Not sure how to put this, but…you smell

November 3, 2011 | By | Comments (4)

This week’s reader question comes from a spin instructor named DanaD123, who teaches a weekly Saturday morning session. One class regular has a serious body odor problem: “The minute she enters the room, the smell is overpowering.”

Worse, DanaD123 says, “It’s getting to the point where several other members have either complained, or stopped coming altogether.” And although another gym member mentioned the problem to her in the past, “the odor is still there.”

This is an interesting situation, DanaD12, because you are at a gym, which is by definition smelly; people are sweating there all day long. In fact, they go there for the purpose of working up a sweat.

But not all sweat is equal. In fact, perspiration is not stinky in and of itself. What causes odor is when perspiration mingles with bacteria on the surface of the skin. Your client’s particular smell may be the result of any number of factors – diet, a lack of hygiene, a drug she may be taking, who knows? – so approach her with that in mind.

You are her teacher, so remember to use your  “teacher’s voice” – reasonable, wise, concerned but not emotionally involved – when you take her aside to avoid embarrassing her publicly. Say: “Thanks for coming every week. I appreciate that you’re so loyal to my class. As your long time instructor, I also have a job to monitor clients’ physical conditions, and I’m worried about the unusual odor of your perspiration.”

Note that you have described the smell as “unusual,” rather than saying it’s “bad.” This reinforces the idea that your concern is for the atypical nature of the odor, without characterizing the odor (or her!) as offensive.

Tell her you don’t know what’s causing the unusual smell – you’re not a doctor, after all – but that if she thinks it’s a problem that can’t be solved at home (by, say, showering before she comes to class), she should consult her doctor.

Have you ever had to tell someone her sweat smelled bad? If so, how did you handle the situation?

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