How To Tell Someone They Stink


Words by Tahlia Svingos

If I stank, I’d want someone to tell me.

I’m not talking about a light end-of-day musk, or an I spent way too much time on the dance floor kinda scent. I’m talking about the kind of room-filling, foul odor that seeps from someone’s body almost every time you see them. The kind of smell that can almost be seen, like there are cartoon waves of green stench following them around.

I’m serious: if someone I know is reading this and thinks that I’m a smelly grot then please, tell me.

Although it might sound as though I’m taking the piss, smelling shit isn’t always a laughing matter. Whilst one person’s unpleasant odor could be a result of a new, ineffective soap, someone else could be struggling so hard that they stop caring about their personal hygiene. As an innocent nose, how do you know why someone’s forgetting to shower? And, more importantly, how do you tell someone: “You stink.”

A few years ago I dated a guy who was a little pungent. After a few mornings of mouth breathing I decided to trick him into spraying the pits. I said that I needed some deodorant for myself and was going to suggest we both spritz ourselves. After asking he looked at me through his long, greasy hair and said “Man, deodorant kills the environment.” Ok, totally fair. I respect that.

At the end of the day his smell wasn’t too bothersome, and his lack of Lynx didn’t sound any alarm bells. Plain and simple, he’s just a smelly dude.

But, what happens when you think that someone’s not coping, and maybe that’s why they can’t be bothered looking after themselves?

There have been two people I know that I’ve tossed up the conversation with – one is a friend and one is an acquaintance. I met the acquaintance first, so I’ll discuss it first.

I met this girl at a club: she was totally nice and danced to shitty music with me all night. When you’re out drinking and probably working up a sweat yourself, I don’t think you particularly bother to sniff around. So, I never noticed. It wasn’t until we decided to catch up outside the party realm that I realised: she stank.

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It was bad – days worth of filth and cigarettes all combining into one ball of eugh. She had a light film of grease all over her skin and the underneath of her nails were compacted with black gunk.

As we sat and sipped coffee, sober in the afternoon light, I noticed how anxious she seemed. Listened to how self-deprecating she was. It was obvious that her lack of cleanliness came down to a complete disregard for personal worth. It sucked and it broke my heart. She moved and I never saw her again, let alone told her that she smelled a bit shit.

A few weeks later I ran into a friend who also knows this girl. I brought up the fact that she’d moved to see if they had any info as to how she was. The first thing they said was along the lines of “Well fuck, she stinks!” I wanted to punch them.

The second person is a mate – hence why it was even weirder. What if you say to your friend “Hey maybe you could take better care of yourself?” and they decide you’re a bitch and never talk to you again. Is it worth it? Could you potentially open up a conversation about something deeper than hair grease and discuss the root problem? How the fuck do you actually know what is going to come from a conversation about your friend’s smell?

My friend’s change of scent came with some other changes too. A drop in weight, dark circles underneath their eyes and a long wispy beard. The smell got particularly bad around Thursdays, after what I presume were four or five night benders.

Sitting on another friend’s bed we got on to a discussion about said mate. We both discussed his change of appearance and our growing concern for his wellbeing. I was about to bring up his B.O. when –

“I told him that he smelled bad, it was equally concerning.”

Phew, I didn’t have to do it. I praised my friend for bringing it up. She told me about how it was super weird, but he claimed to genuinely not know. He said he’d been forgetting to shower because he was so busy. I still don’t buy it, but at least now he knows.

I guess it’s important to remember that smelling crap is probably a bad sign. It’s 100% not a funny thing to discuss behind someone’s back and it’s definitely a good idea if someone musters up the balls to talk about it with them. It could be a quick fix, or it might open up something else – so be prepared for that.

At the end of the day though, I still don’t know how the hell to do it.




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