How Do You Tell A Friend She Smells Bad?


Recently, I had a friend of mine ask me if she smelled bad. This particular friend actually typically has a scent combination of Chanel perfume and champagne, in addition to being obsessively clean, so she had nothing whatsoever to worry about. Unfortunately, there have been a few cases where somebody I knew had a decidedly unpleasant scent.

In my larger friend group back at college, there was a girl who smelled very, very sour. She was fairly liked by people and had a few closer friends in the circle, but nobody felt comfortable enough to tell her that it was very difficult to stand close to her or sit next to her because of the strength of her bad body odor. I’ve never been great with confrontation — including “carefrontation” — so I, nor anybody else who has noticed or mentioned it, ever told her about this. We didn’t run around making fun of her, but we did try to figure out how to go about discussing it; since she was on the sensitive side and prone to tantrums, it was decided to simply ignore it and spare her feelings. We were never close, as she was actually always rather rude and competitive with me, so I didn’t find myself particularly responsible to fill her in. Nevertheless, I still felt unkind letting something potentially detrimental to her social life go unmentioned.

I, for one, would want people to tell me, and hope that in the event I am ever especially gross-scented, somebody would. I’ve definitely overdone it on the perfume factor and wound up smelling like the back part of Sephora threw up on my neck, and I was grateful that a friend pointed it out so I could amend it (by showering). I think that sometimes it’s easier to deal with criticism ourselves than to dole it out towards other people. It’s like when you brush your own hair and you pull super hard because you can handle it, whereas when you’re styling another person’s hair, you go much gentler because you’re afraid of hurting them.

In general, it’s awkward to have to tell somebody something that sounds so cruel as, “You smell bad.” It feels mean, and it sucks because you know it would hurt the person, and it never feels good to make somebody feel bad unless you like to savor some bizarre schadenfreude at the expense of others. But there are some factors and tips to consider on how to go about it, if you so choose…

Photo: EvelynGiggles / Flickr

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    • Amanda Chatel

      Punk rockers think the smell of Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle and champagne is “overbearing.”

      • SomminSneakers

        just champagne, please.

    • Paradoxymoron

      I would tell a good friend if they smelled, and I’d want to be told if I did. The nature of my relationships with my good friends is such that we would pretty much expect each other to tell us if there’s something wrong with our appearance/we smell bad. I often ask my friends if my breath smells, because I’m really paranoid about that. It’d definitely be more difficult with a newer friend or someone I didn’t know very well, though.

    • Fabel

      I’m weird, & I think my offended-ness would actually increase based off of how delicately the friend tried to phrase it. If she was just like, “Hey, why do you smell so bad?” I’d be more likely to be not offended at all? Although I guess these situations are more awkward because the stench is constantly present, from the time the friendship is new, to the time where it would be appropriate to say something.

    • AmbienceChaser

      Omg, please tell me! I can’t smell myself, and dudes are useless for this. I’d kill for a trustworthy girlfriend who would just tell me if I smelled.

    • Breezy

      I make it my daily goal for this conversation never to be had about me. Gum, spray, you name it. I just have a hard time understanding how people don’t know when they smell bad! Howwww?!

      • Amanda Chatel

        Well, if you’re used to your own smell, you wouldn’t know. It’s like when you can’t smell your perfume at the end of the day unless you really try hard and shove your nose up in your wrist/neck. (Although, neck would be hard.)

      • Breezy

        I get that if it’s a constant stinkiness. But if it’s an occasional thing, I feel like she would eventually catch a random whiff of herself and be like “Whoa. That needs attention.”

        To answer the original question, if it was someone I am close with I would just tell them. Probably in a jokey way so it feels less severe (“Girl your breath is kickin today!”) But I would still try to find a way to tell someone I didn’t feel comfortable just telling outright. Mentioning that there is a peculiar smell nearby and faking concern that it could be me is something I have done in the past. I’ll pop some gum and do a pit check, which usually leads them to do the same. And hopefully address their specific brand of funk. Voila!

    • Andrea

      I wouldn’t become friends with a person that stinks. Not stinking is not hard to do people! Shower, use soap, brush your teeth, use deorodant! WTF is so hard about THAT!!