Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Olfactory Assault

Hello Polite Readers!

Guess what? I have apparently found the most sensitive of topics, and that topic is... body odor! I've had numerous people tell me that you can't tell someone that they have BO. Why not? Apparently it's too embarrassing.

I just don't understand this. If I was smelling things up, I would want one of my friends to discreetly let me know, instead of having everyone talk about it behind my back. I see it as being the same as having spinach in your teeth or your skirt tucked into your panty hose. Other people disagree, because BO is often a chronic problem, rather than a quick one-time fix. But I still think it's appropriate to bring it up.

I've heard a few arguments against bringing it up, like:

"But it's so embarrassing!"
You know what's embarrassing? When you finally find out that for weeks/months/years people have been talking about your odor behind your back because no one was brave enough or nice enough to tell you.

"They probably already know."
 Actually, people become desensitized to smells. It's why cat owners don't realize their house smells like litter box, women think they need more perfume than they do, and evil smokers don't believe me when I say I have to wash my hair three times to get their stink out of my hair. Plus some people just don't have a good sense of smell.

"Maybe it's a medical problem."
Maybe it is. Maybe they can't do anything about it. But if you go to them, they can say "Oh man, I'm so sorry, I have this condition. I didn't realize it was so bad." Then you can quietly spread the word to the rest of the group that you spoke to the olfactory offender and they are doing the best they can.

Look. No one is going to die of embarrassment if two people have a talk about how one of them smells bad. Yes, it will be awkward. Yes, it will be uncomfortable. Yes, I am actually going to advise that you do it over phone or e-mail rather than in a public place (if you two can meet in a private place like your home, then you can do it face to face if you're brave enough), so neither of you has to squirm in front of strangers. And here's what I'd say:

Hey, I hate to be the one to bring this up, and there's no non-awkward way to say it, but I've noticed that you have a bit of an odor problem. Maybe you're already aware of it and you're doing everything you can, in which case I apologize for bringing it up. But if this is news to you, maybe it's just time to try a new deodorant. I use <X Brand> and it's pretty good. Just don't buy Axe, that stuff is worse than BO. I also know some good body washes and colognes, if you're interested.

Hopefully that will work. Or you may find that your friend is one of those people who doesn't use deodorant because they think it causes cancer, in which case maybe you can convince them to wear air fresheners under their arms or something. Note: don't actually try that, it isn't polite. Other things to not do:

Say "No, I don't want to sit next to you, you smell bad!" How horrible rude and blunt.

Chase them around with Febreeze.

Bring up the subject if you're not the sort of close acquaintance who can do so from a place of genuine concern for your friend's social well-being. Having bad body odor can be detrimental to one's career, love life, and friendships.

Do you have an even more sensitive topic for me to cover? E-mail it to and I'll give it my best answer!

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