. And no, it definitely wasn’t you! 🙂

  3. If it’s a friend it’s usually pretty straightforward: “GD dude you stink.” That would either lead to discussion about health condition, ran out of toothpaste/deoderant, ate indian for lunch, etc. or they would just correct the problem.

    We aren’t much for sparing feelings and it makes life much easier. Everyone wants to know if they smell bad or there’s a booger hanging out their nose or their fly is down, etc. ASAP so they can correct it before anyone else sees/smells. Being straightforward all the time removes the awkwardness you feel about the situation.


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